Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Guest Blog: What's in a Name?

I realized not too long ago the first anniversary of this blog was quickly approaching. I wondered if I would run out of topics to write about so I had the brilliant idea to invite guest bloggers to write posts from time to time.  One obvious choice was my fourth cousin once removed, Sarah Semple. Sarah reached out to me through in early May of last year. And what a treasure she has turned out to be. She has written several books about genealogy, which are all fascinating, and helped me with my great great grandmother Margaret Semple's family immediate and extended. Sarah has taught me more than a thing or two about research and Scottish customs. She also wrote Charles Sorrell's Edwardian Napier, which was reviewed by Postcard Pillar in December 2013.

Over to Sarah -- 

When our children were born, my husband and I decided that their first names would be ones that appealed to us. However they would have two middle names -- one from my husband's side of the family and the other from my side. The criteria for each middle name was that it had to be either a prominent name that appeared consistently through the family tree or a name from an individual in our heritage who stood out by playing an important role in shaping our family. It all seemed pretty simple really, or maybe not…

Our son's middle names are Alexander and Wolfe. Alexander was a natural choice -- the name of my great great grandfather who immigrated with his wife and children to New Zealand in 1862. Alexander (born 12 October 1833 in Larkhall, Lanarkshire, Scotland) had worked as a hand loom weaver in Scotland. However, the industrial revolution saw the decline of the cottage weaving industry with many in Larkhall working in the mines instead. Alexander chose a different path from his brothers and became a stonemason. His immigration to New Zealand allowed him to become a farmer. His son, also named Alexander (my great grandfather) was born on the boat, the day after it had berthed in Port Chalmers, Dunedin. Semple Road in Waitati, Otago, is named after him.

Alexander Semple (born 1862)

Wolfe was my husband's great grandfather's middle name. Albert Wolfe Brisk was born in Safed in 1880 in what was then Palestine. He trained as a watchmaker in Switzerland and then moved to Singapore where he married and had six children. His wife died in 1936. Albert and five of his children were interned by the Japenese in various camps in southeast Asia during World War II. Albert didn't survive the experience. He was imprisoned in Changi camp in Singapore and then in Sime Road camp. He died from malnutrition on 19 December 1942.

Albert Wolfe Brisk (born 1882)

My daughter's middle names are Alecia and Sorrell. The name Alecia (or Alicia) has been in every generation of her paternal grandmother's family back to the late 1700s. This side of the family immigrated from Ireland to Australia in the early 1800s. They owned large pockets of land and were proud of the family name Alecia which ran through the family. When the family tree was finally worked on, it was discovered the name Alecia had in fact originated from a servant who had worked for the family in Ireland. Some of the older generation were horrified by this knowledge!

Ethel Alecia Sorrell (born 1878)

The name Sorrell was for Charles Sorrell, my great grandfather who had moved to New Zealand and settled in Napier working as a photographer. He captured Napier -- its buildings, landscape, people and events on film. Napier was destroyed by an earthquake in 1931; many of the buildings and landscapes Sorrell photographed disappeared. Researching the Sorrell tree proved problematic, and it turned out that Charles Sorrell was not a Sorrell at all -- his name at birth was Charles Hudson Cunningham. His mother had gotten pregnant in London for the second time, and her brothers put her on a boat in 1855 destined for Melbourne, Australia. Son Charles was born shortly after her arrival. She then moved in with a man named John Sorrell and had two daughters by him. As he lay dying in 1860, Charles' mother was brawling with the bailiff about non-payment of rent. She had a further two children by different men. It turns out there is no Sorrell blood in my family tree at all, but I was none the wiser when my daughter was born!

Sorrell residence and studio in 1911; Charles Sorrell is on the balcony with his wife


  1. Loved this post--So much so that I added a link to it as a great example in my recent post "What's the Story Behind Your Name"

    Laura Hedgecock

  2. I recently done a Blog on Names in my Family. It's funny how we pass those names down. For me it gave me a lot of clues. I enjoyed this!!!! The Studio is straight out of a Western!

    1. True, that "western" studio is in Napier, New Zealand -- a hemisphere away. First names are so interesting. I am named for my maternal grandmother. I like having a family name.

  3. Albert Wolfe Brisk would not have seen the inside of Sime Road as the civilian internees were not moved to Sime until 1944. However his family would have been housed there in the last years of the war. Sime Road is still there today .. its a housing estate and worth a visit if you get the chance to visit Singapore

    1. Jon, thank you for the additional information about the Sime Road Camp. I will forward your note to my guest blogger, who wrote this post.

    2. Hi Jon,
      You are absolutely correct. Albert didn't live long enough to get to Sime Road camp, although three of his sons were moved from Changi to Sime Road in May or June 1944. A fourth son was in Chapei Camp in Shanghai and a daughter was somewhere in Sumatra. We have never been able to find out which camp Albert's daughter was in, since she always refused to speak of her experiences during the war.