THE
SPARKS QUARTERLY

THE OFFICIAL PUBLICATION OF THE SPARKS FAMILY ASSOCIATION


VOL. I  JUNE, 1953
 NO. 2a 

 
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(Note:  Here appears a sketch, beneath which is the following caption:)

(Falco sparverius LINNAEUS)

SPARROW HAWK

(View Sketch)
 

THE ORIGIN OF THE NAME SPARKS

By Russell E. Bidlack

We all know that surnames, or family names, did not exist in Bible times, but it comes as something of a surprise to most of us when we learn that for a thousand years after the birth of Christ, surnames were still almost unheard of. When William the Conqueror established himself in England, even the nobles did not have surnames; in fact, family names were not common among the nobility until the thirteenth century, and were not generally adopted by the lower classes until the sixteenth century.

The first to use surnames in England were the great land-owners, the noblemen, who took as their surnames the names of their estates. Thus a man named Richard might own an estate called Cotgrove, and, in order to distinguish him from a neighbor also named Richard, his friends referred to him as Richard de Cotgrove ("de" being French for "of"). Calling him this answered the question, Where is he from? The eldest son usually inherited the estate, and in a sense he also inherited his father's family name. Eventually the preposition was dropped, and a true family name developed, which, unlike an estate, could be inherited by all the children. These are called "place names".
 
 

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Only a small number of the inhabitants of England, however, owned land, and as it became desirable, for one reason or another, to have a surname, some source, other than the name of property, was necessary for the great majority of Englishmen. For many, a name was supplied by asking, What does he do? This is the origin of the thousands of so-called "occupational names", such as Smith, Farmer, Cartwright, Arrowsmith, Shoemaker, and Sherman (one who shears woolen cloth).

Another question which might be asked was, Who is his father? If the answer were Richard, he would be called Richard's son, which is the origin of the name Richardson. In other cases, the "son" would not become part of the name, but the possessive "s" would remain, and the result was Richards.

A fourth source of surnames was the answer to the question, What does he look like? or What is his most prominent peculiarity? Thus originated such names as Short, Long, Big(g), and Small. In assigning nicknames to people today, we often use this same device and produce such names as Shorty, Tiny, Red, and Gabby. Nicknames are derived, however, from many sources other than physical characteristics, and writers on the origin of surnames are careful to point out that in dealing with a surname which has derived from a nickname, we can never know for sure just why the nickname was applied in the first place. Such is the problem we face when we attempt to account for the name SPARKS, because the surname Sparks did begin as a nickname.

Authorities are agreed that the name Sparks has derived from the name Sparrowhawk--a nickname which was used in England long before the coming of William the Conqueror. It is not believed, however, that the name Sparrowhawk became a family name until the 13th century. The earliest person on record who was called Sparrowhawk was an Anglo-Saxon monk of St. Edmundsbury, who became Abbot in Abingdon in the year 1048. The story of how Spearhafoc (as the name was spelled in Anglo-Saxon) was given the bishopric of London by Edward the Confessor in 1050, but was never consecrated because of the opposition of the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury, is found in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

In the Domesday Book (the record of a great survey of the lands of England made between 1085 and 1086 by order of William the Conqueror) the names Sparhauoc and Sperhavoc (both intended for Sparrowhawk) appear among the landowners who had possessed land at the time of Edward the Confessor.

The sparrow hawk has been a common bird in England for many centuries. Probably dozens of other persons were also nicknamed Sparrowhawk, of whom no record has survived. The sparrow hawk is really a small falcon, eleven to twelve inches long, and was used extensively in the ancient sport of falconry, where hawks were trained to attack other birds and carry them back to their masters. It is described in the Encyclopedia Americana as a very bold and active bird, and "not infrequently may be seen to attack other and larger birds of prey, its courage extending even to recklessness, while it is also shy and wary."

In 1538, Henry the VIII, King of England, decreed that each head of a family acquire a surname for himself and his family, and that all births, marriages, and deaths be recorded in the parish register.

Thus it happened that, some four hundred years ago, an Englishman
 
 

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nicknamed Sparrowhawk, handed his name down to his sons, and our family name became firmly established. Due to the popularity of the sparrow hawk, there were no doubt several men in England in the 16th century with the name, or nickname, of Sparrowhawk, who assumed it as their family name. They were probably widely scattered over England and were unrelated. Therefore, persons today with the name Sparrowhawk, or Sparks, cannot claim descent from the same ancestor merely because their name is the same.

