September 16, 2017 2:55 PM

Pages 7-10
Whole Number 2

SPARROW HAWK
THE ORIGIN OF THE NAME SPARKS

By Russell E. Bidlack


(At the top of this page 7 in the original Sparks Quarterly appears an ink sketch of a sparrow hawk with the following printed beneath it:)

(Falco sparverius LINNAEUS)

We all know that surnames, or family names, did not exist in Bible times, but it comes as something of a surprise to most of us when we learn that for a thousand years after the birth of Christ, surnames were still almost unheard of. When William the Conqueror established himself in England, even the nobles did not have surnames; in fact, family names were not common among the nobility until the thirteenth century, and were not generally adopted by the lower classes until the sixteenth century.

The first to use surnames in England were the great land-owners, the noblemen, who took as their surnames the names of their estates. Thus a man named Richard might own an estate called Cotgrove, and, in order to distinguish him from a neighbor also named Richard, his friends referred to him as Richard de Cotgrove ("de" being French for "of"). Calling him this answered the question, Where is he from? The eldest son usually inherited the estate, and in a sense he also inherited his father's family name. Eventually the preposition was dropped, and a true family name developed, which, unlike an estate, could be inherited by all the children. These are called "place names".

Only a small number of the inhabitants of England, however, owned land, and as it became desirable, for one reason or another, to have a surname, some source, other than the name of property, was necessary for the great majority of Englishmen. For many, a name was supplied by asking, What does he do? This is the origin of the thousands of so-called "occupational names", such as Smith, Farmer, Cartwright, Arrowsmith, Shoemaker, and Sherman (one who shears woolen cloth).

Another question which might be asked was, Who is his father? If the answer were Richard, he would be called Richard's son, which is the origin of the name Richardson. In other cases, the "son" would not become part of the name, but the possessive "s" would remain, and the result was Richards.

A fourth source of surnames was the answer to the question, What does he look like? or What is his most prominent peculiarity? Thus originated such names as Short, Long, Big(g), and Small. In assigning nicknames to people today, we often use this same device and produce such names as Shorty, Tiny, Red, and Gabby. Nicknames are derived, however, from many sources other than physical characteristics, and writers on the origin of surnames are careful to point out that in dealing with a surname which has derived from a nickname, we can never know for sure just why the nickname was applied in the first place. Such is the problem we face when we attempt to account for the name SPARKS, because the surname Sparks did begin as a nickname.

Authorities are agreed that the name Sparks has derived from the name Sparrowhawk--a nickname, which was, used in England long before the coming of William the Conqueror. It is not believed, however, that the name Sparrowhawk became afamily name until the 13th century. The earliest person on record who was called Sparrowhawk was an Anglo-Saxon monk of St. Edmundsbury, who became Abbot in Abingdon in the year 1048. The story of how Spearhafoc (as the name was spelled inAnglo-Saxon) was given the bishopric of London by Edward the Confessor in 1050, but was never consecrated because of the opposition of the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury, is found in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

In the Doomsday Book (the record of a great survey of the lands of England made between 1085 and 1086 by order of William the Conqueror) the names Sparhauoc and Sperhavoc (both intended for Sparrowhawk) appear among the landowners who had possessed land at the time of Edward the Confessor.

The sparrow hawk has been a common bird in England for many centuries. Probably dozens of other persons were also nicknamed Sparrowhawk, of whom no record has survived. The sparrow hawk is really a small falcon, eleven to twelve inches long, and was used extensively in the ancient sport of falconry, where hawks were trained to attack other birds and carry them back to their masters. It is described in the Encyclopedia Americana as a very bold and active bird, and "not infrequently may be seen to attack other and larger birds of prey, its courage extending even to recklessness, while it is also shy and wary."

In 1538, Henry the VIII, King of England, decreed that each head of a family acquire a surname for himself and his family, and that all births, marriages, and deaths be recorded in the parish register.

Thus it happened that, some four hundred years ago, an Englishman nicknamed Sparrowhawk, handed his name down to his sons, and our family name became firmly established. Due to the popularity of the sparrow hawk, there were no doubt several men in England in the 16th century with the name, or nickname, of Sparrowhawk, who assumed it as their family name. They were probably widely scattered over England and were unrelated. Therefore, persons today with the name Sparrowhawk, or Sparks, cannot claim descent from the same ancestor merely because their name is the same.

