Thursday, October 22, 2009

Anglo-Norman Extraction

Warning: today's post is quite NERDY, but fun. Give nerds a chance.
Not too long ago my wife was reading a book that included a section on names--their meanings, implications, and which names give you the greatest chances for success. We found this at least mildly interesting as we plan on adding to our brood in the future, and are always on the look-out for potential baby names. And no, in case anyone jumps to this, my wife is not pregnant. Well, one prefix we will not be considering for a future name is "Fitz." Not for the reason that I am about to divulge, but because there aren't any Fitz-names that have the right ring for us. So anyway, what we learned about Fitz is that it was used by royalty to create surnames for their illegitimate sons. The book was in the category of pop-non-fiction, and wasn't great about citations so I had to look this up for myself today.

Etymologically, "Fitz" is the Anglo-French word for son (thank you OED). It was used for patronymic designations. I'm sorry if this is "patronizing" to anyone, but I will digress for a second to define patronym. (I'm also sorry for the pun I just made on the root--"patron", meaning father--I'm sure that my wife is rolling her eyes as we speak). A patronym is a name derived from the name of one's father. So if you were ever reading Anna Karenina and were lost because of all of the different names people could be called by, that was partly because of the Russian use of patronyms. In Russian a person's middle name is always the name of their father with the appropriate ending for a male or a female. So, if you saw someone in a Russian novel called Masha Petrovna, whose brother's name was Oleg Petrovich, then you would know that their father's name was the Russian equivalent of Peter. Anyway, back to Fitz--so if a King's name was William, for example, his progeny through the local milk maid very well might have had the last name Fitzwilliam.

You've probably heard of names like Fitzgerald, Fitzpatrick, etc...and you might be thinking, "Hey, isn't that more of an Irish thing than an English one?" And if we were watching Blues Clues I would reply, "Wow, you're really smart!" Several hundred years after the use of this Anglo-French word for illegitimate children of royalty in England, it became a common prefix for surnames of Irish families of Anglo-Norman extraction--which basically means (though I am oversimplifying) that these families were living in England sometime around the Norman conquest (including its aftermath of amalgamation of so many things Saxon and Norman) and then they relocated to Ireland, establishing themselves there.

In my original conversation about this topic with my wife, we noted that in Pride and Prejudice Mr. Darcy's first name is Fitzwilliam. Now, by the early 19th century, when Pride and Prejudice was published, the connotation if illegitimacy with the prefix "Fitz" had more or less gone out. But in the earlier parts of the novel I'm almost surprised that Lizzie never remarked to Jane that Darcy was a bona fide bastard.

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