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Variants and Deviants

Anyone who has done family tree research will know that the further you go back in time, the less likely your ancestors were to spell their name correctly. Or so it would seem. This is no different for the Spearin family tree. I have one birth certificate which has different versions of the same surname for the father, the mother, and the child!

Spellings in previous times were extremely variable because of a number of different factors. There was no standardised way of spelling surnames until relatively recently - Shakespeare spelt his own name in six or more different ways over his lifetime. Additionally, many people were illiterate and could not sign their own name, so it is not possible to say that any given spelling was 'used' by the individual. Officialdom will have recorded their name and this may have become the adopted and accepted spelling of the name. Indeed, this is the likely method by which variants arose. And lastly, in more modern times, when old records are being transcribed, the transcriber frequently makes mistakes trying to decipher handwriting and Spearin turns into Sheerin, Spring or Sperm. This raises the question of what is a variant, what is a deviant, and how do you to tell them apart.

Some years ago, Derek Palgrave (President of the Guild of One-Name Studies) coined the term 'deviant' to describe those apparent variants that were really clerical errors in recording or transcription. In other words, these are not spelling variants that the person concerned would actually have used. His article appeared in the Journal, vol.8 no.5 (Jan.2004). The Guild of One-Name Studies recommends that members should not register deviant spellings as variants and should limit variants to those still found today.

In deciding which variations of the surname Spearin to consider as variants, a group of us looked at the relative frequency of various spellings within our various Spearin trees to arrive at a crude starting point for a list of variants.

Here are the relative frequencies of Spearin variants (in alphabetical order) from several Spearin family trees.

Name

MG

%

BS

%

MS

%

TS

%

PH

%

Totals

%

Spearan

3

1.3

Spearin

16

6.8

Spearing

20

8.5

Spearman

1

0.4

Spearon

2

0.9

Speerin

2

0.9

Speiran

36

15.4

Speirin

9

3.8

Speirine

2

0.9

Speiring

1

0.4

Speirn

1

0.4

Speirrin

2

0.9

Speran

1

0.4

Sperein

1

0.4

Sperin

35

15.0

Sperne

1

0.4

Sperrin

9

3.8

Spieran

2

0.9

Spierin

86

36.8

Spirin

2

0.9

Spiring

1

0.4

Sprrin

1

0.4

Total

234

100.0

As can be seen from the data from my own tree (MG), the most frequent occurrence is the variant Spierin (37% of individuals), followed by Speiran (15%) and Sperin (15%). These three names account for two thirds of the names. The next most common names are: Spearing (9%), Spearin (the chosen name for this project) 7%, Speirin (4%), Sperrin (4%), and Spearan (1%). Many of the remaining names will be deviants rather than variants, but some will be variants that occur with a low frequency in my own tree (which is biased toward the spelling Spierin). Also, I sometimes have the habit of correcting spellings that are "obviously deviants" and this will bias the results away from certain deviant spellings.

Maurice Gleeson, 8th April 2011




What to do now?

Please feel free to email us suggestions, modifications and additions to this page. Specific areas where you could help include:

  1. Do you know any additional interesting facts or links that could go on this page?
  2. Update the table with your own data (or send it to us and we will add it). The list of Spearin variants will grow as more people join the project.

Copyright 2011 (http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~spearinAll Rights Reserved.  Creative Commons License
The Spearin Surname Project at http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~spearin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.
Information and data obtained from the Spearin Surname Project must be attributed to the project as outlined in the Creative Commons License. Please notify administrator when using data for public or private research. 

Last update: April 2011

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