Sunday, October 28, 2012
I really didn't want to do another C name this month, as I've already done three, but when I thought of this I couldn't stop myself. And somehow it fits in with the Halloween season. But, like Tarragon, I'm afraid someone's going to say "Are you nuts?" (To which I would reply, "At least it's not made up, and if people can name their kids Cashley and Kale, why not Cheshire?") Cheshire dates back to about 1086 from the words cestre scire - Chester (roughly translating to "camp of soldiers") and shire (district). Cheshire is the name of a county in England, a contraction of Chestershire. Being a place name, Cheshire classifies as unisex. Cheshire is also seen as a surname (over 3,000 in the U.S.).
"Cheshire" is obviously most famous thanks to Lewis (Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) Caroll's Cheshire cat from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and his charming use of the Cheshire cat with it's bewildering grin, but John Wolcot used the phrase "grinning like a Cheshire cat" before Caroll in his Works, and William Makepeace Thackeray used it before Wolcot. According to this source, cheese artisans in Cheshire used to draw a grinning cat on a special type of cheese, so the phrase most likely continued as a tradition of jest, as everyone knew cats couldn't grin. Another explanation found on Wikipedia suggests the phrase came about from the large number of dairy farms in the area, and the common misconception that cats like milk (adult cats actually get stomach trouble from drinking milk and cream, but that's beside the point) so there came the idea that the cats were so happy they would grin. It is thought that Caroll got the idea for his Cheshire cat from the 16th century cat carvings on St. Wilfrid's Church, which was very close to his birthplace, but there are other churches with artwork or carvings he could have been inspired by.
In my search on Cheshire I found four related names. 1) Clive, which is said to be often used in Cheshire, 2) Wharton, used in Cheshire due to the river name Woefer, 3) Newell, which was possibly a place name for someone in Cheshire, and 4) Ridley, whose meaning differs in Cheshire and Northumbria from the meaning used in Essex and Kent, apparently.
There are approximately 37 people named Cheshire living in the U.S.