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TIP NINE: With Gypsy names be prepared for unexpected spelling

Eric Trudgill    -    5 February 2012

Research Tips For Beginners In Gypsy Genealogy

Beginners won’t find tips here on finding research material: for that they can use the internet, join the Romany & Traveller FHS, and buy Sharon Floate’s excellent book, My Ancestors Were Gypsies. What they are offered here are tips on evaluating and interpreting the material they find.

TIP NINE: With Gypsy names be prepared for unexpected spelling.

With forenames be prepared in the records for unexpected vowels: egNeptune as Nipton, Riley as Rahleigh, Unity as Eunetti, Honora as Ann Nora. Be prepared even more for unexpected consonants: most strikingly Gypsies, like uneducated gorjers, tended to ave little hideaow to use the haspirate, wrongly omitting it (eg Hercules, Hezekiahand Hephzibah were commonly recorded as Arkles, Ezekiah and Epsaba), or wrongly intruding it (egAlabon, Esau, Oceana and Argetty were commonly Halebon, Heshaw, Hoshanna&Hargetty) – in fairness we should note confusion over the aspirate is built into British forenames, Anna, Esther and Eleanor being the same names as Hannah, Hester and Helena.

But Gypsies, again like uneducated gorjers, had other less obvious problems. They had difficulty distinguishing B from P and V: Beata became Peata, and Absolom became Appy when shortened and Happy when aspirated; Bertina and Sabina became Vertina and Savina, and in the opposite direction Woodfine and Alverdine became Woodbine and Alberdine. They had difficulty distinguishing C (and K) from G: Carnation/Karnation became Ganation; Counselletta/Kunselletta became Gonzaletta, and in the opposite direction the Crazy Ann you sometimes find was probably Gracienne. They had difficulty distinguishing D from T (Diana became Teana,or Tehanna when aspirated) and, since T got muddled with TH (Neptune becoming Nepthan), they had difficulty distinguishing D from TH (Rhodey became Ruthie): you can see both kinds of confusion when Timothy turns into Dimiti and Deleta turns into Talitha.

Sometimes being prepared for unexpected consonants yields returns that are merely interesting: given the confusion over C/K and G, and D and T, could Dangerfield be the same name as the equally colourful Tinkerfield (the first was pronounced with a hard G to judge from one baptism, where it was recorded as Daingville)? But sometimes being prepared for unexpected consonants is vital to building a tree. If V was confused with B, it was also confused with W (Victoria became Wicky, Levithan became Wythen, Vashti became Waistey), which means when you find the baptism of a Leanawell Young, daughter of Harant, you can recognize her as the daughter of Aaron Young recorded in the census as Leonville, and be ready to find her elsewhere as Leanabel.

With surnames unexpected spelling is less of a problem because essentially Gypsy surnames were gorjer surnames, adopted by the early Romany Gypsies when they arrived in Britain, or bequeathed to later non-Romany Gypsies by their gorjer ancestors, so the spelling of Gypsies’ surnames was reasonably standardized. It’s true you may be inconveniencedsometimes, when looking through indexes, by the omission of the aspirate (Hern becomes Ern) or its intrusion (Ayres and Amer become Hares and Hamer), but the only time you’re likely to be troubled is if you come across George and Louisa Boswell’s family in the 1861 census recorded as Hills, the explanation being given by their appearance in the 1871 census as Bosshills (the first census-taker, it seems, misheard an aspirated Bossill).

I should point out unexpected spellings were sometimes the product, not of illiterate or slovenly pronunciation, but of elaborate orthography. Clerics and officials, writing up documents from other people’s notes, regularly couldn’t distinguish between a florid capital L and a florid capital S (a Septimus Boswell was Lupteras in the record of his baptism, and a Sabina Buckland was Lovina in the 1881 census). Only this, I think, can explain why some Romany Locks turned up in the 1891 census as Socks.

Copyright © 2012 Eric Trudgill