It would be extremely interesting if we could know exactly who our own remote ancestor was who established the name as our family name. We should like to know why his neighbors called him "Sparrowhawk"--was he bold and active like the bird, or was he just the opposite and people called him "Sparrowhawk" to make fun of him? Or did some comic suggest that he actually resembled a sparrow hawk because of a hooked nose or protruding eyes? Or was he fond of the sport of falconry, possessing a large number of sparrow hawks for that purpose? Or did he operate an in which had a picture of a sparrow hawk on its sign, and was known as "Sparrow-hawk's Inn"? These questions must remain forever unanswered.

Knowing that the remote originators of the name Sparks were named Sparrowhawk, the question naturally arises, How and why did the name change? Elsdon C. Smith in his The Story of our Names states: "Ever since surnames first became part of man's full name, they have been changed, corrupted and multiplied almost beyond number by bringing to bear upon them many diverse influences." One of the chief causes of the corruption of surnames, according to Smith, is "lingual abbreviations" and the example which he uses is "Spark for Sparrowhawk". In other words, there is a tendency to shorten a name to make it easier and quicker to pronounce. In shortening Sparrowhawk, the first tendency was to eliminate the second syllable and to change the name to Sparhawk. In fact, this lingual abbreviation probably took place in some cases while thename was still just a nickname. In order to shorten the name still further, the tendency was to eliminate the "haw" sound, and the result was Spark. Both of these changes came very early in the evolution of the name, for in the Hundred Rolls of 1273 there was a Thomas Sperheuk in Lincolnshire and a Nicholas Sparke in Norfolk. It is also important to note that everyone named Sparrowhawk did not change his name, or have it changed by others, to Spark. A few families retained the full, original spelling, for the name Sparhawk is common enough to be found in nearly any large city directory today.

During the 14th century the name Spark became more and more common as a surname. The records for this period are so meager, however, that it is virtually impossible to trace the relationships which probably existed between many of these families. A John Spark, of Berwick-on-Tweed, appears to have been rather prominent during the reign of Edward I. In the Patent Rolls there is a record dated July 6, 1292, which names this John Spark as "going beyond seas on the king's affairs", and on August 13, 1302, he was appointed one of the "collectors and receivers in the port of Berwick-on-Tweed of the new custom of 2s. a tun ... on all wines brought within the realm". The earliest reference to a Spark in the Patent Rolls is dated August 17, 1279, on which date pardon was issued at Geddington by Edward I "to Humphrey de Cheselade, in Ivelcestre gaol for the death of Adam Spark".

The last change which took place in the name was the addition of the letter "s". This change, according to most authorities, came about as a result of adding the possessive, that is, Spark's, when a son was identified by using his father's name. When a baptismalrecord was made, it was customary to enter the father's name as well as that of the child, and it might read: "John, son of Richard Spark's". The same boy might be identified in the community as "Spark's son". In some names the word "son" became a part of the name, as in the case of "Wilcockson", while in others only the possessive "s" was tacked on, as happened in the case of "Sparks". The question immediately arises as to why all surnames do not end in "s". One reason is that, though the genitive case ending of "s" came into official use in English in the 13th century, many years passed before it became common in colloquial speech. Why one name acquired it and another did not, can seldom be determined. Perhaps in some cases it simply sounded better and was easier to pronounce. In any case, many of the families named Spark graduallychanged to Sparks. This final change seems to have occurred largely during the 16th century, and by 1600 there were about as many persons named Sparks in England as were named Spark.

From the earliest settlement in America, we find persons bearing this name which had derived from Sparrowhawk. It is interesting, however, that in nearly all instances, the form of the name found in this country has been Sparks, so that today for everyone named Spark there are about one hundred named Sparks. In England, however, one form is nearly as common as the other. Guppy, in his The Homes of Family Names in Great Britain, published in 1890, states that in Sussex there were 14 persons named Spark(e)s per 10,000 population; in Devon and Somerset-shire, about half this number. According to the 1790 census of the United States, the ratio here was approximately two persons named Sparks per 10,000 population. If the same ratio exists today, there are at the present time over 30,000 men, women, and children in the United States with the surname of Sparks, or, in some cases, Sparkes.


