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James Family History
Recorded in over sixty spelling forms as shown below, and found throughout Christian nations, this very interesting medieval surname is of both Biblical and 12th century Crusader origins. These are confused, and like the personal name and subsequent surname Jacob, it has its origins in the Hebrew given name "Yaakov". This was Latinized in the Roman Period of history, first as Jacobus, and then in the period known as "The Dark Ages" upto the 11th century a.d., as Jacomus. The actual meaning of the name is also a matter for some dispute. Traditionally the name is interpreted as coming from the word "akev", meaning a heel, but has also been interpreted as "he who supplanted"...
Although a separate name in its own right, James is derived from a personal of the same origin as Jacob. In The Bible (1611) the form James is used in the New Testament (lacobus) as the name of two of Christ’s apostles (James the brother of John and James the brother of Andrew), whereas in the Old Testament (lacob) the brother of Esau is called Jacob.
The ‘King James Version’ is another name given to the Authorised Version of the Bible which was ordered by King James I. The resonant style of this classic translation remains one of the finest examples of our language.
Although the form James comes from Latin Jacobus through Late Latin Jac(o)mus, James was not a particularly common personal name in medieval England, in spite of the popularity of the cult of Saint James the Greater, whose shrine at Compostela in Spain was a major centre of pilgrimage.
James also gave rise to Jameson, Jamieson, Jempson, Jemmett and possibly through its French form, Jacques, to Jeakes, Jacklin, and the widely-spread Jackson.
An early bearer, Walter James was first recorded in 1187 Pipe Rolls in Gloustershire, during the reign of King Henry II (1154 – 1189).
It became more frequent in 1881, when James was one of the top occurrences in the Bristol, Gloucestershire. In the same year, the most common James occupation in the UK was Farmer, along with Coal Miner and Agricultural Labourer. A less common occupation for the James family was Labourer. In 1891, the frequency in England and Wales was recorded at 67,500 with fewer occurences of 834 in Scotland.
The name is geographically common around the world, including South Africa’s Jameson Park. Similarly, the UK has a Jameston and several Jamestowns. Canada and US also have Jamestowns with a total of 18 locations that are name related.
1881, 1891 Census
1881 Census in Bristol
Dictionary of American Family Homes, P Hanks OUP 2003
Homes of Family Names in Great Britain, H.B. Guppy, London 1890
The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland, P.Hanks, Coats, McClure OUP 2016
1860 Lower, Mark A Patronymica Britannica: a dictionary of the family names of the United Kingdom, London: J.R Smith. Public Domain
1857 Arthur, William An Etymological Dictionary of Family and Christian Names. New York: Sheldon, Blakeman. Public Domain
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