This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 24th February 1997, reproduced by kind permission of the author, the late Desmond Holden.

The “What's in a Name” series was a regular feature in the Advertiser over the period 1993‑2004, taking a refreshing look at the derivation of some typically Derbyshire surnames.

Articles are confined to the origins and meanings of surnames, and do not indicate any particular interest on Desmond's part in the genealogy, descent, or family history of individuals bearing the surnames featured.

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 EVANS or BEVAN?

These two names are identical in meaning and the difference in form is so slight - that they can usefully be taken together. Of Welsh origin, "Evans" has a fair number of permutations many of which can easily be recognised, though "Heaven" and "Irvings" less so. The name "Evinson" seems to be an American variation, and first appeared in Boston, 1886.

The other name, "Bevan" must be approached cautiously. In most cases it is "Evan" or one of its permutations with an initial "B-" (Though in the case of "Heaven" the "B-" entirely replaces the "H-": hence "Beavan").

The necessity for caution arises in that the remarkably similar name "Bevin" has an entirely different meaning and origin. It is possible that families called "Bevin" may have inherited their name via a misspelling of "Bevan" - and vice versa. But, without supporting evidence whatever the original name was cannot be established in these cases. (The name "Bevin" will appear in a separate feature).

The name "Evan" is regularly described in all the Reference Works as being a Welsh form of "John". It might also be noted that there existed the name "Ioan" and which has generated the name "Jones". The name "John" is from the Hebrew and signifies: "The Lord is gracious".

At first it did not appeal to the ordinary people of Western Europe, although it was popular among the Orthodox Christians in the East. It was certainly not unknown in Anglo-Saxon England, however. We have our own St. John of Beverley (c.700) who was a pioneer in the lifting of the disabilities of the deaf and dumb. His day is 7th May.

In Latin, "John" appeared as "Johannes" and passed into other European languages in forms such as "John" (English), "Juan" (Spanish), "Huns" (German), "Ian" (Gaelic) and "Sean" (Irish).

In Welsh it seems that the form "Evan" was accepted as its equivalent. But how this should have come about is really quite puzzling. As words pass from one language into another, they observe well-defined rules and, according to these rules, there is no apparent way to indicate how "Johannes" could have become "Evan".

Inspired guess-work must now be resorted to and a convincing suggestion is that the name "Evan" already existed in Welsh as a personal name. It signified "the young warrior". An earlier form "Ievan" can be traced and this generated another surname "Jevon" or "Jeavan".

Pressure on space prevents a detailed discussion as to how all the various names mentioned were pronounced and such discussion must be foreshortened by suggesting that the different Latin and Welsh forms of either name became confused and there was fostered a notion that "Evan" was an equivalent for "John".

Anyway, whatever it means, "Evan" is now a well-established personal name. Following the English procedures, the final "-s-" in "Evans" was often added and indicated "the son of Evan".

However such a final "-s-" is not part of Welsh grammar and so people who are called "Evans" bear a surname which in undeniably Welsh but subject to English influence. Consequently the earliest references to "Evans" occur in English records. The characteristic pronunciation of "Evans" (Stress on the first syllable and spoken as to rhyme with "dance") is reproduced in the very first written record, dated 1538, where reference is made to a "Mr Evance", Otherwise the name "Evans" is first found in Suffolk (1568) and then York (1679).

As it was, the Welsh rightly preferred to honour their own traditions and identified people as being "the son of somebody, who was the son of somebody else, who was the son of somebody else .... etc." In their vocabulary the method of saying "the son of...." was through the prefix "ap" (sometimes "ab") and which was a shortened form of "map" (Note the Scottish equivalent "Mac-"). In a great many cases the "ap" or "ab" was absorbed into the personal name it governed. This accounts for "ap Evan" converting to "Bevan". Similar examples: "ap Rhys" becomes "Price" and "ap Howel" - "Powell".

Hence people called "Bevan" may take it that they had an ancestor who was identified as the "son of Evan". It must be left to individual families to decide whether their original "Evan" was given that name as the equivalent to "John" or whether they inherit an earlier tradition and trace it to a predecessor called "the young warrior".

The earliest reference is to an "Edenevet ap Ieuan" (Chester, 1287) and there is a Parliamentary Paper dating from about 1300 describing an "Howel ap Evan". The lack of a proper understanding of the construction of Welsh names takes the illogical: form of a preliminary "ap" and a final "-s" in some Anglicised horrors. Such a meaningless duplication oc- curs, for example, in 1680 when referring to a Preben- dary of St. David's called "Thomas Bevans". The picturesque accumulation of names which typify Welsh families is attractively illustrated from the name recorded by a Welsh visitor, to London in 1633: "Rhys ap Madoc ap Tudor ap Howel ap Evan".

Both names - Evans and Bevan - are well represented locally. There are about 50 entries under Bevan and several hundred for Evans.

In spite of the lapse of nearly half-a-century the name of Bevan will long be remembered with gratitude as being that of Aneurin Bevan, who, in his capacity as Minister of Health in the Labour Government of 1945 to 1951 bequeathed to us a splendid National Health Service.

Otherwise, although having been borne by countless individuals, nobody of the name of Evans is really a head-liner. Marian Evans (1819-1890) the distinguished novelist ("Mill on the Floss") is generally identified under her pen-name of "George Eliot". The name is certainly known to many of us here in Bakewell through our own Peter Evans, the Blacksmith.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 24th February 1997.

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