Page 1104-1107
Whole Number 60

THE ORIGIN OF THE NAME SPARKS

By Russell E. Bidlack


(This article first appeared in the Quarterly for June, 1953. Because many of our members do not have files of the early issues of the Quarterly and because we frequently receive inquiries regarding the origin of the name Sparks, we are publishing it again here.)

We all know that surnames, or family names, did not exist in Bible times, but it comes as something of a surprise to most of us when we learn that for a thousand years after the birth of Christ, surnames were still almost unheard of. When William the Conqueror established himself in England, even the nobles did not have surnames--in fact, family names were not common among the nobility until the thirteenth century, and they were not generally adopted by the lower classes until the sixteenth century.

The first to use surnames in England were the great land-owners, the noblemen, who took as their surnames the names of their estates. Thus a man named Richard might own an estate called Cotgrove, and in order to distinguish him from a neighbor also named Richard, his friends referred to him as Richard de Cotgrove ("de" being French for "of"). Calling him this answered the question, Where is he from? The eldest son usually inherited the estate, and in a sense he also inherited his father's family name. Eventually the preposition was dropped, and a true family name developed, which, unlike an estate, could be inherited by all the children. These are called "place names."

Only a small number of the inhabitants of England, however, owned land, and as it became desirable, for one reason or another, to have a surname, some source, other than the name of property, was necessary for the great majority of Englishmen. For many, a name was supplied by asking, What does be do? This is the origin of the thousands of so-called "occupational names such as Smith, Farmer, Cartwright, Arrowsmith, Shoemaker, and Sherman (one who shears woolen cloth).

Another question which might be asked was, Who is his father? If the answer were Richard, he would be called Richard's son, Which is the origin of the name Richardson. In other cases, the "son" would not become part of the name, but the possessive "s" might be retained, and the result was Richards.

A fourth source of surnames was the answer to the question, What does he look like? or What is his most prominent peculiarity? Thus originated such names as Short, Long, Big(g) and Small. In assigning nick-names to people today, we often use this same device and produce such names as Shorty, Tiny, Red, and Gabby. Nicknames are derived, however, from many sources other than physical characteristics, and writers on the origin of surnames are careful to point out that in dealing with a surname which has derived from a nickname, we can never know for sure just why the nickname was applied in the first place. Such is the problem we face when we attempt to account for the name SPARKS, because the surname Sparks did begin as a nickname.

Authorities are agreed that the name Sparks has derived from the name SPARROW- HAWK--a nickname which was used in England long before the coming of William the Conqueror in 1066. It is not believed, however, that the name Sparrowhawk became a family name (or surname) until the 13th century. The earliest person on record who was called Sparrowhawk was an Anglo-Saxon monk of St. Edmundsbury, who became Abbot in Abingdon in the year 1048. The story of how Spearhafoc (as the name was Spelled in Anglo-Saxon) was given the bishopric of London by Edward the Confessor in 1050, but was never consecrated because of the opposition of the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury, is found in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

In the Domesday Book (the record of a great survey of the lands of England made between 1085 and 1086 by order of William the Conqueror) the names Sparhauoo and Sperhavoo (both intended for Sparrowhawk) appear among the landowners who had possessed land at the time of Edward the Confessor.

The sparrow hawk has been a common bird in England for many centuries. Probably dozens of other persons were also nicknamed Sparrowhawk, of whom no record has survived. The sparrow hawk is really a small falcon, eleven to twelve inches long, and was used extensively in the ancient sport of falconry, where hawks were trained to attack other birds and carry them back to their masters. It is described in the Encyclopedia Americana as a very bold and active bird, and "not infrequently may be seen to attack other and larger birds of prey, its courage extending even to recklessness, while it is also shy and wary."

