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Atten ash and atter ash

asked 2015-03-19 14:56:51 -0400

anonymous user


The surnames Nash and Rash come from misdivisions of Middle English atten ash and atter ash. Both of these are given as 'at the ash(-tree)' everywhere I've looked.

Are these simply dialectal variants, or is there something else going on?

Marc Picard

(Transferred from old LINGUIST List Ask-a-Linguist site)

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answered 2015-03-19 14:57:55 -0400

anonymous gravatar image

Hi, Marc,

Well, those two names are new to me, as far as their etymology is concerned. Still, the mechanism is very reminiscent of the etymology of orange (by all accounts, from 'a norange', newt (again, by all accounts from 'an eft' via 'an ewt' or maybe via 'a neft') and lots more exx. with an+V- ---> a+ nV-, or a + nV- ---> an + V-.

I had not seen examples of a possible generalization of the 'floating n' phenomenon fairly common in the indefinite article with vowel- or n-initial words before, if indeed that is what Nash and Rose are.


James L. Fidelholtz Graduate Program in Language Sciences Instituto de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades Benem'erita Universidad Aut'onoma de Puebla, M'EXICO

When I was taught placename etymology, over 40 years ago, we were told never to guess. This applies to surnames too. The etymology of names can be unusual and creative. So to know the etymology you have to have traced the name back through documents until you get to its source. says that the surname 'Rash' comes from Old English (and here AE stands for the letter ash, which looks like a and e squashed together, and TH stands for the letter thorn) "AEt THAEre AEsce": at the ash. The ending -re is an inflection controlled by the pronoun. I assume these are the etymologies of the place names from which the surname comes. They are plausible, but you would need to look at the full evidence to see whether they are right. also say the name is 'Jewish'.

Remember that surnames did not emerge in England until after the Old English period, after 'the' had lost its inflections. Owing to massacres, few Jewish people survived from medieval England.

If the name is Jewish, it is more likely to be an English sounding name based on a name of some other origin.

Anthea Fraser Gupta

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answered 2016-01-11 13:47:47 -0400

According to The Oxford Guide to Etymology (p. 272), Middle English atten is from at (Old English æt) + dative masculine/neuter the (OE THæm) and atter is from at + dative feminine the (OE THære). Both later got reduced to atte. The source goes on to give the example of atten ashe to Nash.

In Old English, æsc (ash tree) was masculine (Old English Online: Master Glossary), so the misdivision atten [ash] to English surname Nash makes sense grammatically. As for feminine atter [ash] to English surname Rash, perhaps the gender varied in different areas. Note that the Modern German cognate of ash (tree) is feminine Esche. Also, depending on the age of the surname, it could be atte [ash] pronounced as atter [ash] (later to Rash) in the way that modern British English often inserts -r between vowels at word boundaries (idear is).

Reference: Durkin, Philip, The Oxford Guide to Etymology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).

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Asked: 2015-03-19 14:56:51 -0400

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Last updated: Jan 11 '16