Origin of the surname
Meaning of MORCOM and MORCOMBE
MORCOM and MORCOMBE both probably mean "a hollow or small valley near the sea". "Mor" means sea in the closely related Britonnic languages Cornish, Welsh and Breton. "Cumb" in Cornish is a hollow or valley closed at one end (compare the Welsh "cwm"). Cornish was also widely spoken in Devon until the Middle Ages, when invaders from the east introduced the West Saxon dialect of Old English. It is, therefore, also possible that in Devon "mor" may have meant moor or swamp and MORCOMBE could have been a hollow in a moor. Old English sometimes incorporated Celtic words and "cumb" became Combe, Combe or Coomb.
Some emigrant MORCOM/BE families have mistakenly believed they came from Morecambe town in Lancashire, which was named in the mid 19th century after the bay on which it stood. There are various interpretation of the name (first mentioned by Ptolemy) but the modern consensus is that it means "a curve of the sea". Nor is the comedian Eric MORECAMBE a member of our family since he took MORECAMBE as his stage name in preference to his original surname of BARTHOLOMEW. MORECAMBE town returned the honour by installing an excellent statue of Eric on its sea front.
As long as most of the population was illiterate, the idea of correct or incorrect spelling was invalid, as the language was recorded phonetically. It was not, therefore, until the spread of education in the 18th and 19th centuries that the spelling of place names and surnames became standardized. Clerks in adjacent parishes might spell a surname differently, and the families which were recorded would, if literate, persist in regarding themselves as MORCOMs or MORCOMBEs or MORCOMBs. It sometimes happened that when a MORCOM family moved to Devon or a MORCOMBE family crossed the Tamar westward, that parish clerks renamed them following their previous practice with similarly sounding surnames they had earlier recorded. This is one reason why we decided to include both MORCOM and MORCOMBE in our one name study. Pursuing both surnames was also necessitated by the problem of interpreting deviants which were common to both variants. (See below for a definition of "variants" and "deviants".)
Beware, however, that there is a quite separate surname MARKHAM, meaning "the homestead on the boundary", which originated in Nottinghampshire and neighbouring counties, and was well established in the Southern plantation states of the USA long before the late 19th century incursion of Cornish miners into mainly the northern states. Variants of MARKHAM can lead to confusion with MORCOM/BE deviants, especially MORKHAM and MARKHAM as they occur as variants of both the West Country and Eastern counties names. Family connections or geographical locations may help to distinguish the correct origin.
Geographic origin of surnames
MORCOM and MORCOMBE may originally have been the name of a farm or small hamlet. Surnames only began to emerge for ordinary folk in the 14th and 15th centuries. In the West Country, when someone moved away from his original home, he was still known by his new neighbours as John de (of) a particular farm, but soon became John MORCOM, MORCOMBE etc. The evidence from the 1569 Muster Roll suggests that, by then, families were not changing their surnames when they moved to a new area.
Locative surnames may lead to several unrelated families sharing the same surname. Compare surnames based on occupations like Smith. It is probable that, whether this occurred with MORCOM and MORCOMBE, can only be solved by a genetic study. Although the names occur in modern West Country farms, this may have resulted from a MORCOM/BE family following the more recent practice of renaming a farm after buying it. Very time consuming research on property deeds, in county records offices, would be needed to establish if any of these farm names date from the Middle Ages, or to discover early MORCOM/BE hamlets or farms which have since disappeared or been renamed.
Mor[e]combelake village in Dorset is in a hollow at the head of a stream leading down to the sea. There is a deserted medieval village nearby. The flat field in the right foreground could be a former lake. An early MORCOMBE family headed by Unknown MORCOMBE(22258) was in the same parish, Whitchurch Canonicorum. from c.1550 onwards. Could they have taken their name from the village? Photograph ©Nigel CHADWICK
Variants and deviants
Derek PALGRAVE, the then President of the Guild of One Name Studies, suggested the term "deviant" to describe apparent variants that were really either clerical errors in recording birth, marriages, deaths, census entries etc., or mistakes made when later transcribing such records. Some deviants arose from mis-hearings, others from a recorder following local practice, which he had previously met. Sometimes a new parish clerk or census enumerator did not follow the spelling of his predecessor. Deviants occur randomly and inconsistently. In most cases, the person concerned, if literate, would not have used the incorrect spelling. However, even Shakespeare apparently signed his name in at least six different ways!
I have come across the deviant spellings below in my research. Not all of them are recorded in my database because, if an individual is predominantly entered with one surname spelling, I may disregard the occasional deviant spelling. There is a an overlap with MARKHAM and some of its deviants (marked with an *) which were noted by Sir Ken MARKHAM. Some of these names may have originally been deviants but were so persistent in some families that they became variants.
