The Bullitt County History Museum

Bullitt Memories: Names

The following article by David Strange was originally published on 19 Apr 2015. It is archived here for your reading enjoyment.

It's "Strange" how names change over time & place.

Let's talk a little today about names and where they come from.

Strangely Cool

Strangely Serious

But first let me say upfront that this story is not intended as a detailed study of genealogy or an accurate representation of the origins of family names. It is just an introduction, an example if you will, of how names can change over time and place.

Have you ever thought of that? Have you wondered about how your name came to be?

Take my "strange" name for example. Please.

Apparently, and very generally, the name began before 1000 A.D. as "LeStrange/leStrange/L'Strange/D'strange" (meaning "the Newcomer") with genealogy stretching to the Saxons invading France and England. Strange is on record in England with a Lord Roger leStrange in 1295. By the 14th century, the name had been shortened in some families to just "Strange".

Once upon a time, names could change at will. Until detailed record keeping came along, such as Social Security in the 1930's, it really didn't matter much that your name was accurate, especially for common folks. Don't like your name? Just start going by something else. I was told a story once about a Bullitt County woman whose last name was Bivens. She supposedly said something like, "I am not a bunch of Bivens; I am just one." From then on she spelled her family's name without an "s" and to this day there are now Bivens and Biven families in the county.

In addition, for many centuries most people could not read or write. So when a name was recorded, the scribe would simply ask the person to state their name and then would write it down as he guessed it should be. You can imagine the variations that resulted from local accents and languages.

A few years ago, when my son visited Iceland, he noticed that people would pronounce his name as Nathan "Strong" instead of Nathan "Strange." It turns out that one explanation of the surname "Strong" is that "Strange" ancestors migrated over time through England, Scotland, Norway, Iceland and down through Canada to the U.S. with the spelling eventually changing to fit the accent.

Oh, man! I was THAT close to having a really cool last name!

Indiana Strange

My ancestors who came through French-speaking areas picked up an "ah" for "a" and a soft or even imperceptible "g," sounding like "Strahnj" and spelled it Straunge/Straun/Strawn. English Stranges who came straight to Virginia and the Carolinas picked up the more-southern accents resulting in Strange/Strang/Strainge.

I have in no way confirmed this, but it seems that my family line might have come from a young man who immigrated to Virginia from Bridewell, England in 1619. Eventually Stranges were part of the "Baptist Exodus" from persecution in Virginia in 1781 to North Carolina and Kentucky, at some point settling in Hart County, Kentucky.

Names change for many reasons. Honus Shain tells me that he has seen the Leitch surname changed to Leach in old papers simply by the misreading of the handwriting on records where the "i" and the "t" were written is such a way that they looked like an "A." My father-in-law's name is spelled "James Arvil Harris" on his birth certificate, but his mother meant for "Arvil" to be spelled "Orville." Apparently the difference wasn't realized until Arvil joined the Army and family letters to "Orville" Harris did not get to him. She was always pretty miffed about that, but "Arvil" it was. My father's name is "Melvin" Strange, but his Grandma West so strongly wanted his name to be "Dawson" that she called him that anyway, and it took. Dad himself didn't know his name wasn't Dawson until he was fourteen years old, and some relatives still think so today.

And "strange" as it seems, I could have been a Strong.

Copyright 2015 by David Strange, Shepherdsville KY. All rights are reserved. No part of the content of this page may be included in any format in any place without the written permission of the copyright holder.

The Bullitt County History Museum, a service of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is located in the county courthouse at 300 South Buckman Street (Highway 61) in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. The museum, along with its research room, is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday. Admission is free. The museum, as part of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization and is classified as a 509(a)2 public charity. Contributions and bequests are deductible under section 2055, 2106, or 2522 of the Internal Revenue Code. Page last modified: 08 Sep 2018 . Page URL: