What’s In A Name?

Our name wasn’t always Casbon.

What I should really say, is that our name wasn’t always spelled ‘C-a-s-b-o-n.’

As you go back into our early family records, the ways our name is spelled varies dramatically.

The earliest I’ve traced my ancestors is the marriage of William Casbolde to Margrett Saybrocke in 1577.[1] Here is a sampling of spellings from parish and census records of my relatives, with dates they were recorded[2],[3],[4].

Spelling variants(Click on image to enlarge)

There are many records with spellings similar to those above in other parts of England, but the records are concentrated most heavily in the general vicinity of Cambridge. If you’re interested, check out this map I created showing the distribution of births and christenings with similar surnames in England between 1560 and 1825.  The map allows you to select individual surnames, locations and ranges of dates to see how these factors affect the distribution.

Judeth dtr of John Casbold and Joan 1613Learning to read old records can be a challenge. This says, “Judeth Daughter of John Casbold & Joan february vii.” [Church of England. “Parish registers for Melbourne, 1558-1877.”](Click on image to enlarge)

The spelling Casbon appears as early as 1617 in Isleham, Cambridgeshire[5], but thereafter it only appears infrequently in diverse locations. It makes its first appearance in my family line is 1769 when Thomas Casbon married Jane Wilson in Melbourn.[6] The Casbon spelling did not become more widespread until the early to mid-1800s.

Samuel Clark Casbon, born in Meldreth 1851 to William and Ann (Clark) Casbon[7], was recorded in the 1881 England and Wales Census as Samuel Casban[8]. His descendants have continued to use the Casban spelling. Reuben (b. 1847[9]), another son of William and Ann Casbon adopted the spelling Casben for himself and his descendants. Reuben’s son Arthur Casben (b. 1886[10]) emigrated to Australia in the early 20th century. Now almost all of the living Casbens are in Australia.[11]

The main reason spellings of these names changed is that very few people could read or write. Many of our ancestors did not know how to spell their names. This can be seen on marriage records where bride and groom often signed with their “mark,” An x or +.

1835 James Casbon Elizabeth Waller M Meld
When James Casbon married Elizabeth Waller in 1835, he signed his name with his “mark,” as did one of the witnesses. Apparently Elizabeth was able to sign her own name. [Church of England. “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877.”](Click on image to enlarge)

This means that the spelling was determined by whichever church or government official was responsible for writing the name in an official record. They simply had to make their best guess.  I’ve noticed in these old records that when the person keeping the records changes, so does the spelling.

Imagine going to the DMV for a driver’s license and not knowing how to spell your name…what do you think would end up on the license?!

Literacy rates gradually increased throughout the 1800s, although elementary education did not become compulsory in England until 1880.[12] Once our ancestors learned to write, they were able to take control of how the name and how it was spelled.

This means that today’s spelling of names is somewhat arbitrary. As seen with Casban and Casben above, people who are related may not share the same surname. Conversely, not everyone with a given surname is related. It’s tempting to believe that all the Casbons are somehow related, but there is little reason and no evidence to support it.

It doesn’t mean we can’t be friends, though!

[1] “England Marriages, 1538–1973.” FamilySearch https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:N2QX-MXY [accessed 31 October 2015]
[2] Church of England. “Parish registers for Melbourne, 1558-1877.” Microfilm of original records in the Cambridge County Record Office, Cambridge. FHL Microfilm #1040540. Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, [1980]
[3] Church of England. “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877.” Microfilm of original records in the Cambridge County Record Office, Cambridge. FHL Microfilm #1040542. Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, [1980]
[4] “1871 census of England and Wales.” FamilySearch https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VRFV-RPH [accessed 24 July 2015]
[5] “Cambridgeshire Burials.” FindMyPast http://search.findmypast.com/record?id=gbprs%2fd%2f403045322%2f1 [accessed 8 September 2016]
[6] “England Marriages, 1538–1973 .” FamilySearch https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NJK5-XZD [accessed 30 September 2015]
[7] Church of England. “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877.”
[8] “1881 census of England and Wales.” FamilySearch https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QK6B-B64V [accessed 6 October 2015]
[9] Church of England. “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877.”
[10] “England and Wales Birth Registration Index, 1837-2008.” FamilySearch  https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2XP6-FL3 [accessed 11 November 2015]
[11] “Casben Surname Meaning and Statistics.” Forebears http://forebears.io/surnames/casben [accessed 8 September 2016]
[12] “The 1870 Education Act.” UK Parliament http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/livinglearning/school/overview/1870educationact/ [accessed 8 September 2016]
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