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I noticed that there are a lot of last names that have an 'e' at the end. The pronunciation usually isn't changed from that of the base word.

  • Poole
  • Steele
  • Browne
  • Clarke

Why do English words not have the e?

Maybe the answer to this question depends on which came first, pool or poole.

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In the UK, Greene-with-an-e is a posher surname than Green-as-the-colour. In Ireland, Green is almost unknown, and Greene is the norm. (I'm an Irish Green with English parents.) –  TRiG Jul 29 at 20:29

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Looking up names like Steele and others with the e at the end reveals that before anything was standardized, there were many variations of every name, just as there were for every word. And that they still exist.

Changes in spelling of names, as well as words, were effected by all of English's transformations, as well as its influences from many other languages.

In the Middle Ages, for example, names like Steele could've been written as Steile, Steel, etc. depending on who was writing it. Whoever wrote at the time would spell things whichever way they heard them, and they may as well have all heard them differently.

Checking out this page (of questionable reliability) shows that spelling someone's name the same way during their entire lifetime is a more modern idea, and even names like Shakespeare were spelled differently (Shakespere, Shakespear, Shakspere, Shaxpere).

To answer your question, I think the fact that the "English word" currently doesn't have an e at the end means that that's just the variation of the word that stuck. You'll see people with the name Steele now, but, for example, one of my professors is named Steel because that's the name that ended up sticking. Or, who knows, maybe it was just spelled that way on a passenger manifest when his family traveled across the ocean for simplicity.

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“Changes ... were effected by ... transformations” means “Changes ... were produced by ... transformations” –  jwpat7 Jul 29 at 19:48
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I have a co-worker whose grandfather learned to spell his last name from the sign on his parents grocery store. His last name was Wynn, but the sign said Wynns, or Wynn's. So his last name is now Wynns. –  AbraCadaver Jul 29 at 20:28

All of these words are often spelt with final -e in pre-modern English when used as common nouns or adjectives. As family names they have simply retained their older spelling.

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