Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Cushing Name

How did the name get changed from Cussen to Cushing?

Dear my favorite name-withheld-to-protect-our-privacy young person,

I can only guess at why the name was changed.  Try to imagine yourself as an immigration clerk or as a census taker in the middle 1800's.  You were probably hired for your job because you could write, because you'd had a few years of school, probably no more than a fifth grader today.  So you walk a half mile from farm to farm and ask all these questions about names and birth dates and when they came to America, and whatnot.  They're farmers, so maybe the smells of animals, dirt, and hard working men & women is offensive to your city bred nose.  And you must certainly think that these people are far less educated than you, so you wouldn't need to ask them to spell anything for you.  If they can spell.  So you go to this farm house and ask your questions, and someone with a very thick Irish brogue says "Cussen".  You can't quite make out all the letters from sound, but you've never seen the name Cussen and you've heard of Cushings, since at least one Cushing family from England had been in the US since 1638.  (As you know, they weren't even states yet, just colonies.)  So you write Cushing.  The Cussens, meanwhile, wanting to be Americans, might just adopt that name to be "more American".  Lots of names were changed this way.

Another factor was probably that the "Cussens" were Irish.  For many years the English tried to take control of Ireland.  (I don't know the exact dates for these actions.)  The Irish (in Ireland) were forbidden to attend school.  The Irish language was banned.  They were forbidden to own property.  Their land was given to Englishmen and Scots (northern Ireland), to encourage these others to populate the island of Ireland.  Their religion was banned, and replaced by the official Church of Ireland.  All of this was an attempt to exterminate the Irish people and their culture.  So in this environment, you can see that it was difficult for Irish to get an education.  (I hear they had secret schools to educate their children, anyway.)  Most Irish in the early 1800s probably could not spell their names, so there are many different spellings, even in Ireland.  Cussen and Cushen were common, and I've seen Cushing in some records.  It just depended on who wrote it down.  When Dennis Cussen, your great great great great grandfather (sometimes we say 4th great grandfather), married Catherine Casey in Galbally, Ireland, the priest spelled his name Quishian, so I suspect this was close to the way it was actually pronounced.  If someone with a heavy Irish accent told an American clerk with a fifth grade education (by today's standards) that his name was "Quishian", it's easy to see how the clerk might not know quite how to spell that and might write down Cushing.  I believe that the most common spelling in Ireland today is Cussen.

That was a long answer to a short question.  Since we can only guess at the real reason, you get to choose what you think is the best explanation!

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