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Orthography Of Proper Names
by [?]

We are often perplexed to decide how the names of some of our eminent men ought to be written; and we find that they are even now written diversely. The truth is, that our orthography was so long unsettled among us, that it appears by various documents of the times which I have seen, that persons were at a loss how to write their own names, and most certainly have written them variously. I have sometimes suspected that estates may have been lost, and descents confounded, by such uncertain and disagreeing signatures of the same person. In a late suit respecting the Duchess of Norfolk’s estate, one of the ancestors has his name printed Higford, while in the genealogy it appears Hickford. I think I have seen Ben Jonson’s name written by himself with an h; and Dryden made use of an i. I have seen an injunction to printers with the sign-manual of Charles II., not to print Samuel Boteler esquire’s book or poem called Hudibras, without his consent; but I do not know whether Butler thus wrote his name. As late as in 1660, a Dr. Crovne was at such a loss to have his name pronounced rightly, that he tried six different ways of writing it, as appears by printed books; Cron, Croon, Crovn, Crone, Croone, and Crovne; all of which appear under his own hand, as he wrote it differently at different periods of his life. In the subscription book of the Royal Society he writes W. Croone, but in his will at the Commons he signs W. Crovne. Ray the naturalist informs us that he first wrote his name Wray, but afterwards omitted the W. Dr. Whitby, in books published by himself, writes his name sometimes Whiteby. And among the Harleian Manuscripts there is a large collection of letters, to which I have often referred, written between 1620 and 1630, by Joseph Mead; and yet in all his printed letters, and his works, even within that period, it is spelt Mede; by which signature we recognise the name of a learned man better known to us: it was long before I discovered the letter-writer to have been this scholar. Oldys, in some curious manuscript memoirs of his family, has traced the family name through a great variety of changes, and sometimes it is at such variance that the person indicated will not always appear to have belonged to the family. We saw recently an advertisement in the newspapers offering five thousand pounds to prove a marriage in the family of the Knevetts, which occurred about 1633. What most disconcerted the inquirers is their discovery that the family name was written in six or seven different ways: a circumstance which I have no doubt will be found in most family names in England. Fuller mentions that the name of Villers was spelt fourteen different ways in the deeds of that family.

I shall illustrate this subject by the history of the names of two of our most illustrious countrymen, Shakspeare and Rawleigh.

We all remember the day when a violent literary controversy was opened, nor is it yet closed, respecting the spelling of our poet’s name. One great editor persisted in his triumphant discovery, by printing Shakspere, while another would only partially yield, Shakspeare; but all parties seemed willing to drop the usual and natural derivation of his name, in which we are surely warranted from a passage in a contemporary writer, who alludes by the name to a conceit of his own, of the martial spirit of the poet.[1] The truth seems to be, then, that personal names were written by the ear, since the persons themselves did not attend to the accurate writing of their own names, which they changed sometimes capriciously, and sometimes with anxious nicety. Our great poet’s name appears Shakspere in the register of Stratford church; it is Shakspeare in the body of his will, but that very instrument is indorsed Mr. Shackspere’s will. He himself has written his name in two different ways, Shakspeare and Shakspere. Mr. Colman says, the poet’s name in his own county is pronounced with the first a short, which accounts for this mode of writing the name, and proves that the orthoepy rather than the orthography of a person’s name was most attended to; a very questionable and uncertain standard.[2]