April 17, 2008

Name Change

I have noticed from time-to-time that some researchers believe that a few Coffey families "changed" their name to Coffee, or vise-versa.

A friend recently wrote asking what I thought about that. This was my response:

My personal opinion:

For the most part all of the descendants of Edward Coffey that I have researched in VA, NC, SC, TN, KY, et al, continue unto today to spell their surname COFFEY. Those few that have been found in records of those areas as COFFEE were mostly the result of clerical error, and not a conscious act by those families to change the spelling.

I have found some who were Coffey in NC but Coffee when they moved to IL, OH, etc., where the surname was not very common. Clerks, etc., thought it should be spelled Coffee and that's how the name was changed, but only in records, not in family tradition.

Because Coffey/Coffee is a translation of the Irish Gaelic O'Cobthaigh, I don't believe there is any "correct" way to spell the anglicized version. I believe current spelling in most families is by tradition. Some families who pronounce their surname as Coffee/ey actually spell their name Coffie, Caughey, Cowhey, Cowhig, etc.

I believe that the Peter Coffee family has pretty much retained the EE ending over the centuries. I have no idea whether or not he was literate, but I would suspect that he spelled his name as he was told it should be, or as it was spelled for him in his personal records created over the tenure of his life. As a result, his children and grandchildren continued to spell it that way out of tradition. I think the longer family descendants remained in a given area, the more a certain spelling predominated.

In my case, I belong to the Edward Coffey side, but from a Coffey female. I'm unsure why my ancestors spelled the name EE. That's the way it is spelled in what few records left by my earliest ancestor, and how it has come down to me over the last six generations. I have since passed it on to two additional generations.

I have found some of my personal records (school, church documents, etc.) that were created when I was a youngster in which my surname was spelled COFFIE. Because no one in my family checked those records - or perhaps were not even aware they had been created - a correction was never made. It is likely that a couple of hundred years from now someone researching my family will find those records and wonder why I changed my surname!

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