SIMPSON

This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 27th February 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 SIMPSON?

The most interesting feature in the name "Simpson" lies in its spelling. There is, of course, little room for disputing that it signifies "the son of Simon" or "one who is descended from Simon". But how does the letter "-p-" come to be shoved in the middle? The answer is that it is an aid of pronunciation. Unless one says the two syllables "Sim-" and then "-son" and deliberately pauses between them, it is extremely difficult and clumsy to pronounce the final "-m" and the initial "-s" without making a slight "-p-" sound in the middle.

Sometimes this intrusive "-p-" has been left out in versions of "Simpson" giving "Samson" but it still doesn't affect the sounding of them. It is certainly more correct if one wants to emphasise the exact origin of the name and probably that form of spelling was adopted for no other reason than an academic wish to declare its identity with "Simon". Similar developments occur in corresponding names such as "Sampson" and "Samson", and "Thompson" and "Thomson".

In passing it may be mentioned that this happens in everyday words as well. Where an "-m-" is followed by certain other sounds, the "-p-" intrudes. Try saying "comfort" and "warmth" in the ordinary way and see! [Ed: eh?]

Otherwise "Simpson" is a descendant name, but unless one has access to very old records it would be difficult to discover who the original "Simon" might have been and from who a particular family has descended.

The search would not be made any easier from the fact that "Simon" lends itself to many variations. It began as a Hebrew name and was in its earliest form written as "Schimeon". This is based on the word "scham" meaning "to hear" and so the name signifies "One who listens (to Jehovah)" - though some authorities assert that it can mean "Jehovah has heard".

In later Hebrew the spelling modified to "Simeon" and this, in turn, passed into Greek as "Simon". The connexion between "Simeon" and "Simon" was not perfectly appreciated in Medieval times and both were thought to be separate names. However the form "Simon" seems to have been preferred. Even so, it was not hugely popular.

Why this should have been so is not certain. Some very rude people have suggested that it was because "simeon" is a Greek word for hyena, and that "simon" is the Greek for "snub-nose and that a learned word exists, "simian" which can be rendered as "monkey- like"!

These notions can be set aside, largely from the fact that few Medieval parents would have cared to have given such meanings to their offspring and, in any case, they would hardly have attained such a level of recondite learning! No. It is more possible that the name "Simon" had associations with the New Testament character Simon Magus, who can be described as a sort of Early Christian "sleaze merchant". He gave his name to the offence of "simony" and for details read Acts VIII: 9-25.

The name certainly dropped low in the charts after the Reformation since it was an alternative name for St. Peter (see, e.g. Matthew X: 2-4) and he was strongly identified with Rome.

All that being said, the name was not entirely disregarded during the Middle Ages: there are eight Saints called variously "Simeon" and "Simon" listed in Butler's "Lives of the Saints" and, above all, there is our great Constitutional Hero, Simon de Montfort (1200-1272).

Like most first names, it soon acquired a "short" or "pet" form: in this case it was "Sim". Because the name "Simon" had steadily declined in favour after the beginning of the 17th century, "Sim" was hardly recognised as being a form of "Simon".

On the other hand, "Sam" is quickly identified as being an abbreviation for "Samuel" and so names which mean "One who is a son of Sim" - such as "Simpson", "Simson" and "Simms " are often confused with "Samson" and "Sampson". The name "Sim" is rarely encountered: the best known character is probably "Sim Tappertit", the stroppy apprentice in the story by Dickens called "Barnaby Rudge".

There are a few distinguished people of the name of "Simpson". The most outstanding is Sir James Simpson (1811-1870) a Scotsman who laid the foundations for the use of anaesthetics. Locally we lay claim to Sir George Simpson (1878-1965) who came from a Derby family and who was a distinguished "weather-man".

The name "Simpson" is widely distributed across the British Isles, although there is evidence of greater concentration in the north and especially in Scotland where it ranks about 30 in the frequency charts. There are about 800 entries in the local directories.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 27th February 1995.

URL of this page: http://names.gukutils.org.uk/Simpson.shtml
Logo by courtesy of the Open Clip Art Library