In 1538, Henry the VIII, King of England, decreed that each head of a family acquire a surname for himself and his family, and that all births, marriages, and deaths be recorded in the register in the parish in which the family lived. Thus it happened that, some four hundred years ago, an Englishman nicknamed Sparrowhawk, handed his name down to his sons, and our family name became firmly established. Due to the popularity of the sparrow hawk, there were doubtless several men in England in the 16th century with the name, or nickname, of Sparrowhawk, who assumed it as their family name. They were probably widely scattered over the British Isles and were unrelated to each other. Therefore, persons today with the name Sparrowhawk, or Sparks, cannot claim descent from the same ancestor merely because their name is the same.

It would be extremely interesting if we could know exactly who our own remote ancestor was who established the name as our family name. We should like to know why his neighbors called him "Sparrowhawk"--was he bold and active like the bird, or was he just the opposite and people called him "Sparrowhawk" to make fun of him? Or did some comic suggest that he actually resembled a sparrow hawk because of a hooked nose or protruding eyes? Or was he fond of the sport of falconry, possessing a large number of sparrow hawks trained for that purpose? Or did he operate an inn which had a picture of a sparrow hawk on its sign, and was known as "Sparrow-hawk's Inn"? These questions must remain forever unanswered.

Knowing that the remote originators of the name Sparks were named Sparrowhawk, the question naturally arises, How and why did the name change? Elsdon C. Smith in his The Story of Our Names states: "Ever since surnames first became part of man's full name, they have been changed, corrupted and multiplied almost beyond number by bringing to bear upon them many diverse influences." One of the chief causes of the corruption of surnames, according to Smith, is "lingual abbreviations" and the example which he uses is "Spark for Sparrowhawk". In other words, there is a tendency to shorten a name to make it easier and quicker to pronounce. In shortening Sparrowhawk, the first tendency was to eliminate the second syllable and to change the name to Sparhawk. In fact, this lingual abbreviation probably took place in some cases while the name was still just a nickname. In order to shorten the name still further, the tendency was to eliminate the "haw" sound, and the result was Spark. Both of these changes came very early in the evolution of the name, for in the Hundred Rolls of 1273 there was a Thomas Sperheuk in Lincolnshire and a Nicholas Sparke in Norfolk. It is also important to note that everyone name Sparrow- hawk did not change his name, or have it changed by others, to Spark. A few families retained the full, original form, while the name Sparhawk is common enough to be found in nearly any large city directory today.

During the 14th century the name Spark became more and more common as a surname. The records for this period are so meager, however, that it is virtually impossible to trace the relationships which probably existed between many of these families. A John Spark, of Berwick-on-Tweed, appears to have been rather prominent during the reign of Edward I. In the Patent Rolls there is a record dated July 6, 1292, which names this John Spark as "going beyond seas on the king's affairs," and on August 13, 1302, he was appointed one of the "collectors and receivers in the port of Berwick-on-Tweed of the new custom of 2s. a tun ... on all wines brought within the realm." The earliest reference to a Spark in the Patent Rolls is dated August 17, 1279, on which date pardon was issued at Geddington by Edward I "to Humphrey de Cheselade, in Ivelcestre gaol for the death of Adam Spark."

The last change which took place in the name was the addition of the letter "s", This change, according to most authorities, came about as a result of adding the possessive, that is, Spark's, when a son was identified by using his father's name. When a baptismal record was made, it was customany to enter the father's name as well as that of the child, and it might read: "John, son of Richard Spark's." The same boy might be identified in the community of "Spark's son." In some names the word "son" became a part of the name, as in the case of "Wilcockson," while in others only the possessive "s" was tacked on, as happened in the case of "Sparks." The question immediately arises as to why all surnames do not end in "s". One reason is that, though the genitive case ending of "s" came into official use in England in the 13th century, many years passed before it became common in colloquial speech. Why one name acquired it and another did not, can seldom be determined. Perhaps in some cases it simply sounded better and was easier to pronounce. In any case, many of the families name Spark gradually changed to Sparks. This final change seems to have occurred largely during the 16th century, and by 1600 there were about as many persons named Sparks in England as were named Spark.

In some instances, it became customany to spell the name Sparkes. This was simply a matter of personal choice, however. There are many instances on record where two full brothers would use different spellings, one Sparks and the other Sparkes. There are legal records dated in the 1800's where the same individual is referred to in one paragraph as Sparks and in the next as Sparkes.

