As Hargreaves is an English name, one would expect to find clues as to its pronunciation in English usage. The 'ea' combination is most frequently pronounced 'e' as in "leaves" but it is also pronounced with a long 'a' as in "great". So both common pronunciations of Hargreaves are consistent with ordinary English usage.
Most Hargreaves, or descendents of Hargreaves, can trace their roots to Lancashire or Yorkshire. It has been suggested that the Lancashire Hargreaves incline towards the 'e' pronunciation and those from Yorkshire incline towards the long 'a' pronunciation. In view of the traditional rivallry between those two counties such an observation is plausible. But, there are Hargreaves on the maillist with roots in both counties with family traditions that support both pronunciations. ie. both Lancashiremen and Yorkshiremen, or their descendents, employ both the 'e' and the long 'a' pronunciations. It seems to be generally agreed that one of the most famous Hargreaves, James Hargreaves who invented the spinning jenny, pronounced his name with a long 'a'. James, incidentally, was from Lancashire.
There is considerable support for the long 'a' pronunciation in the spelling shift from Hargreaves to Hargraves. It is well known that such shifts in spelling occurred frequently when names were recorded by church and civil officials on the basis of the sound or pronunciation of the name. Thus Hargreaves would be recorded as Hargraves. One rarely sees a surname recorded as"Hargreeves" or Hargrieves".
Random surveys by subscribers to the Hargreaves maillist, among friends and on the internet, by no means scientific, have simply confirmed that both the 'e' and the long 'a' pronunciations are common in various parts of the world.
Further research into the origins of the name, whether its roots lie in old Norse, Danish, Germanic, Roman or ancient British words, may shed some light on the earliest pronunciations. Whatever the pronunciation, it is a name with a noble ring to it.
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This page was Last Modified 26 December 1999.
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This page was put on the web by James W. Green III.
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