Cornish Names
Cornish Names
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Cornish Names is the first attempt in one volume to cover all the personal names (both surnames and given names), placenames (both major and minor), and other onomastic aspects of the ancient language of Cornwall. That ancient Celtic language saw its last native speaker die before the end of the eighteenth century but Cornish has undergone a revival since the nineteenth century. Today its enthusiasts chat on the Internet.

Cornish Names ranges from what to name the baby or a vacation house in Cornwall to how history and literature and folklore are preserved in the names of saints and the common people. It includes some discussion of this Celtic language, its formal names and nicknames, and placenames of the Isles of Scilly, too.

Cornish Names is written by a leading expert on name study, twice president of the American Name Society (ANS) and for decades on the editorial board of the journal Names and the executive board of ANS. Cornish Names is written in an entertaining as well as authoritative style, for the general reader.

You may find here your own name or names of people you know, for the Cornish, wreckers and builders, miners and adventurers, have spread from their duchy in the west of Britain all over the world. John Hancock is the most noted American of Cornish descent but he is but one of the famous Cornish people.

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

Leonard R. N. Ashley, PhD (Princeton), LHD (Columbia Theological, honoris causa) is Professor emeritus, Brooklyn College of The City University of New York. He has been called "the foremost authority on the subject of names".

He was for twenty years a member of the editorial board of the journal Names and has since the seventies served on the executive council of the American Name Society, and he has been twice elected its president (1979, 1987). He is the author of the general survey What’s in a Name? (1987, revised 1995) and of more than 150 scholarly articles on names in all aspects as well as on other topics (recent or forthcoming articles are on Anaïs Nin’s diaries, Hamlet, and the ethics of book reviewing. He has authored a chronique on books on all aspects of The Renaissance for Bibliothèque ďHumanisme et Renaissance (Geneva) in each issue for decades. He has contributed to a great many encyclopedias and other reference books. He has authored a number of textbooks. He has edited a wide variety of books by others, including Phantasms of the Living, Shakespeare’s Jest Book, The Ballad Poetry of Ireland, Reliques of Irish Poetry, A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Charlotte Charke, etc., and (most recently) the previously unpublished onomastic papers of Allen Walker Read. Ashley is recently the author of a set of books on names: Names in Literature, Names in Popular Culture, Names of Places, and Art Attack: Essays on Names in Satire. He once served as secretary of the International Linguistic Association and directed its conferences and he has repeatedly been re-elected president of the American Society of Geolinguistics (ASG) since 1991 and has directed half a dozen international conferences of ASG and co-edited their published proceedings. His latest book is on geolinguistics: Language in Modern Society (published by Wisdom House in the US, UK, and India). Ashley’s other books range from literary history and criticism (such as History of the Short Story and Authorship and Evidence in Renaissance Drama and George Alfred Henty and the Victorian Mind) to literary biography (Colley Cibber and George Peele) and military history (collaboration on A Military History of Modern China, authorship of The Air Defence of North America for NORAD and of Ripley’s "Believe It Or Not" Book of The Military) to poetry and a series on the occult for Barricade Books.

The tenth book in his Barricade Books series, The Complete Book of Sex Magic will be published in Spring 2002). Also from Barricade Books in Spring 2002 will come The Dictionary of Sex Slang. When his agent suggested "books with more readers than footnotes" and offered the choice of "sex, cookbooks, or the occult". Ashley chose the occult, but sex (especially after thorough studies on vampires and werewolves) is creeping in. There is no sex in Cornish Names – but there are no footnotes, either.


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