From the earliest settlement in America, we find persons bearing this name which had derived from Sparrowhawk. It is interesting, however, that in nearly all instances, the form of the name found in this country has been Sparks, so that today for everyone named Spark, there are about one hundred named Sparks. In England, however, one form is nearly as common as the other. Guppy, in his The Homes of Family Names in Great Britain, published in 1890, states that in Sussex there are fourteen persons named Spark(e)s per 10,000 population; in Devon and Somersetshire, about half this number. According to the 1790 census of the United States, the ratio here was approximately two persons named Sparks per 10,000 population. If the same ratio exists today, there are at present (1967) about 40,000 men, women, and children in the United States with the surname of Sparks, or, in some cases, Sparkes.

HOW TO OBTAIN A PAINTING OF THE SPARKS COAT OF ARMS

We are pleased to inform new members and to remind old members that beautifully executed hand-painted copies of the Sparks coat of arms may be obtained from Mrs. S. R. Rountree, Jr. Mrs. Rountree is herself a descendant of a branch of the Sparks family in the United States and is a member of the Association. Mrs. Rountree's mother, Lois W. West, painted the Sparks coat of arms for many of our members until her death in 1966. Mrs. Rountree, who studied heraldic art from her mother, has taken up Mrs. West's work.

Mrs. Rountree is willing to paint the Sparks coat of arms on heavy paper, suitable for framing, for any member of the Association for $5.00 per painting, plus fifty cents for handling and shipping. This is a real bargain, because most heraldic artists charge from $25.00 to $50.00 for comparable paintings.

Mrs. Rountree is willing to paint coats of arms belonging to other families for $10.00 each, plus fifty cents for handling and shipping. Where an individual can supply Mrs. Rountree with an exact description of the coat of arms desired, he should do so, but Mrs. Rountree has an extensive library on heraldic art and she is willing to make a search for the coat of arms belonging to a given family upon request.

Orders should be sent to the following address: Mrs. S. R. Rountree, Jr.,
Rt. 1, Box 114,
Gatesville, North Carolina (27938)


Pages 5711-5714
Whole Number 199

THE ORIGIN OF THE NAME SPARKS

By Russell E . Bidlack


(Editor's Note: This article first appeared in the Quarterly of June 1953, No. 2. It was reprinted in the issue for December 1967 on the suggestion that, after 14 years, there were many new members who had not seen it. Now another SFA member, Sarah Sparks Kellerhals, has urged that, after the passage of 35 more years, it should appear again. Mrs. Kellerhals has written of her own personal observation supporting the probability, as discussed below, that Sparks became a nickname for "Sparrowhawk" She reports that after reading this article, she was " surprised and elated to notice one day" that her father, a Mr . Sparks, "bore the exact profile in his shoulders and head of a sparrowhawk. His round virtually bald head sat on his shoulders with no visible neck showing above his clothes . His profile - and you could add his nose into the picture - was the perfect suggestion of a sparrow hawk ."

[In the following reprint, we have included some slight changes suggested by Mrs. Kellerhals.]

We all know that surnames, or family names, did not exist in Bible times, but it comes as something of a surprise to most of us when we learn that for a thousand years after the birth of Christ, surnames were almost unheard of. When William the Conqueror established himself in England, even the nobles did not have surnames - in fact, family names were not common among the nobility until the 13th century, and they were not generally adopted by the lower classes until the 16th century .

The first people to use surnames in England were the great land owners, the noble men who took as their surnames the names of their estates. Thus, a man named Richard might own an estate called Cotgrove, and in order to distinguish him from a neighbor also named Richard, his friends referred to him as Richard of Cotgrove. Calling him this answered the question, "Where  is he from? " The eldest son usually inherited the estate, so he also inherited his father's family name. Eventually the preposition "of" was dropped, and a true name developed that, unlike an estate, could be inherited by all the children. These surnames are called place names .

Only a small number of the inhabitants of England, however, owned land, and as it became desirable for one reason or another to have a surname, some source other than the name of property was necessary for the great majority of Englishmen. For many, a name was supplied by asking, "What does he do?" So a mill owner named Henry might be called Henry the Miller, then shortened to Henry Miller. This is the typical origin of thousands of so-called "occupational names" such as Smith, Farmer, Cartwright, Arrow smith, and Shoemaker .

