Surname Spellings

The Origin of the Frisbie Name
This is an excerpt from Edward Frisbie of Branford and his Decendants, Vol.1
by Nora G. Frisbie


There is no doubt but that the name Frisbie is English. Several reference works state that Edward Frisbie, the first of the name to appear in the New England Colonies, was of Welsh origin, and amongst some branches of the family there is a tradition that he was Scottish. One branch, intrigued perhaps by the reference to the form “de Frisby” in the ancient records, has invented a French origin for the family with lands and titles.

All these theories, however, are the recollection of Edward’s remote descendants and are unsupported by proof. There is ample evidence that the name is English and that it was taken from one of two hamlets called Frisby in Leicestershire (pronounced Lester-sheer) in England.

Family names as such did not exist up to the 1200’s. A man was given a baptismal name like John or James, and for centuries this sufficed to identify him. However, as population commenced to increase there might be several men of the same given name in a community and it became necessary to devise some means of telling them apart.

One way to identify an individual was to add his father’s name to his own and call him James the son of John, or James the son of Tom. In time these were shortened to James John’s son and James Tom’s son, and eventually they became James Johnson and James Tomson. Another means was to call a man by his trade, as James the Potter or James the Miller, and in due course these became the familiar names James Potter and James Miller.

Still another way of designating a person was to call him by the name of the village from which he came. Thus James who came from Frisby was called James of Frisby, or more usually, substituting the Norma-French “de” for the English “of”, James de Frisby. By the end of the 1300’s the “de” had generally been dropped and he became simply James Frisby.

The first mention of Frisby as a family name appears in the records of Leicestershire for 1239, when one de Frysby (his first name is not known) was vicar of the church at Welham, a village about thirteen miles southeast of Leicester. He may have been identical with the Roger de Frysbey who in 1246 was curate of the church at Barkstone, ten miles north of Melson Mowbray.

In the 1700’s the name appears several times in the annals of Leicestershire: Richard de Frisby was a freeman of Leicester in 1314; Robert de Frisby was a carpenter in the city in 1365; and Joh. de Friseby, a “cartwryght”, is mentioned in 1379.

In 1402, a Dr. Richard de Frisby, born in Frisby, conspired against the king and was hanged for it. Richard was a monk of the Friars Minor, who were the Francisans. The nature of his treason is not disclosed, but he may have been involved in the Lol’ard movement inspired by John Wycliffe.

Wycliffe was vicar of the church at Lutterworth, a few miles south of Leicester. He died in 1385 but his movement continued after him. His followers were looked upon by the church authorities as dangerous heretics and here hunted down and put to death if they refused to recant from their beliefs. There is a record that on Good Friday in 1382 the leader of the Lollard sect in Leicester was arrested for preaching against church practices. One member of his congregation, and arrested with him, was the vicar of Frisby and, though his name has not come down to us, he may have been Richard de Frisby.

During the mid-1400’s a Thomas Frisby (by now the “de” had been dropped from the name) served as head of the priory of Charley in Charnwood Forest, to the west of Leicester. The date of his appointment is not known, but it may have been 1444, when the then prior was removed because he spent too much time in taverns and was permitting the priory buildings to fall into disrepair. Thomas resigned from Charley in 1458.
In 1464 a Thomas Frysseby, perhaps the same as the Thomas who served at Charley, appears as prior of Launde, an establishment not far from the village of Frisby. Launde had been founded in the mid-1100’s and from 1162 was granted the revenues of Frisby when it was still only a manor. Thomas continued at Luande until 1478, which was perhaps the date of his death.

Coming down to more modern times, a Mr. Frisby of Waltham was well known as a sheep breeder in the 1600’s. Waltham is a village a few miles northeast of Melton Mowbray, and this Frisby may have been the ancestor of the Thomas Frisby who died in 1719 and is buried in Waltham church. There are inscriptions there to Thomas and his wife, their son Thomas, and to a John Frisby who died in 1784.

