As a ‘one name’ society our focus is on the ALDERSON name, but if we want to understand the
relevance of old records, we cannot be a ‘one spelling’ society. Table 1 gives 63 different name spelling
that seem to relate to our ALDERSON ancestors. Where do these spellings come from?
Chaotic spellings are what people working on the history of place-names and personal names expect.
Dialect, semi-literacy, and lack of spelling standardization, as well as sound changes varying in different dialects, are the main reasons. Writers set down the letters that they thought were equivalent to the sounds they heard. They did not do this consistently – we find examples of a name written using different letters in the same text by the same writer. At the same time those doing the writing may have had different accents from those speaking the name. We can only imagine the possibilities for variation with pronunciation in a strong northern Middle English dialect written down in Latin by French speakers, as is the case with the earliest records.
These examples give an idea of the variations.
• Rawff AWDARSON married Alic in 1582 in Ravenstonedale WES and buried her there as Alice
ALDERSON in 1610.
• Margaret AUDERSON daughter of Bartholomew was baptised on 14th April 1590 in Hutton
Rudby NRY and Margaret AULDERSON married there on 19th April 1609.
• Robert ANDERSON married on 16th April 1594 in Leake NRY, had sons John ANDERSON
baptised on 17th Nov. 1605, Richard AWDERSON baptised on 13th June 1608, Thomas ALDERSON
baptised on 23rd Sept. 1610, all at Leake.
• Christopher son of James ANDERSON was baptised at Great Fencote in 1601, and buried as the
son of James AUTHERSON in 1602.
• James had son George AWDERSON baptised in 1608, daughter Elizabeth ADERSON baptised in
1610, daughter Barbara ADESON baptised in 1612, and daughter Alice ALDERSON baptised in 1615,
all at Auckland St Andrew DUR.
• John ALDERSON married his wife Elizabeth in 1608 at Manchester Cathedral LAN and buried
her there as Elizabeth ALDERSONNE in 1620.
• Mary AUDERSON baptised 1608 in Hutton Rudby, was married there as Mary OLUDERSON in
• Ninian son of Michael AUTHERSON was born 11th May 1611 in Aldbrough, WRY, and Ninian
son of Michael ALDERSON was buried 15th May 1611 in Aldbrough. While Ingram ALDERSON
married on 15th May 1654 in Long Marston, YKS, had a son William AUTHERSON baptised 25th July
• Adam son of William ALDERSON was baptised 12th Aug. 1635 in Colne, LAN, and Adam
OLDERSON was married in 1688 in Colne.
• John AWDERSON who witnessed the reading of the Book of Articles of Religion in Sockburn
Church by the Vicar on 13th July 1662 had two daughters baptised there: Ann AUDERSON on 17th May
1663 and Margery ADERSON on 17th April 1668.
• Alexander AUDERSON married 21st Nov 1671 in Eryholme NRY, had a son William
ANDERSON born Oct. 1672 in Eryholme.
• Richard had daughter Richard AUTHERSONNE baptised in 1673, and buried as Richard
AUTHERSON in 1675, and son Richard ALDERSON baptised in 1687, all at Great Fencote NRY.
• John had son Robert ADDESON baptised in 1751, daughter Elizabeth ADDERSON baptised in
1754, and Susan ALDERSON baptised in 1760, all at Sadberge.
• Hannah HOLDERSON was baptised on 26th May 1782 and buried as Hannah ALDERSON on 7th
Sept. 1782 in Leeds.
Table 1 gives the spellings found in the AFHS database for the UK, with the first and last dates at which
they occur, and the place in which they first occur. Whatever the spelling, we would expect something
equivalent to ald then to er then to son. Table 1 shows the various spellings broken down in this pattern.
|Spelling||Syllable||Earliest||Latest||Place of Earliest Record|
|Adderson||Add-er-son||1548||1796||Fiskerton cum Rolleston||NTT|
|Aldersone||Ald-er-sone||1567||1674||Stainton in Cleveland,||NRY|
|Aldersonn||Ald-er-sonn||1580||1657||Stainton in Cleveland,||NRY|
|Aldorson||Ald-or-son||1777||1798||Sturton cum Fenton,||NTT|
|Aldouesson||Ald-oue-sson||1200||1251||Stinton [Stutton, Tadcaster]||WRY|
|Atherson||Ath-er-son||1658||1728||Weasenham All Saints,||NFK|
|Auderson||Aud-er-son||1557||1751||Barwick upon Tees,||NRY|
If we look at each spelling in this way, the second syllable would be what vowel linguists call the schwa.
According to the Wikipedia: “The schwa is the vowel sound in many lightly pronounced unaccented
syllables in English words of more than one syllable. It is most easily described as sounding like the
British English er or the American English uh. It is the most common vowel sound in the English
language. Its sound depends on the adjacent consonants and it is a very short neutral vowel sound. It is a
characteristic of English that unaccented neutral vowel sounds, especially before r or l, tend to become a
schwa. A schwa sound can therefore be represented in English by any vowel.” The r was pronounced in
earlier times, and still is in central Lancashire, Scotland and the South West.
