A Survey of Scovilles
Those interested in Scoville genealogy should begin by reading A Survey of the Scovils or Scovills in England and America: Seven Hundred Years of History and Genealogy by Homer Worthington Brainard. Luckily this book is available online in more than one location, and it is no longer necessary to buy an expensive copy of this book!
The only conclusive answer to the question, “Where does the name Scoville come from?” is from England, where the first recording spelling of the name, de Scoville, is found in 1194, born by Ralph de Scoville with whom modern Scoville’s in all of our variant spellings can find a definite, if incomplete, link. The French preposition de means of or from and denotes a toponymic surname, in that the original bearer was associated with a place. French ville means “city” or “town”, so we can surmise the existance of a location named Scoville in a French speaking area of continental Europe, as most place names in England had already been established before the Norman conquest.
So where is this place named Scoville where Ralph’s ancestors lived? Brainard postulates this to be the village of Escoville, near Caen, in the region of Normandy in France. This logically makes sense as:
- Scoville appears within 150 years after the conquest of England by William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, and by this time was already well established in England, since Ralph is already a knight and landowner in 1194.
- An Ernulf de Scoville is attested to in Normandy in 1227 (Brainard 14).
- In French, from Escoville would be writen d’Escoville, which could have easily become de Scoville, as the pronunciation would have been almost identical.
- According to the Escoville Wikipedia entry, there are attestations of this place name under various spellings from the Norman period.
I had an opportunity to visit Escoville, although I wasn’t able to find much information while I was there.
The following is worthy of note. Mrs. Melville A. Scovell of Kansas City has called my attention to a passage found by her in a volume in the British Museum, entitled “Vie du R. P. de Scouville” (Jesuit Missionary). The passage reads in part as follows: Scouville ou Scoville est une hameau de la commune de MohiviUe et a tourjours fait partie de la paroisse de son chef lieu; jadis du district de Poilvache, il appartient aujourd’hui a l’arrondissement de Dinant, province de Namur. C’est de la que les Scouville tirent leur nom et leur extraction." (Translation.) “Scouville or Scoville is a hamlet of the town of Mohiville and has always been a part of the parish arrondissement of Dinant, province of Namur. It is from the name of this hamlet that the Scouvilles or Scovilles draw their name and origin.” It is further stated in the volume here referred to that the name appears among the magistrates, who for centuries were exclusively men of high lineage.
The places here named lie in southern Belgium, near the French border. This region has not usually been considered as a source of emigration to England in the twelfth century. But if this hamlet existed at that time, it is not impossible that a man deriving his name from this little place should have reached England and founded a family there.
It is unfortunate that more information about this R.P. de Scouville is not given, as it is impossible from this one mention to put it in perspective. Even the date would shed more light. No one to my knowledge has found the volume in question or visited Escoville, Belgium, to study this further.
According to records presented in Brainard, the preposition de was dropped soon after becoming established in England, which is common in toponymic surnames. While Scoville appears to be the most common form of the surname, there are many variants including Scoville, Scovell, Scovil, Scovill, and Schoville2.
Signature of John Scovell
From personal experience reviewing census records, names are often transcribed incorrectly, and as many of us can attest, our signatures are often not as legible as they can be. The same person may also change the spelling of their own name during their lifetime. These factors contribute to the profilerations of surname spellings even within a nuclear family. A good example of this is the following signature of John Scovell, the first Scoville immigrant to America, from an inventory done in 1695 at the time of Nichols Ackley’s death, a common practice in the 17th century. This photo was taken by John C. Scovill at the Hartford Connecticut State Library about 1984. Brainard also saw this signature. He writes on page 136:
An autograph signature, “John Scovell,” well formed and very legible, may be seen upon the original inventory of the estate of Nicholas Ackley of Haddam who died April 29, 1695. This shows that John Scovell was fairly well educated for the times.
Personally, I think the name is clearly not Scovell and is either Scoville or Scovill. It would be very interesting to see other examples of his writing, if they exist, to try and determine the correct spelling.
Early Scoville given names that are listed in Brainard are often Germanic in origin, including the aforementioned Ralph and Ernulf. This is not surprising, given that the Normans originated in Scandinavia. It is tempting to say that early Scovilles may have had Viking ancestors. My own Y chromosone test reveals a probable haplogroup of R-M269.
- A Survey of the Scovils or Scovills in England and America; Seven Hundred Years of History and Genealogy (Google)
- A Survey of the Scovils or Scovills in England and America; Seven Hundred Years of History and Genealogy (Archive.org)
- United Kingdom National Archives include documents such as the Close Rolls
Thanks to Jeff Scovell for correcting the name of the village in Belgium which I had incorrectly listed as Escoville, but is correctly Scoville and for letting me know that it is near Mohiville, east of Dinan. ↩︎
According to family history, Michael Scovill’s wife, Mary (née Hull) changed her family’s surname to Schoville in order to prevent confusion at the local post office. Some of their children decided to go with the new name, Schoville, while others kept the old spelling Scovill. It was Alma Schoville Blahna who originally found this information and passed it on to the rest of the family. Thanks to Judy Schoville Buchanan for providing this information. ↩︎