The Name is Benedict
Benedict Topics Index
Yes, our name is Benedict, and "Blessed" is our name!
Derived from the Latin benedictus, and later into Middle English, the name is an adjective meaning blessed, or holy one. As an English noun, the word benedict means "a married man, usually newly married, but especially one long a bachelor." In his comedy "Much Ado About Nothing," Shakepeare's character Benedick is a confirmed bachelor who marries Beatrice after a courtship that is a contest of wit. In Berlioz's two-act opera, "Beatrice and Benedict," based on a short version of "Much Ado," the high-tempered protagonists reach an agreement to marry as the result of a spirited quarrel.
Some English Naming Categories
In the system of classifying English surnames (where, as examples, some are occupational, e.g. Smith, Taylor, Baker, Brewer, Carpenter, Fletcher, etc., while others are locational, e.g. Atwood, Hill, Field, Townes, Brooks, etc.), the name Benedict is in the category of ecclesiastical names, such as Bishop, Church, Priestley, or Cross. In my own family, we have the marriage of Lemuel Benedict to Grace Hieronymus, bringing together two ecclesiastical names to produce, in translation, the interesting combination: blessed-holy name. In early Fairfield County, Connecticut, our line also intermarries with another ecclesiastically named family: the St. John family. (A good source of information on the development of surnames is "A Study of Surnames" contained in Genealogical Research Methods and Sources, edited by Milton Rubican, published by The American Society of Genealogists, 1960.)
The Primary Source: Saint Benedict
In tracing the name Benedict through history, it is easy, of course, to find its use by clergy, who have routinely taken the names of venerated saints and popes. This usage primarily dates back to St. Benedict of Nursia, Italy, who lived from about the year 480 CE to about 547 CE. His name in early life is unknown. After living as a hermit in solitude in a cave for three years, he emerged to be recognized as a holy man, and so to be called Benedict. He founded a monastic order that became known as the Benedictines. He was so much an inspiration that many of the later clergy adopted his name. Since the year 574 CE and up to 1922, there had been 15 popes bearing the name Benedict. In April of 2005, a new pope was elected who took the name Benedict XVI. There have been other Saints Benedict, as well, including St. Benedict Biscop, an English Benedictine abbot who lived from about 628 CE to 690 CE. In our own ancestral line is to be found Benedict, Bishop of Quimper, a town in southern France, living about 950; he was also Count of Cornouaille and an ancestor of the Dukes of Brittany.
Development of the Benedict Surname
Naturally, our primary interest here is to trace the occurrence of the name as a surname, but the development of surnames took place over several centuries, beginning in about the 12th century. We find the early use of Benedict as a personal name gradually evolving into various other forms to be used as popular surnames, or nicknames, such as Benet and Benoit in France, and Benny, Bennet, Bennett, Benson and Benison in England. The Domesday Book of William I (about 1085) contains several references to persons called Benedict. The personal name Benedict is also found coupled with place names, such as Benedict de Pennington (Benedict of Pennington) in Cumberland (northwest coastal England) in 1185. These examples are indicative of the gradual development of names from the form "given name/ from or of/ a place." This device helped somewhat to identify, and distinguish between, individuals with similar given names.
There is another route by which surnames have developed and that is either by adoption or by translation from another language. For example, a person, in relocating from one country to another, might choose to adopt a new surname that resembled names in the newly adopted country. Alternatively, if the name had meaning in the language of the old country, they might be able to find a suitable translation into the language of the new country that would be a satisfactory new surname. We have reason to believe that the name Benedict, as an "English" name, is probably rare in both modern and ancient times because its origins are obscure and modified from a much earlier and remote context. This will be discussed elsewhere in the light of findings of our DNA project.
Norfolk, England: the Ancient Seat of the Benedict Family
Somewhat later in the development of surnames, the given name Benedict begins to be associated with non-place names (usually the father's personal name, in the form "given name/ son of/ father's given name;" examples of this are Reginald fil. Benedicti, co. Hunt., 1273, and Clemens fil. Benedicti, co. Yorks., 1273 (both from the Hundred Roll of 1273); Benedictus Willeson, and Benedictus Colier, both found in the poll tax records of West Riding of Yorkshire in 1379. Benedict as a true surname (i.e., in the form "given name/ surname") was said to be "in general use in the reign of Edward II [1307-1327]; the ancient seat of the family was Norwich, England" [Holmes, Frank R., Directory of Ancestral Heads of New England Families (1923)]. This is borne out by Bloemfield and Parkins, The History of Norfolk, who list an early George Benedict in County Norfolk (no dates or town given, however). It is now probably safe to assume that this unidentified George Benedict was most likely either the grandfather or the great-grandfather of Thomas Benedict, our immigrant ancestor. We also now know with certainty that they each lived in Norfolk in that period. This is discussed further in the section relating to Thomas Benedict, the immigrant to America.
This Update: May 2011
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