Wednesday, November 20, 2019

What's in a name?

I discovered yesterday that is back up, and with it the archived contents of the Harbison genealogy list. This invaluable resource frequently featured Chris Harbison of Mt. Macedon, Victoria, Australia, now unfortunately deceased, possibly the best family genealogist of the last generation.

Chris was no medievalist, but he knew medievalists, and he had some unorthodox ideas about the origin of the Harbison name. While the standard theory (expounded earlier) is that Harbison was a corruption of Herbertson (Her- = war, warrior -bert- = bright + son), in fact there's no real evidence the Herbertson form preceded the Harbison form; they appear virtually contemporaneously in Scotland. My data for early Scottish christenings bear this out; in fact, if anything, there were far more Harbison or variant christenings in early 17th century Scotland than there were Herbertson. He suggests the origin might be innkeeper-son. Her- still means war in Old English; but herbourg was a refuge from war, and became an inn or hostel, thence herberger. The word still exists in German, and is cognate with modern French auberge and modern English harbour. Harbour is precedent for dropping the terminal g.

And there are several Harbisons and Herbertsons well-scattered around England (northern Norfolk, Bedfordshire, Kent) about the same time. Chris suggests there might have been some eccleasiatical connection that explained the mobility. Chris was wedded to the idea of a single surname origin; the DNA simply does not support that. So there might have been bright warriors, and innkeepers, all mixed in together.

I must say I like the 'innkeeper' theory, if only because my family, from my 4th great grandfather down to my grandmother, were tavern-keepers or liquor sellers.

Anyway, more gleanings from the list, anon.

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