Friday, June 13, 2014

Friday’s Funnies: Surname Swear Words

Every family, every ethnic group, has some odd quirks, weird traditions, and strange names. Being Cornish, I am aware of how these things play out, but nothing tops the compilation of surnames that were once used in my beloved Cornwall. These words are today, what my kids grew up calling, “swear words.”

In fact, when my kids were young and I would mutter a Cornish surname of this ilk, they would look at me with that, “uh-oh, Mom’s swearing,” look, a mix between shock and glee, hoping to confirm that Mom had a potty mouth. Even though I would immediately sit them down and explain that, while in today’s society, it is indeed a swear word, it wasn’t always such and that words and phrases chance over time. They faked agreement by nodding and barely camouflaged their glee in hearing Mom swear!

Finally, as they got older, I would slip and swear, and even if it wasn’t a Cornish surname, they would just shake their heads and say, “Yeah, yeah, it’s a Cornish surname,” proving that we managed to put a new spin on ordinary family disfunction.

Disfunction does not seem to have played much of a part in the surnames originally, with the possibly exception of “Bastard” and “Clapp.” Those have origins that seem to quickly paint a picture of exactly how they came about. Crap is still around, Friggin, too and even Buglehole, sometimes written as “Beaglehole” shows up, although they are not as common as they once were. 

I remember reading a will from the 1700s where a Nicholas Cock had died and left many of his worldly goods to daughter, the wife of William Hoare. The will went on to mention her further as “Jennifer Cock Hoare.. For some reason, be it Ellis Island or a lack of a sense of humor, you just don’t see names like that anymore. But next time you’re at a library and you need a good laugh while doing genealogy, look into old Cornish records and you will find it there.