The present church records of Frisby-on-the-Wreake date from 1658 (the earlier ones have been lost) and at that time there were no persons of the name living in the parish. Within the present generation, however, a building contractor named Frisby resided in the village and owned property there, and in 1965 the lone representative of the name was an elderly maiden lady. A Mr. G. Frisby was well known as a naturalist in Leicestershire in the early 1900’s and the name is still to be found in the vicinity of Leicester and Melton Mowbray.

With the exception of Prior Thomas of Charley, all of the Frisby’s mentioned above lived inside an irregular oval extending from a point twelve miles north of Frisy-on-the-Wreake to a point six miles south of Frisby-near-Galby, and as the name is found consistently in the local records from 1239, it is reasonable to assume that the family originated in this area and took its name from one of the Frisby hamlets. We now come to the question that plagues present-day Frisbies” why are there so many different ways to spell the name?

In England the form Frisby is used invariably, but in the United States five different forms are common –Frisbee, Frisbey, Frisbie, Frisbe and Frisby. Actually, we are fortunate that there are now only five ways to spell the name, for in the records of the Revolutionary War it appears in fifteen variations, and one man alone is found under eight spellings.

In the days when the American colonies were being settled there was no set and established way to spell a name, or in fact any word. Very few people could write, and those who could write spelled a name the way it sounded to them, or to suit their own fancy. The written records of the time are virtually in a foreign language, and the researcher must learn how to translate the almost illegible script into understandable English. Thus many spellings, fanciful enough to begin with, have been further distorted by errors in transcribing the written records to the printed page.
Richard Frisby of the parish of St. James Clerkenwell in London, and later of Virginia Colony, who we think was the father of Edward Frisbie of Branford, is found in the records of his home parish under five spellings: Fresby, Frisby, Frisbye, Frysby and Frysbye. In the Minutes of the Council and General Court of Virginia he appears under three still different spellings: ffrishby, ffrishbie and Frisbie, and small double “f” being an archaic way of writing a capital “F”. An entry in the Virginia census of 1624 for a Richard Piersby probably relates to Richard Frisby, and is an example of the errors so often made when written records are transcribed for printing.

Edward Frisbie of Branford appears as Edward ffrisbye in his will. This was transcribed as Edward Frisbye in the Frisbie Genealogy of 1926 and many of his descendants have assumed that is was the correct way to spell his name. However, it was only the scribe’s version (for Edward could not write), and it appears to be the single instance in his entire history of the use of that particular form.

In the Town Records of Branford, Edward and his sons appear under ten different spellings: ffrisbe, ffrisbie, ffrissbe, ffrishby, ffrissbe, Fresbe, Frisbe, Frisbee, Frisbie and Frisby. In the course of time, with the improvement in education and inevitable standardization of spelling as printed books became generally available, these spelling crystalized into the five forms we know today.

Actually, there is no “right way” to spell the name, and the form chosen by each family group appears to be a matter of personal preference. Of the nearly 6,000 known descendants of Edward of Branford, 75% use the spelling Frisbie, 22% use the form Frisbee, and the other three spellings are divided amongst the remaining 3%.

To the question of why one form is common in England and five forms have developed in America, there is no answer. To the average individual of tidy mind it appears that all descendants of Edward Frisbie of Branford should spell the name the same. The bewilderment and frustration of the average Frisbie, whatever spelling he uses, is well described by Uncle Ben Frisbie (Benjamin Llewellyn #3125, 1874-1960) in a poem which he composed for the Family Association in 1952. With apologies to Edgar Allen Poe and “The Raven”, he wrote:

What’s in a Name?

Once upon a midnight, weary,
Long I pondered this old query:
Whether names now have a meaning as they did in days of yore.
Does the Frisbee-Frisbie ending,
To them special meaning lending,
Or are they only spelling habits of the folks gone on before?
Then unto our Shakespeare turning,
All “what’s in a name” within us burning,
And to pallid bust of William, “Tell us tell us, we implore.
“Does the rose with other label
Smell as sweetly on our table
As you claim in your old story?” Comes the answer, “Sniff some more.”
So the problem of the ticket
Put by forebears on our wicket
Stands the same on this occasion as it always stood before.