October 19, 2012
I’ve written before about the name Purcell, and the evidence that indicates it must originally have been pronounced with first syllable stress, but it isn’t the only name ending in –ell to be stressed in this way: Marvell, Durrell, Cavell, Parnell, Angell, Mitchell, are all traditionally stressed by bearers of the name in the UK (I can’t answer for other places) on the first syllable. I know that Americans tend to pronounce the first two of these names with stress at the end: Mar’vell, Du’rrell, and I have heard an English professor of English Literature stress Andrew Marvell‘s name in this way – and I seem to remember that John Wells, in his blog some years ago, commented on this with surprise. Certainly the usage of both Gerald and Lawrence Durrell was ‘Durrell (initial syllable stress). Edith Cavell, the 1st World War nurse executed by the Germans as a spy is most frequently heard with final stress, but evidence collected by the BBC from the family is in favour of initial stress, and, at a service of commemoration in Norwich Cathedral, I have heard her supporters also use initial stress. The same is true for Parnell, surname of the 19th century Irish Protestant nationalist Charles Stewart Parnell: initial stress.
In all the cases bar one (Parnell), the etymology of these names, according to the Oxford Names Companion at least, shows that initial stress is the original pattern: Purcell (“swineherd”), Durrell (“hardy” – from French ‘dur’), Cavell (“bald” – ultimately from Latin ‘calvus’). The cases of Marvell, Angell and Mitchell (from “mickle” – meaning “great” or “large”) are self-explanatory. The exception, Parnell, is apparently a diminutive of the given name Petronilla, so second syllable stress would be understandable. Howell and Powell (= ‘ap Hywel’) are both derived from the Welsh name, and never, to my knowledge, stressed other than on the first syllable.
One of the most famous –ell names is Liddell – as in Liddell and Scott (Greek Lexicon), Alice Liddell (daughter of the above, and eponymous heroine of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland), and Eric Liddell, hero of the film Chariots of Fire. I have never heard this name stressed other than on the first syllable.
It is a frequent feature of English language family names that a final consonant should be doubled, not only –l, perhaps as a way to distinguish it from the vocabulary word from which it is derived: Crabb, Mudd, Abbott, or simply as a doublet for the form with a single final consonant: Hewitt, Hewlett (both meaning “little Hugh”), Lockett, Waylett. The members of this last group are often diminutives. Where these names are polysyllabic, there is no reason to change the stress to the final syllable.
Another device used by some families is to add a final -e to the vocabulary word from which their name is derived: Blacke, Browne, Greene, Cliffe, Fowle(s), Groome, Rowe, Wilde.
Of course, before the days when spelling became standardised, those with a single and double final consonant letter were both in use, whether for the vocabulary word, where it exists, or the name, but the doubling seems to have persisted more readily for the names. Likewise for those names now distinguished from the vocabulary word by the ‘addition’ of a final –e: before the fixing of spellings, both forms were used for the vocabulary word and the name.