What’s in a Name? Trees for Life

What's in a Name?

From whence came my name? My name contains the words by which I am called and identified. It is my appellation, cognomen, denomination, designation, handle, moniker, nomen, tag and style in turn, depending upon who is calling or using it. Being born into a patriarchal society I was first identified by my father’s surname. It’s a name which was derived from a tree, the alder. Myths, history, genealogy, stories, and bibliographies establish that this family name is a very old one in Germany where it originated. It translates roughly into “near the alder tree, or living near the alder tree.” An alder tree along the banks of the nam Fiadh stream in Glen Affric – is shown in the accompanying picture. That picture came from “Trees for Life, Restoring the Caledonian Forest.” Alders are deep rooted trees, and are especially useful for helping prevent erosion of river and stream banks. Families with the surname have been found in Palintine (Switzerland, France and Germany), Northern Germany by Austria, near the Rhine River, and close to what is now the Balkans. The surname is also found in Sweden and Norway. In England the name was recorded as far back as the 1300s and 1400s. My earliest German ancestor to emigrate to America arrived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 5 September, 1748, aboard the ship Edinburg from Rotterdam. His direct ancestors have been traced by a family genealogist back to one Matthes Eller, born 1595 in Koenigsburg, East Prussia, Germany. My German ancestor married in Pennsylvania, and then migrated southward, along with four brothers and their families, to eventually settle in the Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee.
My mother’s surname, coming also from her father, derives from a Celtic background, and means “little rock” or “headstone.” Her earliest recorded paternal ancestor arrived in America in 1636 from Weymouth, England to settle at Lynn, Massachusetts. Following my mother’s ancestral line, a son of that ancestor joined the Quaker religion in 1658 and moved to Monmouth County, East (New) Jersey, in 1670. The family subsequently settled in Salem County, with some settling in Alloway, at Hancock’s Bridge, and at Mannington. Some also settled in Gloucester County, New Jersey.
The name by which I am now known, my husband’s surname, also has deep Celtic roots, with his family coming from one of the Western isles of Scotland. It, too, is an ancient name and predates the Christian era.
So – whence came my name, this mixture of ancestral backgrounds, religions, customs; this jumble of beliefs; which followed myriads of miles of emigration and migration, and is constructed of tensile threads of human experience? It’s been fun trying to sort it out, but the names I’ve been called which have made me happiest are these two – wife and mommy!


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