“a term of reproach …”

I was pleased when I got an email from the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) yesterday, informing me that they had purchased the online version of The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland. This book was published in 2016 and is the result of the FaNBI project (Family Names in Britain and Ireland), an ongoing research endeavor “building on foundations laid by previous scholars but using new methods, new principles, and new resources.”[1] The book has more than 45,000 entries, listing every name with more than 100 occurrences in the most recent (2011) UK census, and those with more than 20 occurrences in 1881.[2],[3] The print version of the book costs $600, so I was especially happy to have access to it though my NEHGS membership.

The first thing I did was look up Casbon (sorry, there were no entries for Casban or Casben). This is what it says:[4]

  • Current frequencies: GB 71, Ireland 0
  • GB frequency 1881: 44
  • Main GB location 1881: Cambs, Herts, and Northants [Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Northamptonshire]

(English) : see Casbolt.

In other words, there were 71 people with the Casbon name in Great Britain in 2011, and 44 in 1881. The 1881 geographic distribution matches my data, in which the main concentrations are Meldreth/Melbourn (Cambridgeshire), Barley (Hertfordshire), and Peterborough (Northamptonshire). I assume they used the 1881 geographic distribution because people were less likely to have migrated from their places of origin at that time.

Next, I looked at the entry for Casbolt, since the first entry directed me there. Here is a synopsis:[5]

Variants: Casburn, Casebourne, Casbon

  • Current frequencies: GB 133, Ireland 0
  • GB frequency 1881: 149
  • Main GB location 1881: Cambs

English: nickname from Middle English casbalde ‘bald head’, apparently a term of reproach: ‘Go home, casbalde with þi clowte’ [thy cloth] (about 1440 York Plays). [bold print for emphasis]

Well, what do you think of that? The geniuses at Oxford think our name comes from a nickname, a “term of reproach”! Actually, I think it’s pretty interesting – a great conversation starter.

The entry gives the following additional information:

This surname became highly variable in its second syllable, despite being strongly localized to E Cambs. The variants with -n- seem to have arisen in the SE of the Isle of Ely. There is no evidence that the modern name is ever from the place-name surviving in Casebourne Wood in Hythe (Kent), exemplified by John de Caseburn, 1275 in Hundred Rolls (Kent).[6]

I’m curious why the editors chose Casbolt as the principal spelling. It’s probably because it is/was the most common variant, edging out Casburn only slightly. In my research, Casbolt is strongly associated with the village of Linton, 11.5 miles due east of Meldreth. Casburn is strongly associated with the village of Burwell, about 18 miles northeast of Meldreth and 12.5 miles north of Linton. See my map of births & christenings in the UK at https://www.easymapmaker.com/map/casbon_uk_genealogy.

So, was there once a bald man in Linton, whose descendants kept his nickname as their surname, and gradually migrated to surrounding villages? We’ll never know, but I find the concept appealing.

There are other theories about the origin of the name. One is the idea mentioned above, that our name is related to the place name of Casebourne Wood in Kent. This theory is expressed on The Internet Surname Database.[7] I agree that this explanation is unlikely. The geographic clustering in Cambridgeshire is too strong to support an origin in Kent. Ancestry says that Casbon is “French: probably a reduced form of Casabon, a topographic name meaning ‘house in good condition’.” This explanation might apply to the Louisiana Casbons (see The French Connection), but I don’t think we can apply it to those of us whose origins were in England.

I’ll stick with the bald man theory for now. After all, I have Oxford University to back me up.
bald_head

[1] “The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland: Introduction,” Oxford Reference (http://www.oxfordreference.com.nehgs.idm.oclc.org/view/10.1093/acref/9780199677764.001.0001/acref-9780199677764-miscMatter-7 : accessed 27 April 2017).
[2] “The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland: Introduction.”
[3] “The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland,” Oxford Reference (http://www.oxfordreference.com.nehgs.idm.oclc.org/view/10.1093/acref/9780199677764.001.0001/acref-9780199677764 : accessed 27 April 2017).
[4] “The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names … Casbon,” Oxford Reference (http://www.oxfordreference.com.nehgs.idm.oclc.org/view/10.1093/acref/9780199677764.001.0001/acref-9780199677764-e-06875?rskey=S2GZgr&result=1 : accessed 27 April 2017).
[5] “The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names … Casbolt,” Oxford Reference (http://www.oxfordreference.com.nehgs.idm.oclc.org/view/10.1093/acref/9780199677764.001.0001/acref-9780199677764-e-06874# : accessed 27 April 2017).
[6] “The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names … Casbolt.”
[7] “Last name: Casbon,” The Internet Surname Database (http://www.surnamedb.com/Surname/Casbon : accessed 27 April 2017).
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3 thoughts on ““a term of reproach …”

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