It would be extremely interesting if we could know exactly who our own remote ancestor was who established the name as our family name. We should like to know why his neighbors called him "Sparrowhawk"--was he bold and active like the bird, or was he just the opposite and people called him "Sparrowhawk" to make fun of him? Or did some comic suggest that he actually resembled a sparrow hawk because of a hooked nose or protruding eyes? Or was he fond of the sport of falconry, possessing a large number of sparrow hawks for that purpose? Or did he operate an inn which had a picture of a sparrow hawk on its sign, and was known as "Sparrow-hawk's Inn"? These questions must remain forever unanswered.

Knowing that the remote originators of the name Sparks were named Sparrowhawk, the question naturally arises, How and why did the name change? Elsdon C. Smith in his The Story of our Names states: "Ever since surnames first became part of man's full name, they have been changed, corrupted and multiplied almost beyond number by bringing to bear upon them many diverse influences." One of the chief causes of the corruption of surnames, according to Smith, is "lingual abbreviations" and the example which he uses is "Spark for Sparrowhawk". In other words, there is a tendency to shorten a name to make it easier and quicker to pronounce. In shortening Sparrowhawk, the first tendency was to eliminate the second syllable and to change the name to Sparhawk. In fact, this lingual abbreviation probably took place in some cases while the name was still just a nickname. In order to shorten the name still further, the tendency was to eliminate the "haw" sound, and the result was Spark. Both of these changes came very early in the evolution of the name, for in the Hundred Rolls of 1273 there was a Thomas Sperheuk in Lincolnshire and a Nicholas Sparke in Norfolk. It is also important to note that everyone named Sparrowhawk did not change his name, or have it changed by others, to Spark. A few families retained the full, original spelling, for the name Sparhawk is common enough to be found in nearly any large city directory today.

During the 14th century the name Spark became more and more common as a surname. The records for this period are so meager, however, that it is virtually impossible to trace the relationships which probably existed between many of these families. A John Spark, of Berwick-on-Tweed, appears to have been rather prominent during the reign of Edward I. In the Patent Rolls there is a record dated July 6, 1292, which names this John Spark as "going beyond seas on the king's affairs", and on August 13, 1302, he was appointed one of the "collectors and receivers in the port of Berwick-on-Tweed of the new custom of 2s. a tun ... on all wines brought within the realm". The earliest reference to a Spark in the Patent Rolls is dated August 17, 1279, on which date pardon was issued at Geddington by Edward I "to Humphrey de Cheselade, in Ivelcestre gaol for the death of Adam Spark".

The last change which took place in the name was the addition of the letter "s". This change, according to most authorities, came about as
 
 

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a result of adding the possessive, that is, Spark's, when a son was identified by using his father's name. When a baptismal record was made, it was customary to enter the father's name as well as that of the child, and it might read: "John, son of Richard Spark's". The same boy might be identified in the community as "Spark's son". In some names the word "son" became a part of the name, as in the case of "Wilcockson", while in others only the possessive "s" was tacked on, as happened in the case of "Sparks". The question immediately arises as to why all surnames do not end in "s". One reason is that, though the genitive case ending of "s" came into official use in English in the 13th century, many years passed before it became common in colloquial speech. Why one name acquired it and another did not, can seldom be determined. Perhaps in some cases it simply sounded better and was easier to pronounce. In any case, many of the families named Spark gradually changed to Sparks. This final change seems to have occurred largely during the 16th century, and by 1600 there were about as many persons named Sparks in England as were named Spark.

From the earliest settlement in America, we find persons bearing this name which had derived from Sparrowhawk. It is interesting, however, that in nearly all instances, the form of the name found in this country has been Sparks, so that today for everyone named Spark there are about one hundred named Sparks. In England, however, one form is nearly as common as the other. Guppy, in his The Homes of Family Names in Great Britain, published in 1890, states that in Sussex there were 14 persons named Spark(e)s per l0,000 population; in Devon and Somerset-shire, about half this number. According to the 1790 census of the United States, the ratio here was approximately two persons named Sparks per l0,000 population. If the same ratio exists today, there are at the present time over 30,000 men, women, and children in the United States with the surname of Sparks, or, in some cases, Sparkes.

