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Gypsy Surnames, Romani Surnames
From "Romano Lavo-Lil Word-book of the Romany"
by George Borrow, 1905

COOPER AND SMITH: There are many curious things connected with the Gypsies, but perhaps nothing more so than what pertains to their names. Gypsies have a double nomenclature, each tribe or family having a public and a private name, one by which they are known to the Gentiles, and another to themselves alone. Their public names are quite English; their private ones attempts, some of them highly singular and uncouth, to render those names by Gypsy equivalents. Gypsy names may be divided into two classes, names connected with trades, and surnames or family names. First of all, something about trade names.

There are only two names of trades which have been adopted by English Gypsies as proper names, Cooper and Smith: these names are expressed in the English Gypsy dialect by Vardo-mescro and Petulengro. The first of these renderings is by no means a satisfactory one, as Vardo-mescro means a cartwright, or rather a carter. To speak the truth, it would be next to impossible to render the word 'cooper' into English Gypsy, or indeed into Gypsy of any kind; a cooper, according to the common acceptation of the word, is one who makes pails, tubs, and barrels, but there are no words in Gypsy for such vessels. The Transylvanian Gypsies call a cooper a bedra-kero or pail-maker, but bedra is not Gypsy, but Hungarian, and the English Gypsies might with equal propriety call a cooper a pail-engro. On the whole the English Gypsies did their best when they rendered 'cooper' into their language by the word for 'cartwright.'

PETULENGRO, the other trade name, is borne by the Gypsies who are known to the public by the English appellation of Smith. It is not very easy to say what is the exact meaning of Petulengro: it must signify, however, either horseshoe-fellow or tinker: petali or petala signifies in Gypsy a horseshoe, and is probably derived from the Modern Greek [Greek: ]; engro is an affix, and is either derived from or connected with the Sanscrit kara, to make, so that with great feasibility Petulengro may be translated horseshoe-maker. But bedel in Hebrew means 'tin,' and as there is little more difference between petul and bedel than between petul and petalon, Petulengro may be translated with almost equal feasibility by tinker or tin-worker, more especially as tinkering is a principal pursuit of Gypsies, and to jal petulengring signifies to go a-tinkering in English Gypsy. Taken, however, in either sense, whether as horseshoe-maker or tin-worker (and, as has been already observed, it must mean one or the other), Petulengro may be considered as a tolerably fair rendering of the English Smith.

So much for the names of the Gypsies which the writer has ventured to call the trade names; now for those of the other class. These are English surnames, and for the most part of a highly aristocratic character, and it seems at first surprising that people so poor and despised as Gypsies should be found bearing names so time-honoured and imposing. There is, however, a tolerable explanation of the matter in the supposition that on their first arrival in England the different tribes sought the protection of certain grand powerful families, and were permitted by them to locate themselves on their heaths and amid their woodlands, and that they eventually adopted the names of their patrons. Here follow the English names of some of the principal tribes, with the Romany translations or equivalents:-

BOSWELL: The proper meaning of this word is the town of Bui. The initial Bo or Bui is an old Northern name, signifying a colonist or settler, one who tills and builds. It was the name of a great many celebrated Northern kempions, who won land and a home by hard blows. The last syllable, well, is the French ville: Boswell, Boston, and Busby all signify one and the same thing--the town of Bui--by the well being French, the Saxon, and by the Danish; they are half-brothers of Bovil and Belville, both signifying fair town, and which ought to be written Beauville and Belville. The Gypsies, who know and care nothing about etymologies, confounding bos with buss, a vulgar English verb not to be found in dictionaries, which signifies to kiss, rendered the name Boswell by Chumomisto, that is, Kisswell, or one who kisses well--choom in their language signifying to kiss, and misto well--likewise by choomomescro, a kisser. Vulgar as the word buss may sound at present, it is by no means of vulgar origin, being connected with the Latin basio and the Persian bouse.

GREY: This is the name of a family celebrated in English history. The Gypsies who adopted it, rendered it into their language by Gry, a word very much resembling it in sound, though not in sense, for gry, which is allied to the Sanscrit ghora, signifies a "horse." They had no better choice, however, for in Romany there is no word for grey, any more than there is for green or blue. In several languages there is a difficulty in expressing the colour which in English is called grey. In Celtic, for instance, there is no definite word for it; glas, it is true, is used to express it, but glas is as frequently used to express green as it is to express grey.

HEARNE, HERNE: This is the name of a family which bears the heron for its crest, the name being either derived from the crest, or the crest from the name. There are two Gypsy renderings of the word--Rossar-mescro or Ratzie-mescro, and Balorengre. Rossar-mescro signifies duck-fellow, the duck being substituted for the heron, for which there is no word in Romany. The meaning of Balor-engre is hairy people; the translator or translators seeming to have confounded Hearne with 'haaren,' old English for hairs. The latter rendering has never been much in use.

LEE: The Gypsy name of this tribe is Purrum, sometimes pronounced Purrun. The meaning of Purrurn is an onion, and it may be asked what connection can there be between Lee and onion? None whatever: but there is some resemblance in sound between Lee and leek, and it is probable that the Gypsies thought so, and on that account rendered the name by Purrum, which, if not exactly a leek, at any rate signifies something which is cousin-german to a leek. It must be borne in mind that in some parts of England the name Lee is spelt Legh and Leigh, which would hardly be the case if at one time it had not terminated in something like a guttural, so that when the Gypsies rendered the name, perhaps nearly four hundred years ago, it sounded very much like 'leek,' and perhaps was Leek, a name derived from the family crest. At first the writer was of opinion that the name was Purrun, a modification of pooro, which in the Gypsy language signifies old, but speedily came to the conclusion that it must be Purrum, a leek or onion; for what possible reason could the Gypsies have for rendering Lee by a word which signifies old or ancient? whereas by rendering it by Purrum, they gave themselves a Gypsy name, which, if it did not signify Lee, must to their untutored minds have seemed a very good substitute for Lee. The Gypsy word pooro, old, belongs to Hindostan, and is connected with the Sanscrit pura, which signifies the same. Purrum is a modification of the Wallachian pur, a word derived from the Latin porrum, an onion, and picked up by the Gypsies in Roumania or Wallachia, the natives of which region speak a highly curious mixture of Latin and Sclavonian.

LOVEL: This is the name or title of an old and powerful English family. The meaning of it is Leo's town, Lowe's town, or Louis' town. The Gypsies, who adopted it, seem to have imagined that it had something to do with love, for they translated it by Camlo or Caumlo, that which is lovely or amiable, and also by Camomescro, a lover, an amorous person, sometimes used for 'friend.' Camlo is connected with the Sanscrit Cama, which signifies love, and is the appellation of the Hindoo god of love. A name of the same root as the one borne by that divinity was not altogether inapplicable to the Gypsy tribe who adopted it: Cama, if all tales be true, was black, black though comely, a Beltenebros, and the Lovel tribe is decidedly the most comely and at the same time the darkest of all the Anglo-Egyptian families. The faces of many of them, male and female, are perfect specimens of black beauty. They are generally called by the race the Kaulo Camloes, the Black Comelies. And here, though at the risk of being thought digressive, the writer cannot forbear saying that the darkest and at one time the comeliest of all the Caumlies, a celebrated fortune-teller, and an old friend of his, lately expired in a certain old town, after attaining an age which was something wonderful. She had twenty-one brothers and sisters, and was the eldest of the family, on which account she was called "Rawnie P., pooroest of bis ta dui," Lady P.--she had married out of the family-- eldest of twenty-two.

