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2755

Chesson

 

About the study

My father'€™s surname at birth was Chesson. When he was not quite two years old his mother died just after giving birth to a daughter and my father was adopted by the Spence family whose surname he took, and passed on to his descendants. This study started with the principal object of tracing his biological family, and secondarily to find the origin, both geographically and etymologically of this relatively rare surname. My ONS grew from this

Variant names

Very early on in the study it became obvious that I would have to consider several variants, the most common of which were Chaston and Cheston. Other variants which appear to be linked include Cheason, Chason, Chasen, Chessen, Chessun and perhaps slightly less probably Chesnut(t). I have also studied the surnames Chessum and Chesham which I originally thought might be related, but I now think this doubtful.

Name origin

This remains unclear. I am coming round to thinking that the basic form of the surname is Cheston, but that it was pronounced ChAY- s'€™n with the accent on the first syllable, and the second syllable a barely spoken schwa. The '€˜t'€™ in the middle part of the name is scarcely pronounced -€“ like the '€˜t'€™ in the middle of '€˜mustn'€™t€™. What seems surprisingly constant though is that there is virtually no overlap between spellings ending in '€˜n'€™ and those ending in '€˜m'€™.

There has been some speculation that the name was brought to Britain from France where it was spelled Cheysson -€“ Claude Cheysson the recently deceased French politician being a modern holder of the name. As many groups fleeing from religious persecution in early modern France settled in Norfolk and East Kent, this explanation is possible, especially as so far I have not identified bearers of the name in Britain before the mid 16th century.

There is one group of Chestons which does not fit this general pattern. This group is found in the Severn valley from Droitwich down to Bristol. There are some indications that this group were originally Chestertons.

I suspect that the Chessum/Chesham surnames probably refer to an origin in the town of Chesham Bucks. The historical spread of these names is quite different, being mainly found in a rough arc some 30 miles north of London stretching from Biggleswade in the west to Saffron Walden in the east

History of the name

Frederick William Chesson (1833-1888), active in many reform fields, features in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. One of his sons, Wilfrid Hugh Chesson, (1870-1953) was a minor author and his wife, born Eleanor Hopper (1871-1906) , was quite well known in her time as a poet, publishing both under her maiden and married surnames.

Name frequency

None of the names is particularly common. At the time of the 1881 census in Britain, there were some 200 Chessons, 350 Chastons and 120 Chestons, as well as some 350 Cheshams/Chessums. In the latter half of the 19th century there was a significant degree of emigration, particularly to southern Australia, with smaller numbers going to the USA, Canada, and New Zealand. In addition, in the USA there was a large group of Chessons in the southern states, mainly in North Carolina. These appear to have had their origin in a small number of emigrants in the early 18th century, probably of Severn Valley Chestons who modified the spelling of the surname.

Distribution of the name

The surname spelled Chesson is found in three main areas in the pre-railway age, Norfolk, East Kent, and West Kent, with a smaller group in western Essex as well as some in London. In the early years of the 18th century there a few examples found in southern Cornwall, but the male line there appears to have died out after a couple of generations. Where occupations are known in the 18th and early 19th centuries there is a strong seafaring element, and my current thinking is that the name spread from East Anglia to other parts of England by fishermen.

The names Chaston and Cheston in these early days was principally found in East Anglia, either side of the border between Suffolk and Norfolk, mainly in the area near the coast from Yarmouth to Aldeburgh. There was a large seafaring element amongst people bearing those names too.

Data

The GRO indexes for all the names in the study have been searched to 1911, as have all the British censuses from 1841 to 1911 - (only to 1901 for Chesham/Chessum). In addition many of the relevant parish registers have also been searched. Work is proceeding to find earlier instances, particularly from the mid-18th century to 1837, and arranging findings into family groupings wherever possible. Some work has been done on the Chessons of the USA, mainly through the US Federal censuses.

DNA

As far as is known, there have been no DNA projects to date

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