Sunday, May 17, 2020

Whaple or Whaples?

By Charles M. Whipple, Ph.D., Ed.D.

One of the more widely seen extant variations of the original eleventh-century Winple patronymic that appeared in the Domesday Book of 1086, seen well into the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is the confusing use of the letter "s" at the end of many surnames. Three instances of such, relative to the Whipple surname were: Whaples/Whaple; Wheples/Wheple; and Whiple/Whiples.  Other examples evidencing this confusion, as well as a mixing and matching of these six names, such as Whiple/Whaple, could be noted; however, this instance appears to have been common, as well as being overly  resistant to modification during  ensuing centuries.


At least two reasons cited in linguistics literature for this practice exist.  The use of "s" at the end of proper nouns, four to five hundred years ago, was a carryover from Medieval Latin still used during the Middle Ages to record names on parish registers. In present English grammar, this consonant also shows the possessive, and the plural, not commonly used at the earlier time.

A second, and perhaps more momentous cause, centers on the near universal illiteracy of the populous during the Tudor (1485-1603) and Stuart (1603-1714) reigns in England. Less than ten percent of Englishmen at the time, including in many instances, a community's clerk or priest, were at best semi-literate. Thus when called upon to record names, the recorder, all too often, simply guessed at the correct spelling. This was compounded by the fact that many did not know how to correctly pronounce his or her own name; thus the confused state that is with us still.

In addition, as noted by William Wyman Fiske in "The Whipple Family of Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire" (The Genealogist, vol. 20, no. 2 [Fall 2006],  p. 203) the name Robert Whaple is used in the first part of the will, and Robert Whaples later on. This would seem to indicate that the two were used interchangeably. When asked, "Why did Captain John change his name?" i.e., from Whaple/Whaples to Whipple/Whiples/Wipple.  He didn’t, he simply chose to use a variant of his own name.

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