what’s in a name

This is only sort of science – but it’s fun (& also Friday). But the secretary came in with a document & pointed out that one of the names – Goodbehere – looked really old. ‘Must be a bit of history behind that one,’ she said.

Names often have a story to tell. In science they can be extremely informative – the names of chemical compounds, for example, often tell you a lot about the structure of that compound. DNA (deoxyribose nucleic acid) anyone? And as a zoologist, I often reflect on the fact that if I hadn’t learned Latin at school – as the only kid at school learning it, I studied with the Correspondence School – then getting a handle on the names of muscles, bones & other anatomical bits & pieces, let alone the ‘proper’ names of living things, would have been more difficult for me. (By ‘proper names’ I mean the Latin ‘binomial’ names that were first developed by the Swedish taxonomist Carolus Linnaeus, aka Carl von Linne: things like Homo sapiens and  Zea mays. Before this, an organism with a wide geographical range might have had several different ‘common’ names depending on where you were, which must have made it hard to know if you were talking about the same beast or several different ones.)

Family names – surnames, or patronymics – can tell you something of a person’s past. Cooper, Smith, Baker, Cook, Mason, Fletcher… These are all names where the ancestor’s name reflected their occupation. What about the one that caught Karla’s eye: Goodbehere? We speculated: perhaps an ancestor had done something awfully good – in the sense of doing good for others – & the name commemorated that? Hmmm. Maybe it used to be ‘Godbehere’, either in the form of a prayer (‘Lord, please help us; God, be here’) or because it marked the site of a church, or shrine, or some other holy place?

In the end we did what very many other people would do – we googled the word. (Speculation is fun, but we wanted answers!) The corruption of ‘Godbehere’ did come up as one possibility, but so did another, more surprising answer: the long-ago ancestor might have been a woodsman. Apparently the original name was Woodyer, & over time that’s been corrupted (I suppose you could say, it’s ‘evolved’) into Goodair, Goodbeer – and Goodbehere.

What’s in a name, indeed? (Have a look at the etymology of ‘Bottom’, for example, as in Higginsbottom etc. Not what you might think!)

3 thoughts on “what’s in a name”

  • Alison Campbell says:

    Truly? I’ll have to remember that – good for working into a conversation some time 😉 Campbell apparently means ‘crooked mouth’, which may help to explain (if not ease the pain of) the cost of the eldest child’s orthodontic work!

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