Another question that might be asked was, " Who is his father?" If the answer were William, he would be called William's son, which is the origin of the name Williamson. In other cases, the "son" would not become part of the name, but the possessive "s" might be retained, and the result would be Williams.

A fourth source of surnames was the answer to the question, "What does he look like?" or "What is his most prominent feature?" Thus originated such names as Short, Long, Big[g], and Small. In assigning nicknames to people today, we often use the same device and produce such names as Shorty, Tiny, Red, and Gabby. Nicknames are derived as well from many sources other than physical characteristics . Writers on the origin of surnames are careful to point out that in dealing with a surname that has derived from a nickname, we can never know for sure just why the nickname was applied In the first place. Such is the problem we face when we attempt to account for the name SPARKS, because it is generally agreed that the surname Sparks did, indeed, begin as a nickname.

Authorities are agreed that the name SPARKS has derived from the word SPARROW HAWK, a nickname that was used in England before the arrival of William the Conqueror in 1066. It is not believed, however, that the name Sparrowhawk became a family name or surname until the 13th century . The earliest person on record who was called Sparrowhawk, or Spearhafoc in the Anglo-Saxon language of the time, was a monk of Bury St. Edmunds who became Abbot of Abington in the year 1048. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle contains the account of how this monk was appointed to the bishopric of London by Edward the Confessor around 1050 but was never consecrated due to the opposition of the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury, yet brave monk Sparrowhawk occupied the bishopric with the king's per mission "all that summer and autumn" until he was later expelled .

In the Domesday Book, a census and survey of all England ordered by William the Conqueror in 1085/86, the names Sparhauoc and Sperhavoc, both recorded phonetically, appear among the landowners who had possessed land at the time of Edward the Confessor.

The sparrow hawk has been a common bird in the British Isles for many centuries. Probably dozens of other persons were also nicknamed Sparrowhawk, of whom no record has survived. The sparrow hawk is really a small falcon, 11 to 12 inches long, and was used extensively in the ancient sport of falconry where certain birds were trained to attack other birds and carry them back to their masters . The sparrow hawk is described in the Encyclopedia Americana as very bold and active and "not infrequently may be seen to attack other larger birds of prey, its courage extending even to recklessness, while it is also shy and wary . "

In 1538 Henry VIII, King of England, decreed that each head of a family must acquire a surname for himself and his family, and that all births, marriages, and deaths be recorded in the registry in the parish in which the family lived. Thus it happened that some four hundred and fifty years ago an Englishman called Sparrowhawk handed his name down to his sons, and our family name was on its way to being firmly established. There were doubtless several men in England in the 16th century with the nickname Sparrowhawk who assumed it as their family name. They were probably widely scattered over the British Isles and were unrelated to each other; therefore, persons today with the name Sparrowhawk or Sparks cannot claim descent from the same ancestor even though their name is the same .

It would be extremely interesting if we could know exactly who our own remote ancestor was who established the name as our family name . We should like to know why his neighbors called him "Sparrowhawk". Was he bold and active like the bird, or was he just the opposite and people called him Sparrowhawk to make fun of him? Or did some comic suggest that he actually resembled a sparrow hawk due to a hawkish nose or protruding eyes? Or was he fond of the sport of falconry, possessing a large number of sparrow hawks trained for that purpose? Or did he operate an inn that had a picture of a sparrow hawk on its sign and was known as "Sparrow-hawk's Inn?" These questions must remain forever unanswered.

Knowing that the remote originators of the name SPARKS were known as Sparrow hawk, the question naturally arises, "How and why did the name change?" Elsdon C. Smith in his The Story of Our Names states: "Ever since surnames first became part of man's full name, they have been changed, corrupted and multiplied beyond number by bringing to bear upon them many diverse influences ." One of the chief influences of the corruption of surnames, according to Smith, is "lingual abbreviations, " and the example he used is Sparks for Sparrowhawk . In other words, there is a tendency to shorten a name to make it easier and quicker to pronounce. In shortening Sparrowhawk, the first tendency was to eliminate the second syllable and to change the name to Sparhawk . In fact, this lingual abbreviation probably took place in some cases while the name was still a nickname. In order to shorten the name still further, the tendency was to eliminate the "haw" sound, and the result was Spark . Both of these changes came very early in the evolution of the name, for in the "Hundred Rolls" of 1273, there was a Thomas Sperheuk in Lincolnshire and a Nicholas Sparke in Norfolk. It is also important to note that not everyone named Sparrowhawk allowed his name to be changed to Spark. A few families have retained the full, original form, while the name Sparhawk is still common enough to be found in nearly any large city directory in the United States today .

