House your name spelt?

As mentioned in my last post, I took on this One-Name Study to extend my knowledge of my name and, in the process, learn more about its origin and then share that back with the world.  A further real benefit has been to extend the joys of problem solving to reconstructing family histories for other people’s families and in the process to collaborate with other researchers to find a greater truth.

A year or so into our online existence at we had a registration from a gentleman named Howes in Washington state in the NorthWest of the US.  He asked us if we could help him find his ancestors back in the UK.  He knew their names and roughly when they arrived in the US but try as he might, he could not locate them in the “old country.”

I searched for the better part of an entire weekend, but without success until mid-Sunday afternoon, when it occurred to me that my correspondent and I had been making an unstated assumption: that the surname was fixed.  Once I took off that constraint from my searching process I readily found his family.

They’d been named House in the UK.  The father, Frank Mark House, had been a blacksmith and a farrier, growing up in Dorset in Southern England.  He had taken his family first to South Wales and then back to Southampton as he followed his work. He had then emigrated to the USA, likely in 1888, though we have yet to find the ship.  The rest of his family followed on later, with wife and five children leaving England on the ship “Egypt” from Liverpool and arriving in New York in late 1889.

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Passenger list 1889
Passenger list 1889

The family lived and prospered in Queens, New York with the father continuing to pursue his smithing trade and the children gradually spreading their wings and living the dreams their parents had had for them.  To see more about this family, go to Frank Mark’s record here.

Every record for the family in the UK including the passenger list uses the name House.  Every record so far located for the family in the US uses the name Howes.

1900 census: Queens, NY
1900 census: Queens, NY

I learned a few key things from this process:

  • always check your assumptions, especially those you don’t realize that you are making
  • people aren’t always thrilled to learn the truth.  This family had been living as Howes for 100+ years.  It can be very unsettling to be told that your original surname isn’t what you thought it was!  It wasn’t until I bought a couple of birth certificates for the children to show that their dates of birth were what had been written in family records that there was acceptance of my conclusions.
  • the names House and Howes must have been pronounced very similarly indeed for them to have changed.  Any English speaker on either side of the Atlantic upon hearing the word House would write House, not Howes.  So it seems clear that the word was pronounced with a soft s, as if one were using the word “house” as a verb.

This last point was quite seminal for us.  We had started by registering the names Howes, Howse and Hows with the Guild.  Following this experience, we looked farther and found many more examples of the interchangeability of all of the names.  So we expanded what was already a big study by registering House as well.

More on the impact of adding the House name, the picture it enabled us to draw of the distribution of the name in England and the resultant thinking about our name’s origin next time.

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4 thoughts on “House your name spelt?”

  1. Hello Jane. Thanks for that delightful recording. I followed a good deal of it, but by no means all. My own ears come from Norfolk, originally!
    I don’t want to write future posts now, but I will say that it’s not just to American ears that the names House and Howes sounded similar. Check back over the next few weeks!

  2. Hi Joanne. Thanks very much for your comment and feedback. Indeed, my name is waaay more frequent than yours! That fact alone has had a big impact on how I go about my study.

    Over the next few months, I’ll be talking a lot more about that impact of studying such a frequent name and also the Guild of One-Name Studies, the body established to help people like you and me, no matter how large or small our studies are, or how we go about them. So stay tuned for more and/or write to me direct at paul (at) and/or check out the Guild’s website directly at

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