A most confusing name. May 28, 2008Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
Tags: Founding Fathers, Gouverneur Morris
It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, back today to talk about one of our favorite Founding Fathers, Gouverneur Morris. (No one can touch the incomparable Dr. Franklin, of course, but Gouverneur Morris is definitely up there with George Washington and Alexander Hamilton in our top four.) I just saw with interest that someone had come onto our blog looking for help in pronouncing Gouverneur Morris’s name. Easy, right? It’s GOO-ver-NUR. Wrong! Uh, “governor”? Wrong. Appearances and common sense to the contrary, I have it on good authority that Morris’s contemporaries pronounced his name “gover-NEER.” Sheesh.
And who’d saddle an infant with a name like “Gouverneur,” anyway?!! (Our friend Ben, whose progenitor in the Colonies was Marmaduke Semmes, points out that perhaps we shouldn’t throw stones here.) More than one of us grew up assuming that Morris was a governor and Gouverneur was his title, with some leeway for the elastic spelling of the time. But we were as wrong about that as about his name’s pronunciation.
Actually, the explanation is quite simple: Morris was named to honor his mother, whose maiden name was Sarah Gouverneur. This practice is still common in the South, where many of us, male and female, bear our mother’s family name as a middle name, and many go by it as their given name. Thus, Mary Jamison Roberts becomes Jamison, or just Jamie; Charles Colston Burrell is called Colston or Cole.
But still, “Gouverneur” is quite a mouthful. Wonder if he had any nicknames?
In a group of extraordinary people, in an extraordinary time, Gouverneur Morris led a life that was perhaps more amazing than any. Someday, I promise, I’ll tell you his larger-than-life story. I’d be willing to bet that he’ll become one of your favorite Founders, too!