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Where was YOUR Sparks Ancestor in 1790?

(Continued from page 6)

SOUTH CAROLINA:
 
Charleston District - St. Phillips & St. Michaels Parish
- McComick, Sparks & Co. - 3 - 0 - 0 - 2 slaves
Cheraw District - Daniel Sparks - 1 - 4 - 5 - 1 slave
- Samuel Sparks - 2 - 1 - 1 - 6 slaves
Ninety-Six District - Laurens Co. - William Sparkes - 1 - 1 - 2
     "       "       " - Newberry Co. - George Sparkes - 1 - 1 - 1
     "       "       "  - Newberry Co. - John Sparkes - 3 - 2 - 6
     "       "       " - Newberry Co. - Stephen Sparks - 1 - 4 - 3
     "       "       " - Spartenburgh Co. - Josiah Sparks - 2 - 0 - 2
     "       "       " - Spartenburgh Co. - Matt Sparks - 3 - 6 - 3
     "       "       " - Spartenburgh Co. - Samuel Sparks - 1 - 3 - 3
     "       "       " - Spartenburgh Co. - Truelove Sparks - 1 - 1 - 1
    "       "       " - Union Co. - John Sparks - 2 - 1 - 4
     "       "       " - Union Co. - Saml Sparks - 1 - 4 - 0
     "       "       " - Union Co. - Zachariah Sparks - 1 - 2 - 2

VERMONT:
 
Addison County - Leicester Town - Stephen Sparks - 1 - 3 - 3
Windham County - Wardsborough Town - Ebenr. Sparks - 1 - 4 - 4

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VIRGINIA:(all of these entries except those for Fluvanna,Pittsylvania, and Shenandoah Counties, are to be found in Fothergill and Naugle's Virginia Tax Payers.)
 
Culpeper Co. - Elizabeth Sparkes - 0 white - 0 black - 1783 Tax List
       " - Henry Sparkes - 1 white - 0 black - 1783 Tax List
       " - Humphrey Sparkes - 1 white - 1 black - 1783 Tax List
       " - John Sparkes - 1 white - 1 black - 1783 Tax List
       " - Thomas Sparkes - 2 white - 1 black - 1783 Tax List
       " - Thomas Sparkes, Jr. - 1 white - 0 black - 1783 Tax List

 (this was in Kentucky)
Fayette Co. - Isaac Sparks - 2 white - 0 black - 1787 Tax List
Fluvanna Co. - Edward Sparks - 5 white - 0 black - 1782 Tax List

 (this was in Kentucky)
Lincoln Co. - Thomas Sparks - 1 white - 0 black - 1787 Tax List
Pittsylvania Co. - Leand. Sparks - 4 white - 0 dwelling
         "         " - 1 other building    - 1785 Tax List
         "         " - Martha Sparks - 1 white - 0 dwelling
         "         " - 1 other building    - 1782    "     "
         "         " - Matthew Sparks - 5 white - 0 dwelling
         "         " - 1 other building    - 1785    "     "
         "         " - Matthew Sparks - 4 white - 0 black  - 1782    "     "
         "         " - Matthew Sparks -10 white -0 black -  1782    "     "
         "         " - Matthew Sparks -11 white - 0 dwelling -
         "         "    2 other buildings -  1785    "     "
         "         " - Thos. Sparks - 4 white - 0 black -  1782    "     "
         "         " - Thomas Sparks - 6 white - 0 dwelling
         "         "    2 other buildings -  1785    "     "
         "         " - Thomas Sparks - 3 white - 0 dwelling
         "         "    1 other building  -   1785   "     "
Shenandoah Co. - Austin Sparks - 2 white - 0 black -  1783   "     "
         "         " - Augustine Sparks - 2 white - 0 dwelling - 
         "         "   0 other building   -   1785   "     "
         "         " - Peter Sparks - 4 white - 1 dwelling
         "         "   0 other building   -   1785   "     "
Prince William Co. - James Sparks - 0 white - 0 black -   1782  "     "
    "         "         " - John Sparks - 1 white - 0 black -   1782  "     "
    "         "         " - John Sparks - 1 white - 0 black -   1782  "     "
    "         "         " - William Sparks - 1 white - 0 black -   1782  "     "
Westmoreland Co. - Alexander Sparks, Est. - 1 white -49 black -  1783  "     "
         "              " - Caty Sparks - 1 white - 0 black -   1783  "     "