Mistranscription of the common scribe’s contraction of AWDERSON to AWDRSON probably explains a
second syllable consisting only of r. The form oue may be a French spelling of the sound.
The alternatives for third syllable are generally explained by 16th century spelling conventions. sone,
sonn and sonne arise with the development of printing. To justify the text, the compositor would add a
final e to almost any word ending in a single consonant or would double a final consonant. At the same
time, the convention of using a final (silent) e to indicate a long vowel sound developed (indicating, for
example, the different sounds of can and cane). Adding a random extra e could create confusion about the
sound, so doubling the final consonant before the e was introduced as a convention to indicate that the
vowel should be short (requiring can to be spelled as canne). Eventually where this silent e had no effect
on a vowel it began to be omitted, as did final doubled consonants. We also find doubling of other
consonants such as s and d. The vowel in ‘son’ is also the schwa, giving rise to a variety of
pronunciations. Simple replacement of o by e gives the common Scandanavian form sen. There is no
great difference between the production of sounds for s and t. The tongue takes a similar position for
each, although the airflow differs. s can be converted to st by varying and extending the airflow during
the tongue movement giving ston and hence stone.
The variation of the first syllable is far more complex, depending a great deal on dialects greatly
influenced by geography and history. The Northumbrian-Mercian line, which runs from the Lune south of
Bowland and then across to the Wharfe, divides the northern Danelaw dialects from the southern AngloSaxon dialects. The east-west distinction is roughly defined by the Pennines, with a Geordie type found north of the Tees in the east, which may spread across the Tyne gap.
The major variation in the first syllable comes from the inclusion, or not, of l. In the Middle Ages, l was
lost before other consonants (e.g. talk, palm). This occurs as l-vocalisation – turning the l into a vowel
sound – in the west up into Scotland (e.g. cowd for cold), but loss of l without vocalisation in the East
(e.g. cad for cold). Spellings with au, aw represent the sound after the l had been dropped. Spellings with
ad or add may represent a variant where the l was lost without lengthening of the vowel. I heard my
grandfather, who was from Jarrow, County Durham, say his name as Adderson.
The other main variation comes from d and th which have transmuted in many words – murther to
murder, burthen to burden, but also bruder to brother, fad(d)er rather than father, and so on. In the north
th (originally from Scandinavian) replaced the original d.
Intermixing of these two variations and the doubling of consonants gives most of the spelling variation.
awed and olud could arise by dragging out the pronunciation while spelling – a-w-ed or o-l-ud, with the
extra e or u representing the resulting schwa vowel.
In old scripts the distinction between the shapes of u and n is very slight. The same script can easily be
read as AUDERSON or ANDERSON. Generally the only way to determine which was intended is by
context. Where we find the name ANDERSON in isolation amongst many AUDERSONs we may find that
the text was mistranslated. Similarly we find AUUDERSON read as ANNDERSON. uu was as an
alternative way of writing w. [This is not suggesting that Alderson and Anderson are the same name, only
that they may be confused when reading old texts.]
The forms beginning with h are probably examples hypercorrection – adding an h where one isn’t missing
– in speakers in h-dropping parts of England. h-dropping has been around for at least 500 years! The
forms beginning with o are phonetically close to our current pronunciation of ALDERSON, which begins
with the sound o as in cot. Here, the diphthong in aw is smoothed into a single vowel sound. The forms
beginning with e may indicate a change of sound. However, it could just be that the scribe thought the
speaker had said elder.
The analysis shows that linguistically ATTERSON cannot represent ALDERSON, and must represent a different name. It also indicates that our current pronunciation including the l may be a pronunciation of the standard spelling, rather than a continuation of the ancestral pronunciation without the l.
Reviewing the various spellings we see their basis in regional dialects and the changing pronunciation of
English. Spelling standardisation of our surname only took a firm hold after 1800 when it settled into a
small number of variants in the UK. We can also get an indication of a possible root of the name. Nearly
all of the various spellings of the initial syllable can indicate old. We find the normal English forms older
and elder together with the variations on alder. The OUP Dictionary of Surnames gives: ALDERSON as
son of Alder, where Alder is from one or the other of two Old English personal names, Ealdhere “old
army” or AEthelhere “noble army”. There was another personal name in Middle English, ALDOUS
(variously spelt) from various male or female personal names beginning Eald- in Old English. So
conceivably ALDERSON could mean Aldous’ son. This is very suggestive of ALDOUESSON and
strengthens Plantagenate Harrison’s theory that the Aldersons were descended from ALDOUE.
[This article has been written with the extensive help and considerable expertise of the linguists at