This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 11th February 2002, 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 JESSUP or JESSOP?
(Also Joseph)

A reader from Hathersage has requested this name. It shares its origins with Joseph and both are to be found in the local directory. Place-names such as Hassop and Glossop, in spite of their similarity, have quite different sources.

Although Joseph was not extensively conferred in baptism prior to the Reformation (c.1500) it does occur fairly often even before the Norman invasion and entries in the Domesday Book (1086) are not infrequent.

It is a Biblical name found in both Testaments. In the original Hebrew it appears as "Yoseph" and its special context (Genesis XXX: 22-23) may be interpreted as "The Lord hath given an increase".

In the Old Testament Joseph was the son of Rachel who had long been barren so that his birth was a matter of rejoicing and was "the addition" implied in his name. He had an adventurous life, rising to be the Governor of Egypt (c. 1700 B.C.). He owed his success not only to being both a mystic and an administrative genius (which the Bible attributes to divine influence) but also to his considerable physical appeal (on which the chroniclers maintain a discreet silence). Nevertheless being so outstanding a personality in their history, his name has always been admired in all Hebrew communities. This close association with Jewish history might account for why the name was not at first anything like as favoured among Christians. Furthermore, although there are four people called Joseph in the New Testament, none of them really catches the imagination. Joseph, the head of the holy family has very little more than a "walk-on part" and disappears at the end of the second chapter of Luke! Joseph of Arimathea is better known in legend (Glastonbury Thorn) than in the events of Easter. The other two get only passing notice.

Now although the source of the name "Jessop" cannot be disputed, the particular problem it presents lies in its spelling:- How did the final "-ph" convert both in sound and writing to "-p"? And, since no linguistic formula can be invoked, one must resort to inspired guess-work. As a starter it is known that our predecessors pronounced words differently from ourselves. Recently "equitable", which is usually spoken with the stress on the first syllable (i.e. EK-wittable) is now being said as "ek-WITT-able". This variation is, of course, easily perceived but earlier instances can only be presumed from other indications. Old verses provide clues as in the 17th century verses where "twins" rhymes with "shines and "wax" with "makes".

Even today words are misread and we get curiosities like "susstiffycut" for "certificate" and "confisticated" for "confiscated". It is suggested that all such items as these affected the name "Joseph". The combination of letters as "-ph-" did not occur in our English alphabet. Where it was found was in words borrowed from the Greek. Scholars of course took it in their stride but ordinary folk who could just about make a shift of spelling their way through names stopped short at the final "-p-" in Joseph and simply disregarded its appended "-h". The form "Jessop" first appears some 200 years later than "Joseph" which certainly adds weight to its being a later misrendering of the personal name.

There is extremely slender evidence that the habit of pronouncing a final "-ph" as "p", and confined to people comparatively unlettered, might have persisted as late as the early 19th century. Dickens makes one of his characters refer to a "young syrup" where "seraph" is intended. (Chuzzlewit: Chap. IX).

Another interesting and very plausible suggestion is that the pronunciation was influenced from the Italian form of the name which is "Guiseppe". It would have been brought to this country by Jews from the Mediterranean. It has already been noted that the name Joseph or Guiseppe was greatly admired and must have been heard frequently. The records show that individual Italian Jews had settled here after the Conquest, possibly at the invitation of William I. Their particular centres were towards the eastern counties and in York. It may be significant that the name "Jessop" is first noted in these places.

The scribes who compiled the Domesday Book (1086) were familiar with the name "Joseph" in its Latinised form and seem regularly to have entered it up as "Josephus". This was still in use a century later as in the case of a man designated as "Joseph of Holme" (Norfolk: 1187). Another century elapses and then we encounter Richard filius Josep in Cambridge (1273) and yet another century passes and we meet up with Willelmus Josop in York (1379).

No doubt the most celebrated bearer of the name was the great Jewish Historian Flavius Josephus (A.D. 37-100). The expression "Grey Eminence" was first used in connection with a certain Capuchin Friar called "Father Joseph" (1577-1638) who lurked behind the scenes during the time of Cardinal Richelieu. Augustus Jessopp (1824-1914) is still remembered for his scholarly studies of life and history in East Anglia.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 11th February 2002.

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