During the 14th century the name Sparks became more and more common as a surname. The records for this period are so meager, however, that it is virtually impossible to trace the relationships that probably existed between many of these families. A John Spark of Berwick-on-Tweed appears to have been rather prominent during the reign of Edward I. In the "Patent Rolls" there is a record dated July 6, 1292, that names this John Spark as "going beyond seas on the king's affairs, " and on August 13, 1302, he was appointed one of the "collectors and receivers in the port of Berwick-on-Tweed of the new custom of 2s. a tun..... on all wines brought within the realm ." The earliest reference to a Spark in the "Patent Rolls" is dated August 17, 1279, on which date "pardon was is sued at Geddington by Edward I "to Humphrey de Cheselade, in Ivelcestre Gaol for the death of Adam Spark . "

The last major change to take place in the name was the addition of the letter s. This change, according to most authorities, came about as a result of adding the possessive, that is, Spark's, when a son was identified by using his father's name. When a baptismal record was made, it was customary to enter the father's name as well as that of the child, and it might read: "John, son of Richard Spark's." The same boy might then be identified in the community as "Spark's son."

In some instances, the word "son" became a part of the name as in the case of Wilcockson, while in others only the possessive "s" was tacked on, as happened in the case of Sparks. The question immediately arises as to why all surnames do not end in "s. ". One reason is that, though the genitive case came into official use in the English language in the 13th century, many years passed before it became common in everyday speech. Why one name acquired it and another did not can seldom be determined. Perhaps in some cases it simply sounded better and was easier to pronounce. In any case, many of the families named Spark gradually changed to Sparks. This final change seems to have occurred largely during the 1600s, and by 1600 there were about as many persons named Sparks in the British Isles as there were named Spark.

In some instances, it became customary to spell the name Sparkes. This was/is simply a matter of personal choice. There are many instances on record where two full brothers would use different spellings, one Sparks and the other Sparkes. There are legal records dated in the 1800s where the same individual was referred to in one paragraph as Sparks and in the next as Sparkes .

From the earliest settlement in America, we find persons bearing the name Sparks. A John Sparks was in Jamestown in 1607, and a Thomas Sparks, age 24, was a passenger on the Susan bound for Virginia in 1616. It is interesting, however, that in nearly all instances, the form of the name found in the United States and Canada has been Sparks.

How common is the name Sparks in the United States today? Elsdon C . Smith, who has been called American' s leading authority on names, noted in his American Surnames published in 1986, that a study of the 1790 census of the United States had revealed that there were 27,337 different surnames represented among a population of 2,505,371. (Not included in these numbers, however, were the census records of 1790 for New Jersey, Delaware, Georgia, and Tennessee - the schedules for these states having been destroyed in the burning of the Capitol during the War of 1812 and in a fire later in the Patent Office.) Omitting these states, the total households headed by persons named Spark, Sparke, and Sparks in 1790, including two households where the name was written "Spearks, " were distributed as follows:

Connecticut 8
Maine 2
Maryland 24
Massachusetts 2
New Hampshire 0
New York 6
North Carolina 15
Pennsylvania 13
Rhode Island 1
South Carolina 11
Vermont 2
Virginia 13
Total 97

In 1994 the Social Security Administration made a "machine count" of surnames in its file of 152,757,455 account numbers and reported that there were 1,091,522 different surnames. In this compilation, the name Sparks was 448th, with an estimated 55,510 individuals. It comes as no surprise that number one was Smith in this ranking, with an estimated 2,238,400 individuals. The numbers are doubtless much larger today, but the "ranking" is probably quite similar. The name Yates then ranked 447th (55,580 individuals), while Decker was 449th (55420).

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