KETTLE

This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 16th October 1995, reproduced by kind permission of the author, Desmond Holden.

The "What's in a Name" series has been a regular feature in the Advertiser.
Articles are confined to the origins and meanings of surnames and Desmond regrets he is unable to undertake research into the genealogy, descent or family history of individuals.

Editor's Note: Articles are provided for general interest and background only. They are not intended to provide an exhaustive treatise for any individual family history - investigations of which may yield quite different results. Or, in Desmond's own words:

"In the end it must remain with individual bearers of the names to draw upon family traditions and to seek out such documentary evidence as is available to decide the matter for themselves."

WHAT'S IN A NAME … Are you called KETTLE?

The "Peak Advertiser" has been asked by a Reader if any light can be thrown upon the meaning of the Surname "Kettle".

Although the name in exactly that form of spelling is comparatively rare, it has generated countless variations - a quick glance through the Local Directories has revealed over sixty.

The reason for this is that the name "Kettle" is so very old that during the 1,300 years at least that it is known to have been around, it has often disappeared behind changes in pronunciation, vagaries of spelling and confusion with different prefixes.

As a starter "Kettle" means exactly what it says. It refers to a cooking untensil. However it did not apply to the familiar piece of domestic equipment with a spout. The earliest positive allusion to that item seems to date from about the 1520's. And certainly it can't be identified with tea-making because the very earliest mention of beverage is 1598 and to a "Tea-Kettle" is 1705. All long after surnames had become established!

In fact one has to delve far back into Scandinavian Mythology in order even to provide the beginnings of an explanation. It is all about the great God called "Thor" who, along with "Woden" and "Freya" was very much feared and venerated by the early inhabitants of this Island. Even today in a Christian society, memories of "Thor" still survive - as in site-names, like "Thor's Cavern" in nearby Staffordshire and, of course, in the name "Thursday" (i.e. "Thor's Day").

Exactly what part "Thor" played in the Scandinavian hierarchy of Gods is now obscure but it is known that it was sufficiently important for Temples to be dedicated to Him exclusively and that His Name and the name of items associated with his Worship, were conferred upon children to secure His pro- tection.

There survives only limited information as to the nature of the Rites conducted in the places given over to His Cult, but it is known that altars were built and before them were stationed enormous cooking vessels which were called "Kettles". Nowadays we tend to describe them as "cauldrons" but this designation is now confined to "Kettle Drums". The purpose to which these "Kettles" was put can only be guessed but they were highly cherished.

In the original Nordic Language, the vessel was called a "Ketel". Because the making of such artifacts belongs to the very beginnings of human civilisation, the original word and its sources is lost. It shares ancestry with the same word that provide the Ancient Greeks with "kotyle" (a cup), the Romans with "catillus" (a serving dish) and even the Germans with "schadel" (the skull - which often was used as a drinking vessel!).

Because of its sacred associations, the word was favoured and adopted as a personal name. It has survived in dozens of place- names such as Kettlesing in Yorkshire ("The meadows which belong to Kettle) or Kettleshuline in Cheshire "The island owned by Kettle").

From being a first name, "Kettle" or one of its variations, eventually passed into use as a surname. For example, people called "Ketil" (the form it generally took and which occurs as early as 700 A.D.) liked to embellish it by placing "Thor" in front and from "Thor's Kettle" we end up with "Thirkettle". This form of the name yields over 25 versions from "Thirkill" through to "Thurtle". It even has a Scottish counterpart in the barely recongisable form of "McCorquodale".

The Scandinavian equivalent of "Olympus" was "Asgard" - "the Home of the Gods". This is based on the word "aesir" or "Holy Ones". Hence by putting that word in front, they got "aesir-kettle" or "Sacred Vessel" which now appears as "Ashkettle", "Haskings" and "McCaskell" - to mention only a few.

In ritual gatherings, a recurring theme is a "Peace" - hence the Christion "gape" and the American Indian "Peace Pipe". It could very well have been that the ceremonial partaking of food prepared in the great "ketel" was most important in the ceremonies because we find the name "Ketelfrith" which means, literally, the "cauldron of peace" and today it emerges as "Kilvert".

Eagles, too, were associated with Thor. They were called "ari" and hence "the cauldron of Thor's eagles" is the meaning lying behind such names as "Arkell" and "Arkle". Slight variations in the pronunciation brought about "Kell" in Northumberland and "Chell" and "Chettle" in the South.

Many families lost their original name when they migrated from their settlements and were given a new identity based on place- names. Since "Kettle" is definitely a personal name and is not, in itself a site-name, people bearing this surname can almost certainly lay claim to unbroken lines of ancestry going way back, even before the time of the Roman Occupation.

The name is found in Ireland: Alice Kettle (c.1324) was a celebrated wise woman in Kilkenny. A modern bearer of the name was Edgar Kettle (1882-1936) who pioneered important developments in pathology.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 16th October 1995.

URL of this page: http://names.gukutils.org.uk/Kettle.shtml
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