The Sparrowhawk Family in America, 1790

The Sparrowhawk family in America is considered to be separate and distinct from the Spark(e)s family, but in view of the fact that the two families had the same origin in England--that the name Spark(e)s is derivation of the name Sparrowhawk--THE SPARKS FAMILY ASSOCIATION would be happy to welcome as members all who are interested in the history and genealogy of the Sparrowhawk family.

A Century of Population Growth lists Sparrowhawk separately from Sparks, so the name is not included in the analysis of the distribution of the name Sparks in America in 1790, as appears on pages 3 and 4 of THE

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SPARKS QUARTERLY.  Roughly, there was one person named Sparrowhawk in America in 1790 for every seven persons named Sparks(e)s.

There were three spellings of the name Sparrowhawk in 1790, according to the aforementioned A Century of Population Growth (p.262), and they were:  Sparhawk, Sparahauk, and Sparowhawk.  (It is interesting that here we have evidence of the dripping of the second syllable of the name, in the slow change from Sparrowhawk to Sparks.)  The average size of the family was 5.5; there were 21 heads of families; and there were 95 other members, making a grand total of 116 men, women, and children in America in 1790 with the name Sparrowhawk or its variations.  (Enumerations for Deleware, Georgia, Kentucky, New Jersey, Tennessee, and a part of Virginia are not included in this analysis, which might account for a few more of the name in these states.  (See page 3)).  These 21 (actually 23) heads of families were distributed as follows:
 

Connecticut   0 North Carolina  0
Maine   0 Pennsylvania  1
Maryland   0 Rhode Island  0
Massachusetts 12 South Carolina  0
New Hampshire   6 Vermont  2
New York   0 Virginia  0

MASSACHUSETTS:  (with 14, rather than 12 families)
 
Essex Co. Lynnfield Town Edwd. Sparhawk - 1 - 1 - 2
Middlesex Co. Cambridge Town David Sparhawk - 0 - 0 - 0
       "          "       "              "      4 others
       "          "       "              " Hannah Sparhawk - 0 - 0 - 2
      "          "       "              " Mary Sparhawk - 0 - 0 - 1
      "          "       "              " Saml. Sparhawk - 4 - 0 - 2
      "          " Natick Town Beriah Sparhawk - 1 - 1 - 1
      "          " Sherburn Town Jacob Sparhawk - 1 - 2 - 2
      "          "       "          " Timo. Sparhawk - 1 - 2 - 2
      "          " Watertown Town Blake Sparhawk - 1 - 2 - 2
Suffolk Co. Roxbury Town Nathl. Sparhawk - 3 - 2 - 5
Worcester Co. Barre Town Nathan Sparhawk - 1 - 0 - 1
      "          " Oxford Town Joseph Sparhawk - 2 - 1 - 6
      "          "       "          "  Timothy Sparhawk - 1 - 2 - 4
      "          " Templeton Town Rev'd Ebenezer Sparahauk - 3 - 4 - 6

NEW HAMPSHIRE:
 
Cheshire Co. Croyden Town Lucy Sparhawk - 3 - 2 - 2
      "         " Walpole Town George Sparhawk - 2 - 1 - 2
      "         "       "         " Thomas Sparhawk - 2 - 3 - 4 
      "         "       "         "    1 other
      "         "       "         " Thomas Sparhawk, Jr. - 1 - 1 - 1
Rockingham Co. Portsmouth Town Widow Sparhawk - 1 - 1 - 3
Strafford Co. Conway Town John Sparhawk - 1 - 0 - 0 

PENNSYLVANIA:
 
Philadelphia Co. Philadelphia City - Middle  District - North Second St. to Race St. East side
John Sparhawk (book seller) - 1 -   0 - 2

VERMONT:
 
Rutland Co. Shrewsbury Town Noah Sparowhawk - 1 - 1 - 5
Windsor Co. Rochester Town Ebenezer Sparhawk - 3 - 0 - 1

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