MARCAM* MARCHAM MARCHHAM MARCOM* MARCOMB* MARCOMBE MARCOMBS MARCOME MARCON* MARCUM* MARKCOM* MARKCOME MARKEM MARKEN MARKHAM* MARKOM MARKOME MARKUM* MERCOMB MERCOMBE MERCON MERKHAM MIRCOM MIRCON MOORCAM MOORCOMB MOORCOMBE MORCOOM MORCOOMB MORCOOME MORCAM MORCAMB MORCAMBE MORCAN MORCHAM MORCKAM MORCKCOMBE MORCKHAM MORCKOM MORCOCK MORCOMB* MORCOMBER MORCOME MORCOMS MORCON MORCORAM MORCORN MORCOTT MORCOUMBE MORCUM MORCUMB MORCUMBE MORCUME MORECOM MORECOMB MORECOMBE MORECOMBS MORECOME MORECUMB MORECUMBE MORKAM MORKAN MORKCOM MORKEM MORKEN MORKHAM* MORKIM MORKIN MORKOM MORKOMB MORKOMBE MORKCOMBE MORKOME MORKORN MORKUM MORKYN MOROM MORSOM MUIRCUMB MURCOM MURCOMB MURCOMBE MURCON
I regard MORCOM, and MORCOMB/E as variants in my one name study because, one or other of these surnames persist over generations in families. A more unusual variant surname is MORECOMBE, which although often a short lived deviant, has been persistent over several generations in two families. William John MORECOMBE(04172) was christened on 15 July 1852 and the name has been maintained by his descendants. William John's ancestors (or parish clerks) seem to have been confused whether they were named MORCOM, MORCOMBE, MORKHAM or MORKIN! George MORECOMBE(09658), born 22 September 1881, came from several generations of MORCOMBEs, a surname which his five siblings also adopted. George's descendants have been consistently known as MORECOMBE.
The choice of Christian name
Our MORCOM ancestors, up to the 20th century, were singularly unimaginative in their choice of Christian names. I have chosen, as a sample, the forenames of those 689 MORCOMs and close relatives who were born before 1900 in Gwennap parish, which was the home of the largest number of MORCOM families. The following ten first, or only, forenames accounted for 60% of the total births: Anne (or Annie), Catherine, Elizabeth (or Eliza), Henry, Jane, John, Mary, Richard, Thomas and William. This creates the problem of disentangling the families of three of four Elizabeths, married to William MORCOMBEs, who were bearing children in the parish during the same two or three decades. The following fifteen Christian names account for another 20% of the Gwennap births: Alice, Augustus, Charles, Dig(g)ory, Elisha, George, Grace, Harriet, James, Joan, Johanna, Joseph, Margaret, Mark and Samuel. In the England & Wales censuses of 1841 to 1911, the top ten MORCOM forenames were William, Mary, John, Elizabeth, Thomas, James, Richard. Joseph, Annie and George. Jane had dropped to 11th, Henry to 16th and Catherine was not in the top 20.
This lack of imagination in naming children was partly due to the common English naming convention, as follows:
- The first son was named after the paternal grandfather
- The second son was named after the maternal grandfather
- The third son was named after the father
- The fourth son was named after the oldest paternal uncle
- The fifth was named after the second oldest paternal uncle or the oldest maternal uncle
- The first daughter was named after the maternal grandmother
- The second daughter was named after the paternal grandmother
- The third daughter was named after the mother
- The fourth daughter was named after the oldest maternal aunt
- The fifth was named after the second oldest maternal aunt or the oldest paternal aunt
If there was duplication (for example, the paternal grandfather and the father had the same name), then the family moved to the next position on the list. In the 17th and 18th centuries there was a high infant mortality rate and it was common for parents to name a child after a recently deceased sibling. If the same name recurs in a family, it usually means that the first child with that name had died. When two forenames began to appear, the maiden name of the wife was sometimes used as the second name. An unmarried mother might signal the identity of the father of her baby by giving the child his surname as the second name.
However Christine TREGONNING reported that mining families in the Redruth and Helston areas often followed a different naming pattern of:
- The first son was named after the father
- The first daughter after the mother
- Second sons or daughters could be after grandparents or a sibling a parent was close to
In nineteenth century Cornwall, biblical names became more common, particularly among the more fervently religious Non-Conformist families e.g. Jemima, Christian, Jecholia, Josiah, Johanna, Elisha and Hannah. Between c.1900 and now, forenames became even more varied with historic, royal, sports, film, TV etc personalities influencing choice e.g. in 2014, 244 girls in England & Wales were named Arya after a Game of Thrones character.
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