I choose the names of Cornwall because at the moment there is no such one-volume reference. Also, there is the fact that writers on Cornish names before this have not had the general onomastic background. They could not put these names in a larger context. I have set myself the task to provide in about 130 pages an entertaining survey for the general reader. I attempt to address all important aspects of Cornish names, and I make remarks on names in general.
I wish also to contribute to the renewed interest in the Cornish language. As president of The American Society of Geolinguistics, I applaud the heartwarming success of a century and more of dedicated work by those who brought the ancient tongue back from the brink of oblivion. Today, languages die with sad frequency, often taking cultures with them to the grave. The Cornish battle for survival is unusual and admirable.
There are others, bards and defenders of the language, more qualified to have written about Cornish names, or to have gathered a group of writers to do so, but none of them has attempted the task, so I have tackled it. I hope that this book on Cornish Names will be followed by expert editing of the surviving texts of old Cornish and lots more work by those who have learned the old language and are dedicated to establishing Cornish in the modern world.
Darzona! That is the "God bless you" greeting in Cornish. The average American has never heard the word and may know little about Cornwall, though he or she may have heard of some town called Cornwall in the US or Canada, or one called Cornish His or her mental picture is based perhaps on Daphne Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn or Rebecca or some later romance or murder mystery that used for dramatic effect what Thomas Hardy called the "shagged and shaly Atlantic scenery" of Cornwall. Even more likely still, there is familiarity with the Poldark series on television. However, there are a great many Americans who have Cornish names and Cornish ancestors and can be interested in what those names mean and where they came from.
Have you ever heard of people of Cornish origin such as John of Trevisa (from the "lowest homestead"), Captain Bligh, Nell Gwynne, Roger Angell, Glubb Pasha, John Berryman, John Opie, Ansell Adams, George Borrow, William Cornish the Elizabethan playwright and Henry Cornish of the Rye House Plot, Admiral Sir William Cornwallis and Vice-Admiral Sir Samuel Cornish, Bart., and others of that surname? Sir George Otto Trevelyan, Bart., was not only a British politician but wrote a six-volume history of the American Revolution. There was also, in the US, Ezra Cornell, who gave half a million dollars in the mid-nineteenth century, plus some land, to found a university. There is a former president of the University of Hartford named Tonkin (Cornish for Little Anthony), etc. In England, there were William Cornysshe, a musician of Henry VIII’s time, various men named and with the title of Earl Cornwallis (one of whom surrendered to Gen. Washington at Yorktown). John LeCarré’s real name is David Cornwell. Also of Cornish descent were Bishop Colenso, Dashiell Hammett, the Lander "Little Christian" who discovered the sources of the Niger, and the Yeo who founded Prince Edward Island in Canada. There was also the dramatist Sir Thomas Killigrew (who claimed he was the bastard son of William Shakespeare) or, in a play, Trelawny of The Wells, and the Trelawny who on an Italian beach snatched the heart from the burning corpse of his friend Percy Bysshe Shelley. And we must not, for collectors of "funny names," omit Sir Hussey Crespigny Vivian.
Many people bear Cornish surnames. Obviously the forename Vivian is no indication now of anything except perhaps age. But Cornish names are known through film actors such as Victor Jory (Jory is Cornish George) and Burl Ives (but his real surname is Ivanhoe). One must be cautious, because many performers in cinema and elsewhere change their names, although Howard Keel (from kel bower) changed his only from Harold Keel to Howard Keel. Still, there have been a great many people with Cornish names and ancestry prominent in American culture, though none of them have stressed their origins (as, say, the Irish have done) or felt the pressure to hide them (as, say, the Jews have done). Who is the most famous and name-connected Cornishman of American history? John Hancock. Why? Because he signed the Declaration of Independence with his name written very large (he said that he did that so George III could read it without his spectacles). John Hancock, whose surname recalls an old ancestor in Cornish, had a Cornish name which in America means "signature." Slang says, "Put your John Hancock on this."
In his forward to a book of 1972, Prof. A. L. Rowse notes famous Americans of Cornish ancestry. There was a Penhallow who was chief justice of New Hampshire, a Sen. Penrose and the Penrose who was a leading hymnist. "The Mormon Temple at Salt Lake City was built mostly by a Moyle." The Elks clubs were founded by a Vivian. In the early days of mining (what one historian called "poor men with rude machinery") in the US it was said that at the bottom of every deep hole there was a Cornishman. "The Cornish people," wrote Carew in the eighteenth century, "gaue themselves principally to the seeking of Tynn," and they invented the Cornish engine, the Cornish pump, and other mining aids, as well as naming the Cornish stone or Cornish diamond (decayed limestone) and Cornwallite (an arsenite of copper). The miners spread to far Australia and to the Americas. Even competitors in Malaysia, which proved to be able to produce tin cheaper than Cornwall could, thereby putting many Cornish mines out of business, hired some Cornishmen for their expertise. Of special interest to Americans were the many miners drawn to the gold rushes, the silver booms, and mining here in general.
I wish to add these lines from Bernard Moore’s A Cornish Collection:
Jack Trewella went out from here with only a miner’s kit
But he heard o’ money in Yankee land an’ thought he could do with a bit.
The folklore of Cornish-American miners has yet to be fully explored. It is a rich vein of humor and a record of hard lives and enabling dreams in places as far apart as Californian roaring camps and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Prof. Rowse also notes that Americans, while they may misspell their Cornish names, by Trevillian have preserved the correct pronunciation of Trevelyan, a name now more common in the US than in Cornwall. Sometimes Americans completely obscure Cornish names over here. I have noted that the very title of the genealogical History of the Treman, Tremaine, Truman Family in America (by E. F. Treman & M. E. Poole) tells the story. In my book What’s in a Name? I explain how Tremaine became Truman in Upstate New York. Abner Tremaine was the landholder, but when he applied to become postmaster the commissioner made an error: instead of Tremainesburg the officials appointed him postmaster of Trumansburg. The town got a new name, very unCornish. The family, nonetheless, kept the Cornish surname, and one of Abner’s descendants made it famous here: a Tremaine won the Congressional Medal of Honor for stupendous bravery at Chancellorsville during the Civil War. That one later became a brigadie