The Sole Society, a Family History Society researching Sole, Saul, Sewell, Solley and similar names

Names in Northampton

By Ruth Pringle

This article was originally published in the December 2004 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society

At the AGM in 2003, (my first AGM in The Sole Society), I met Diana Kennedy - a charming lady, who said sadly that no-one was coordinating Sewells in Northamptonshire, and (smiling nicely!) - if I was already researching my family there - did I feel able to do this?

I heard myself say "Yes, I could do that." Pleased to be asked to join in at my first contact. When I got home I thought "Hey, just a minute, what have I taken on? I thought I'd joined the Society to find out more about my own lot, not to do everyone else's"!

Nevertheless, after getting over the first shock of finding out that there are over two hundred parishes in Northants, and the second shock of understanding that the 18th and 19th century parish records are mostly on fiche, I set to the task and began to enjoy myself. I reckon it will take me another year to complete the task! I've also got two new pairs of glasses!

I quickly realised that the Sewells were in the majority in that county, with some Sauls, and only an odd Sole or Solley that wandered in.

I started in Byfield, where my family came from, and where a lot of other people have connections. It has been like a "Who done it?" trying to trace the movements of family members between villages, and even counties. The biggest problem has been the names. Have you encountered this?

During the 18th century nearly everyone seems to be a William, Henry, Thomas,, if they are male and a Mary, Elizabeth, Ann, Sarah or Hannah if female. It's a nightmare trying to work them out! I thought that I'd "cracked it" in Byfield by distinguishing between occupations i.e. William the Cutter, William the Castrator, Thomas the Butcher, Thomas the Labourer, and then I realised that they'd changed jobs! The rotters!!

It is interesting to note the religious influence of enduring likeable names such as James, John, Daniel, Martha, and Esther, which are still around today, as well as the less used Sampson, Elijah and Hephzibah. Will they make a come back like Joshua and Joseph have?

In the 19th century the queenly names of Eleanor, Matilda and Jane give way to the Victorian; Florence, Emma, Eliza and Alice, or for men; Albert, Arthur, Edward and Samuel. Up to the 20th century they begin to become more informal when Ann becomes Annie, Albert changes into Bertie, along with Louie, Fred, Tom, and yes, Dick and Harry!

It can become a little tedious until you discover a real beauty. Here are some with their meanings:

In Aldwincle around 1650, was a Cornelius Sewell with his family. The name is taken from the Bible, Acts 10, a Roman Centurion speaks to St Paul, who then takes the Gospel to the Gentiles.

In Byfield, Henry Sewell, the Castrator, is married to Jocasta,(1836-1863). This is a Classical Greek name. Oedipus was the son of King Laius of Thebes, and his wife Jocasta. Oedipus, who was adopted, later unwittingly killed his natural father and married his mother! And we think we've got problems!!

Brigstock, has a Sewell family in the 1600sthe name Maydwell or Medwell is given. This may come from the surname of Medell or Maidwell, an ancient Northampton manor seat.

My favourite has to be the wife of Thomas Samuel Seawell of Paston, whose name was Etheldred Harriette. She gave her daughter the same name in 1825, and her husband's occupation is given as "esquire". They seem to be a family of note with property in Northants and Lincs. Etheldred seems to have been a unisex Saxon noble name. I get the feeling that she must have had quiet a presence, but then perhaps this is because I had an aunt named Ethel Sewell, in Leamington Spa who I certainly dreaded going to see!

What's in a name? Well quite a lot if you want to stand out from the crowd, oh, and if you are a dedicated family historian!

Return to The Sole Society Home Page