Surname Saturday: Snow-Snowman-Snowball

SnowCrestThese English surnames were all derived from the Old English word “snaw”, but interestingly has nothing to do with “snow” as in the frozen stuff that has fallen in massive quantities this winter along the East Coast.

Snow

Snow was an English nickname which referred to someone with very white hair or a pale complexion.  It is also possible the name was given to someone who was born during the wintertime.  It wasn’t uncommon for names to be associated with some event either, for example: Noel, Pentecost, Midwinter, Winter and Frost.

Charles Bardsley, author of A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames, mentioned an anecdotal story he was introduced to while writing his book (1872-1896): “A clergyman wrote to me some time ago to say he had just baptized a child by the name of ‘Sou’-wester’.  This turned out to the father’s Christian name, who was born on board ship in a sou’-westerly gale.”

Some believe its origins may trace back to pre-historical times with a King of Denmark named “Snoo”, which meant a cunning, crafty or sly person.  In Germany the name may have been a Jewish surname like “Schnee”, “Schnei” or “Schneu”, according to Ancestry.com, and later Americanized.  Spelling variations included Snow, Snowe, Snaw, Snawe, Snowling and others.

Some of the earliest instances of the name which appeared in records were Henry Snou (1273, County Buckinghamshire) on the Hundred Rolls and Willelmus Snawe of Yorkshire who was listed on the Yorkshire Poll Tax of 1379.

The earliest American immigrants bearing this surname were Nicholas Snow (Plymouth, Massachusetts, 1620); Henry Snow (Virginia, 1636); Elfred Snow (Virginia, 1702); and Josiah Snow (Virginia, 1724).  Nicholas Snow is considered to be the immigrant ancestor of many who bear the surname Snow today.

Snowman

This surname derives from the same Old English origins as the Snow surname.  An instance of the name was recorded at St. Andrew’s Holborn in London in July of 1597 as John Snowesman, and according to the Internet Surname Database, possibly meant the friend or foreman of John Snow.  Spelling variations include Snowman, Snoweman and Snowesman.

The New Dictionary of American Family Names notes that this surname may also have German origins, an Americanized form of “Schneemann”.

Snowball

This is also derived from the Old English word “snaw” combined with “bald” (as in bare).  P.H. Reaney noted in his book, A Dictionary of English Surnames, that the name probably originated as a nickname for someone with jet-black hair with a glaring bald spot, perhaps a monk.

SnowballCrestIn 1327 the name Roger Snowbald appeared on the Subsidy Rolls of Staffordshire; in 1332 Robert Snaubal was listed on the Pipe Rolls of Lancashire.  Even earlier, the name Robert Snawbal was recorded on the Subsidy Rolls of Yorkshire in 1301.  Spelling variations include Snowball, Snowbal, Snowbawl, Snaubal, Snowbald and others.

It never ceases to amaze me the names I run across, both the highly unusual ones or those which are also commonly used words like Pray, Bible, Butter, Thing, Purchase, Kitten and Tinker.  Discovering the origins is just plain fascinating to me, and hopefully to you the reader as well.  Check the archives for a full list of Surname Saturday articles.

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2015.

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