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March 01, 2005



Abiola. I mentioned this before. There is no claim to aristocracy in the Norman preposition "De". It means from. It is no more a snob's charter than the preposition Fitz ( from fils de) is. I doubt you would write "Fitz"Patrick.

The O'Brien clan, or family, also have a head aristocrat, as would most Irish surnames. People related to the head of the O'Brien house are hardly claiming aristocratic ancestry by using the O, no more than a De Courcy is claiming to be an aristocrat because the relatives of the descendants of John De Courcy - a norman invader to Ireland - keep the De. In fact they do.

Some Irish surnames have lost the O', like Ryan. Some norman surnames have lost the De, like Burkes. There are Sullivans and O'Sullivans. It saves on ink to be a Sullivan.

When gaelicising any anglo name the Irish language always restores the preposition, so Ryan becomes O'Rian, and Burke is De Burca.

There is the famous Irish leftwing politician - Frank Ross - who deciding that his name lacked clout in English, decided to use the Gaelic version of his name ( common enough, but generally not something changed in midlife).

Frank is now know as Proinsias De Rossa.


All of this applies to Norman surnames anywhere, of course. Not just Ireland or England.

Aidan Kehoe

I imagine part of it too, is it's much easier to have an easy self-confidence when major historical figures aren't distant unknowables but rather someone your grandfather probably knew well, and told you banal stories about.


When did "of" drop out of use in England and Lowland Scotland? A friend turned up an ancestor who was described as " *****son of Watchhall": we'd never say that nowadays, would we, except for the odd Highlander (Cameron of Lochiel, etc)?


This is all very puzzling. It seems to be the done thing for some Germans I know to drop their "von" when introducing themselves.


Friedrich Hayek certainly did, though Ludwig Mises didn't.

Abiola Lapite

"Abiola. I mentioned this before. There is no claim to aristocracy in the Norman preposition "De". It means from. It is no more a snob's charter than the preposition Fitz ( from fils de) is. I doubt you would write "Fitz"Patrick."

I'm perfectly aware that "de" means "from" (as does "von"), but to say that it hasn't become regarded as a mark of aristocratic ancestry is just plain wrong. The fact is that pretty much anyone who appends a "de" or a "von" to his name nowadays, and whose family neither got the appellation via a patent of nobility issued by a sitting monarchy nor bore it from at least the close of the 18th century, is simply playing on the association in the popular mind between these articles and aristocracy, an association of such longstanding that even Ludwig van Beethoven tried to take advantage of it, taking severe umbrage when he was denied the privileges of an aristocrat in the courts after an investigation revealed him to be a commoner.

Lanz "von" Liebenfels was not from Liebenfels, Erich "von" Stroheim was not from Stroheim, Joachim "von" Ribbentrop was not from Ribbentrop, and neither Dominic "de Villepin" Goleuzeu or Valery Giscard "d'Estaing" are from Villepin or Estaing; every single one of the aforementioned is or was trying to put on false airs of aristocracy, and in the case of the last two Frenchmen, their new surnames were bought by social climbing ancestors in the 20th century.

Julian Elson de Saint Louis

You may well be right that we have a hidden deference to aristocracy, but I think it might be a deference to fame/familiarity generally. Suppose some unknown off-broadway actor (and a better one than Arnold, which can't be TOO hard) had run for governor of California, and he had roughly the same qualifications (in terms of charisma apart from celebrity, occupational experience in managerial positions related to the governorship, political acceptability to voters in terms of ideology, etc) as Schwarzenegger (who certainly isn't an aristocrat). He wouldn't have had a chance. Not only would he have lost, none of us would have even known his name. Now, one might argue that Schwarzenegger's fame itself shows a qualification for governorship: he rose from humble roots, demonstrating an ability to pitch himself to exercise video publishers and big time movie casters, so that means he'd be more able to pitch a budget to a legislature as well, whereas the off-broadway actor has only been able to pitch himself to smalltime theater directors. Naturally, we can't rule out combinations: maybe there's a bit of deference to aristocracy, a bit of deference to familiarity, and a bit of an intuitive hunch that someone who got famous must have been able to do so through means that would also suit him well for governing (e.g. cutting deals, etc).


Aren't the O'Briens the family that the high King used to come out of? I heard that the "heir" after all these centuries is a policmen in New York or a cabdriver in Boston. But then, I also heard that Bill Clinton had a better claim to the throne of England than Elizabeth. That is probably more plausible, since he at least has some English ancestry. Finally there is conventional wisdom/folklore to the effect that there is a lot more European aristocracy in the US than in Europe, which also would make sense if you are counting the descendants of second and third sons.

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