Derivation of the name TILLINGHAST: a theory, PART II

Donna Tillinghast Casey, who has researched the family history, responded to my new theory.

Here is her posting from Facebook: “ Robert Tyllinghurst (bp. c1537 birthplace perhaps Newport Pond Essex – bu. 9 July 1613 Streat, East Sussex). Father of John (bp 1 Nov 1558 Newport Pond, Essex – bu. 26 Mar 1624, East Sussex ). Grandfather to Pardon (bp 1600 – d. cOct 1644, place unknown), Great-grandfather to Pardon (bp 1625 Streat Sussex – d. 1718 Providence, RI, USA). (Pardon1, PardonA, JohnB, RobertC)”

I have read with appreciation some of the genealogical work that Donna has produced. I take her response with seriousness, but I question some of the presuppositions involved in this response, as I expect she will question some of my presuppositions and conclusions. Part of the problem we face is that in dealing with earlier times, we find they don’t operate with the same level of desire for accuracy as is the expectation for our time.

I posted the first issue I see in determining our name on Facebook but then realized that Facebook is an awkward place for a lengthy reply. So I will copy my response from there and go on. Donna, if you wish to reply using this blog to post it on the family Facebook page, send it to me as an email to: rev.bud  (at)

Orthographic issues: I think it well to keep in mind that spelling was very fluid in that era. To give several examples:

1. Sir Walter Raleigh ( c. 1554 – 29 October 1618) is our standard spelling of his name. However, contemporaries spelled his name variously as Raleigh, Raliegh, Ralegh, Raghley, Rawley, Rawly, Rawlie, Rawleigh, Raulighe, Raughlie, or Rayly (R.C. Churchill, Shakespeare and His Betters: A History and a Criticism of the Attempts Which Have Been Made to Prove That Shakespeare’s Works Were Written by Others, Max Reinhardt, London, 1958, p. 20.)

2. We have six places where William Shakespeare ( bp. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) spelled his own name. They are thusly: Willm Shakp, William Shaksper, Wm Shakspe, William Shakspere,Willm Shakspere, and William Shakspeare.


Both these men were contemporary to our Robert and can thus help underscore that state of orthography was not the same for that period as it is for our time. This is born out by the fact that evidently father and son, Robert and John varied the spelling from Tyllinghurst to Tyllinghast or Tillinghast.

3. One further example: Emily Bronte. Her father’s surname was uncertain variously thought to be Brunty, Prunty, Bruntee. While at Cambridge he changed it to Bronte (the ‘e’ with the two dots over it!) The funeral card has Emily Jane Bronte. However the coffin maker in his record accounts calls her Emlea Jane Bronty!

Literacy: We seem to have only one or two evidences of the ‘hurst’ suffix of our name. Donna Casey produces the baptismal record as circa 1537 with the spelling to be “Tyllinghurst”. Who was literate at that event? We assume the priest was. Were the parents literate? We don’t know.

As I am an ordained minister- Methodist, which is descended from Church of England, which is descended from Roman Catholicism- I know what has been the standard litany for the event for centuries. Just before taking the child and performing the ritual the clergy asks, “What name have you given to this child?” Usually it is the first name that is shared. In this case it would be Robert. We don’t know if they added last name, the name at question, was pronounced.

But if it were, do we know what name was given? And knowing the variety of English dialects spoken, and if the parents were not literate, and assuming the priest was, would the priest have understood the dialect of the parents? Did any of them care what the last name was? In the time we are addressing, the church, Catholic or Anglican, would have been concerned about the “Christian name” as it was referred in the ritual.

It was that Christian name they were in the church to receive. The part of the name that concerns us most concerned them least! An anecdote: When I was in the midst of some work of genealogy my English wife retorted in the way they can. “Why are you so concerned with this? We KNOW we have ancestors.”

Little did they know that centuries later some descendants would pore over church records in search of accurate earlier renditions of their surname. Little did they know that between them and us would be the period of Enlightenment that required their far distant offspring to use literacy by means of reason and accuracy- the offspring of that Enlightenment- to figure out what wasn’t important (or necessarily available with the level of literacy) to those ancestors.

So we can only argue about different theories.