MARSHALL: The name Marshall has either to do with marshal, the title of a high military personage, or marches, the borders of contiguous countries. In the early Norman period it was the name of an Earl of Pembroke. The Gypsies who adopted the name seem in translating it to have been of opinion that it was connected with marshes, for they rendered it by mokkado tan engre, fellows of the wet or miry place, an appellation which at one time certainly became them well, for they are a northern tribe belonging to the Border, a country not very long ago full of mosses and miry places. Though calling themselves English, they are in reality quite as much Scotch as English, and as often to be found in Scotland as the other country, especially in Dumfriesshire and Galloway, in which latter region, in Saint Cuthbert's churchyard, lies buried 'the old man' of the race,-- Marshall, who died at the age of 107. They sometimes call themselves Bungyoror and Chikkeneymengre, cork-fellows and china people, which names have reference to the occupations severally followed by the males and females, the former being cutters of bungs and corks, and the latter menders of china.

STANLEY: This is the name or title of an ancient English family celebrated in history. It is probably descriptive of their original place of residence, for it signifies the stony lea, which is also the meaning of the Gaelic Auchinlech, the place of abode of the Scottish Boswells. It was adopted by an English Gypsy tribe, at one time very numerous, but at present much diminished. Of this name there are two renderings into Romany; one is Baryor or Baremescre, stone-folks or stonemasons, the other is Beshaley. The first requires no comment, but the second is well worthy of analysis, as it is an example of the strange blunders which the Gypsies sometimes make in their attempts at translation. When they rendered Stanley by Beshaley or Beshley, they mistook the first syllable stan for 'stand,' but for a very good reason rendered it by besh, which signifies 'to sit, and the second for a word in their own language, for ley or aley in Gypsy signifies 'down,' so they rendered Stanley by Beshley or Beshaley, which signifies 'sit down.' Here, of course, it will be asked what reason could have induced them, if they mistook stan for 'stand,' not to have rendered it by the Gypsy word for 'stand'? The reason was a very cogent one, the want of a word in the Gypsy language to express 'stand'; but they had heard in courts of justice witnesses told to stand down, so they supposed that to stand down was much the same as to sit down, whence their odd rendering of Stanley. In no dialect of the Gypsy, from the Indus to the Severn, is there any word for 'stand,' though in every one there is a word for 'sit,' and that is besh, and in every Gypsy encampment all along the vast distance, Beshley or Beshaley would be considered an invitation to sit down.

So much for the double-name system in use among the Gypsies of England. There is something in connection with the Gypsies of Spain which strangely coincides with one part of it--the translation of names. Among the relics of the language of the Gitanos or Spanish Gypsies are words, some simple and some compound, which are evidently attempts to translate names in a manner corresponding to the plan employed by the English Romany. In illustration of the matter, the writer will give an analysis of Brono Aljenicato, the rendering into Gitano of the name of one frequently mentioned in the New Testament, and once in the Apostles' Creed, the highly respectable, but much traduced individual known to the English public as Pontius Pilate, to the Spanish as Poncio Pilato. The manner in which the rendering has been accomplished is as follows: Poncio bears some resemblance to the Spanish puente, which signifies a bridge, and is a modification of the Latin pons, and Pilato to the Spanish pila, a fountain, or rather a stone pillar, from the top of which the waters of a fountain springing eventually fall into a stone basin below, the two words-- the Brono Aljenicato--signifying bridge-fountain, or that which is connected with such a thing. Now this is the identical, or all but the identical, way in which the names Lee, Lovel, and Stanley have been done into English Romany. A remarkable instance is afforded in this Gitano Scripture name, this Brono Aljenicato, of the heterogeneous materials of which Gypsy dialects are composed: Brono is a modification of a Hindoo or Sanscrit, Aljenicato of an Arabic root. Brono is connected with the Sanscrit pindala, which signifies a bridge, and Aljenicato is a modification of the Gypsy aljenique, derived from the Arabic alain, which signifies the fountain. But of whatever materials composed, a fine-sounding name is this same Brono Aljenicato, perhaps the finest sounding specimen of Spanish Gypsy extant, much finer than a translation of Pontius Pilate would be, provided the name served to express the same things, in English, which Poncio Pilato serves to express in Spanish, for then it would be Pudjico Pani or Bridgewater; for though in English Gypsy there is the word for a bridge, namely pudge, a modification of the Persian pul, or the Wallachian podul, there is none for a fountain, which can be only vaguely paraphrased by pani, water.



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