Archive:The Whitney Family of Connecticut, page ix

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Archives > Archive:Extracts > Archive:The Whitney Family of Connecticut > The Whitney Family of Connecticut, page ix

The Whitney Family of Connecticut

by S. Whitney Phoenix
(New York: 1878)

Transcribed by Robert L. Ward.

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ix



THE WHITNEYS OF ENGLAND.1

Whitney, as a surname, owes its origin to the ancient, but obscure, parish of Whitney,2 on the western confines of Herefordshire, near the border of Wales. It lies in the valley of the river Wye, which is here a mountain-torrent, subject to sudden and destructive freshets. This circumstance affords a probable explanation of its name--Whitney being perhaps derived from the Anglo-Saxon words hwit, white, and ey, water,3 and so literally meaning white water.

But more ambitious etymologies of the name are not wanting. The Rev. Dr. Giles, in his history of Witney and the neighboring parishes, in Oxfordshire, says: "But, if Witney received any fresh peculiarity of character from the Saxons, it certainly takes its name from the occupation of that busy and plodding race of men. The Witan-eye, or, as it is also written in the Anglo-Saxon or old English dialect, Witan-ige, evidently signifies the island of the wise men, or of the Parliament.4 . . . . Thus the word Witney means, etymologically, Parliament Isle, though no record has been handed down to us to tell for what reason such a name was given. There is a large house still named Parliament House, at the corner of the Crofts Lane, which, to the minds of some, conveys a tradition concerning the etymology of the name Witney."

Dr. Thomas Wright, the eminent Anglo-Saxon scholar, made other suggestions:5 "I think Dr. Giles's derivation of Witney, in Oxfordshire, a very probable one. Some meeting of the witan, or leading men of the district, had probably been held there, and the island had been named

Etymology.
|-   1 This sketch is mainly a reprint from Rev. Henry Green's Introductory Dissertation to his reproduction of Geffrey Whitney's Choice of Emblemes, London, 1866, with additions from a pamphlet on The first known use of Whitney as a surname, published at Boston, Mass., in 1875, by Henry Austin Whitney, Esq.
  2 Not to he confounded with Witney, in Oxfordshire, so famous for its manufacture of woollen goods. But possibly both names are the same in meaning; and they have not always been differently spelled. Witney appears in ancient records as Wittney, Witenie, Witeney, Witteneye, Wyttney, Wyteney, Wytteneye, Whiteneye, Whitteneye, Whitney; and


  3 Notes and Queries, 5th Series ,Vol. VI, p. 119. Other examples in Herefordshire are Whit-bourn, the white brook, Whitchurch, the white cyrc (church), and Whit-ton, the white town--the last of which occurs in six other places in England.
  4 By "parliament," in this connection, should be understood merely an assemblage of the witan, or wise men, of the folc or shire, and not the great national council of the Anglo-Saxons, or Witena-gemote (in which witena is the genitive of witan), as it was termed.
  5 In a letter addressed to Mr. Henry Austin Whitney, Feb. 1st, 1860.
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