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Roots: What’s In A Name? January 25, 2013

Editor’s Note: This article, originally appeared in Julie’s Fresh Air in 2006, gives more insights into a family’s history via the naming of their children.


By Pennee Murphree, guest blogger for Julie’s Fresh Air

Names are so interesting. When you examine the names within your family tree you discover that they say a lot about your heritage. Some of the fascinating names in my family have caused me to do more research and uncover some really interesting stories. Other names that intrigued me have led to a dead end but do cause me to go back again and again to look for more background. Even when I hit a dead end in the research, other interesting pieces of information pop up ─ like another interesting family name I didn’t have before.

So if names help us understand our family heritage, it’s worth a close examination.

One of many names that started it all for me was Jemima. A third great grandmother of mine that I return to often is named Jemima Tarbox. Now tell me that this name would not make you wonder where that name came from! It held my curiosity long enough to investigate. Tarbox is English.  It’s a habitational name from Tarbock Green, formerly in Lancashire, now in Merseyside.  In Old English the meaning is tied in with “thorn tree” plus “brook,” and “stream.”

My grandmother’s first name, Jemima, is a Biblical name meaning “dove” or “bright as day” in Hebrew. It happens to be the name of one the eldest of the daughters of Job, born to him towards the end of his life when his prosperity had been restored (Job 42: 14). The name was common in the first part of the 19th century, and has continued in modest use since then.

And a fourth great grandfather, Joseph Beedle, definitely passed on the traits of the meaning of his name. Beedle is an English occupational name for a medieval court official, from Middle English bedele (Old English bydel, reinforced by Old French bedel). The word is of Germanic origin, and akin to Old English beodan “to command” and Old High German bodo “messenger.” In the Middle Ages a beadle in England and France was a junior official of a court of justice, responsible for acting as an usher in a court, carrying the mace in processions in front of a justice, delivering official notices, making proclamations, as a sort of town crier, and so on. By Shakespeare’s day a beadle was a sort of village constable, appointed by the parish to keep order. That sounds like us! We tend to deliver official notices and to try and keep order.  

My mother was very creative when she named me Pennee and decided to spell it differently. So, of course, when I see a Penelope in the family tree I take notice. When I found a Penelope Van Princen in my husband, Pat’s, tree I went on a search. I just typed in “Penelope Van Princen” in the search and I found a fountain of information.  Actually her maiden name was Penelope Kent.


Here is her story from the Internet. Penelope Kent was born in Amsterdam, Holland, in 1622. She married a Mr. Van Princen in 1642 and they set off to make their fortune in the New World. The ship bringing them wrecked just off Sandy Hook, New Jersey, in 1643. Her husband had been very ill on the journey, and was seriously injured in their attempt to reach land. When they did reach land, those who had survived feared an Indian attack. They decided to hasten to New Amsterdam, but Mr. Van Prince was in no condition to travel, so the group left Penelope and her husband behind to fare for themselves. Soon afterward in the woods the dreaded attack materialized and both of them were hacked up and left for dead. Penelope survived, having had her skull fractured, and left shoulder so badly cut that she never regained full use of her arm. Her abdomen was also slit open so that her intestines appeared, so she supposedly held them in with her hand. She took shelter in a hollow tree, trying to recover. After a few days, she saw a deer with arrows sticking in it, and soon two Indians appeared. The younger was going to kill her, but the other more elderly man prevented him. He carried her to his wigwam and cured her of her wounds. Then he took her to New Amsterdam, returning her, collecting a reward.The young widow met Richard Stout in New Amsterdam and they were married in 1644. Later she prevailed on him to move to Middleton, New Jersey in 1648. They had ten children, and she lived to be 110 years old and lived to see 502 total offspring before she died in 1732.



Oh, and Stout means just what you might think it means. Stout.



I could go on about George Washington Howard, Thomas Jefferson Murphree, Hosea Ballou Howard, Franklin Pierce Murphree, Joseph Lafayette Meek, James Madison Murphree, Issac Newton Briley, and James Polk Murphree. And then we find Patience Brewster, Love Brewster and Fear Brewster.


And of course we have a Boston Corbett Briley in the family. I stopped on this name because of his first name and because of my research on the Briley branch of our tree. What was Boston Corbett’s claim to fame?  He was the man who shot John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Lincoln. Corbett had been a sharp-shooter during the Civil War, and after the assassination of Lincoln, he volunteered to join a detachment of soldiers searching for Booth who was soon tracked to a barn in Virginia.  When the old barn had been surrounded, Booth refused to surrender.  Though under orders not to fire, Corbett dropped Booth with one shot, through a crack in the barn ─ an amazing shot ─ with the bullet taking nearly the same path in Booth’s head as the one he’d discharged into Lincoln’s a few days before.  Though Corbett always maintained that he’d seen Booth raise his pistol after being ordered to surrender and was taking aim at their commander, he was charged with disobeying orders.  Nothing ever came of the charges, but Corbett was discharged from the army shortly thereafter.  He became bitter that he hadn’t received the recognition he felt he deserved, and eventually moved to Cloud County, near Concordia, Kansas where he homesteaded and constructed a dugout in the area now marked by the monument constructed by Boy Scouts.

Boston Corbett Names are a window into the beliefs, the patriotism, and the character of our ancestors. It’s just one more reason I love searching out my family tree. Carefully examine your own family names and you’ll come to understand your ancestors better.




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