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Country of origin of the Mort name

Many of us would love to know from which lands the Mort genes derived. However to date I am not convinced that anyone really knows for sure and suspect that most of what I have read so far is little else than sheer guess work. A Professor of History at Manchester University (also by the name of Mort), believes that the Morts are English and originate from Lancashire. The Morts may well be from Lancashire, but were they always from Lancashire?

To pour a smidgen of petrol onto this slow burning fire, I would like to spark a debate that may encourage some of our more curious members to investigate further. If anyone does find out anything more, please contact us with your suggestions.

FRANCE:

FOR: This has traditionally been the favourite country of origin. One cannot dispute that Mort is a French word that literally means ‘death’. In favour of this common belief, is the fact that the French did have a habit of invading Britain from time to time and many of them did settle in Britain after 1066. In particular the North West of England was an area of many Norman settlements. The town I grew up in had some French street names, which is a subtle clue to the influence they had over us Brits. To further strengthen the French case is the fact that (for those of us who have seen portraits of long past Mort ancestors); they did look a bit non Anglo Saxon. Dark hair, brown eyes, long noses and thin faces - a touch too Mainland Europe for the Viking sired blue eyed Brits and flame haired ivory skinned Celts. Then again the word ‘Moore’ or ‘Mor’ was often used to describe people with darker completions, as in Shakespeare’s Othello. Maybe a connection or maybe not?

We could not consider France as a county of origin unless we seriously consider ‘The Huguenots’. These were basically French Protestants and we know that the Mort family were staunchly Protestant. Having said that, so was Henry 8th and most of Lancashire, so religious persuasion is not always the big giveaway re genetic lineage as many would hope it to be.

The position of Protestants in France - a Catholic country - was always precarious in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Although they were tolerated for much of the latter, in 1685, King Louis IX revoked the Edict of Nantes, which had granted Protestants the freedom to worship in specified areas. Stigmatized by oppressive laws and facing severe persecution, many Huguenots fled France. In 1681, Charles II of England offered sanctuary to the Huguenots and from 1670 to 1710, between 40,000 and 50,000 Huguenots from all walks of life sought refuge in England.

Could the Morts be French Protestants or Norman Invaders? Either is a possibility.

AGAINST: With regards to the Huguenots theory- there is a major hole in this argument and it relates to timing. We know for a fact that the Mort family had been in Britain from before the ‘religious asylum period’ when the Protestants did a runner from France. Also at the risk of insulting anybody (and that includes myself) why would anyone, anywhere from any county throughout any period of history, ever want to be identified with a surname that has negative associations? I am not a professional historian or genealogist (at times like this I really wish I had paid more attention when I was at school). I am a Lancashire born lass that gets through life using Nouse. (This is an old Lancashire term for an odd form of intelligence that figures things out by using a mixture of common sense, experience, intelligence and animal instinct to arrive at what is normally proven to be the correct answer and usually does so in advance of academia)!

I decided to find out if ‘Mort’ was actually a real French surname - logical next step! I went onto the French Google site (just replace .co.uk with the words ‘Fr’ - I did take a wild guess that it was this- and luckily it worked. Nouse in action!

Anyhow, zillions of results! Lots of French web pages include such a commonly used word such as ‘death’. I utilised the translation facility to convert the results from French to English. Waste of space - it was still relating to pages about homicide or funerals or headstone inscriptions, in other words Mort as in the end of life and not Mort as in the French surname. So I searched the French phone directories - no success. I eventually twigged that the French often put ‘De’ or ‘Le’ in front of their names. I searched again. A few (very small amount) of De Morts and Le Morts came out, but not in any great number to suggest that this was such a popular name in terms of volumes by which to colonize Britain with any significance. I am not saying that ‘Mort’ is not a French surname, it may be. I just haven’t seen anything yet that proves it beyond all doubt.

WALES:

FOR: There is some supposition that the word Mort came from a shortened version of a Celtic word, and we cannot disprove this to date. Many longer surnames were cut into shortened versions and so this is a possibility. There is also quite a collection of Welsh Mort’s, so migration either in or out of the Valleys was certainly taking place.

AGAINST: However, going by pure statistics and logic, I would expect more Morts in Wales than anywhere else if this was the country of origin. As it happens this is not the case. I did an unscientific review of Morts named as present day company directors and looked at the locations of their companies (UK only). To sift through the entire phone book of every person in the UK was too much in the way of hard work and I do this as a hobby (so I am allowed a few ‘short cuts’). I also realise that people (in particular Company Directors) relocate, change jobs and emigrate. However, the results were still interesting as unscientific as they were.

70% of Directors with the name of Mort came from England - in the region of what was formally South & East Lancashire (Bolton, Wigan, Leigh, and Manchester).
20% came from Wales (mostly South Wales)
10% cam from other parts of England.

There are those who believe that many Lancashire Morts worked as coal miners, and that they moved to the South Wales area for employment in the coal mines. I may be wrong, but this seems a sensible explanation to me. It would still make Wales an unlikely candidate as the country of origin but as always, I am open to persuasion.

GERMANY:

FOR: To my surprise, there were fair amounts of Morts around in Germany, from the same era (early 16th century) as found in Britain. In fact, dismissing the La Mort’s and the De Morts, in terms of just plain ‘Mort’ - Germany had more Mort’s than France! Put that in your tea and stir it!

AGAINST: I would think that the main argument against this surname being Germanic is that Mort is not a German word and neither can I find anything in German that even looks vaguely like the word Mort. Still - the same could be said of the other contenders outside of France.

BELGIUM:

FOR: A reference to a Fulling mill in 1322 was the first allusion to the Manchester textile industry. This mill was located near the River Irwell (near Eccles). Flemish weavers were introduced by Edward III and many of them settled in the Bolton area in the fourteenth century around 1337. They introduced spinning and weaving, and also clog making. It was still a cottage industry at the time and consequently the area gained a reputation for producing quality garments. This attracted yet more Flemish textile workers into the local area for the production of wool garments.

Flanders was an area within Northern Belgium, which is a country surrounded by France (Le Morts and De Morts) and Germany (Morts) and Holland. As a mainly Dutch speaking nation, Mort is a word that can often be found in Flemish and Dutch literature. So Mort is a word that would have been in use by the Flemish population.

I also found that Mort is a common first name, especially in this area of Europe. To add to this theory, many Morts are shown to be occupied in the clothing/ textile industry and there is some evidence that the wealthy Mort’s of Dam House initially acquired their wealth as textile producers and merchants, and they were not far removed from the River Irwell.

AGAINST: No evidence and pure conjecture.

SCANDINAVIA:

FOR: The IGI searches did bring up some Mortenssons (as in Mortens son like the English surname of Jacks son). Mort and Morten are again, common Scandinavian Christian names.

AGAINST: Other than the Vikings - no history and no evidence.

ENGLAND:

FOR: Many learned people and historians do believe that the Mort’s are an English family originating from Lancashire. There are other theories that state that the Mort’s came from Essex, but then again these alleged sources were trying to sell family crest and I am not sure that I trust the evidence of anyone trying to sell me something. Also, lets be honest, not every family had a knight that did battle against other knight’s. As much as I love the fantasy, I cannot possibly believe that every family that ever existed was part of the privileged nobility with heraldry worthy of a coat of arms. Surely it is a commercial con to pretend otherwise? Having said that, the Mort family of Dam House did have a family crest which consisted of a white phoenix rising above a knight’s helmet (it looks nothing like the Mort family crests displayed on these commercial web sites.) Don’t believe anything you read unless you have evidence (the motto on my family crest- if I had one)!

Back to Essex: There was a ‘Mott’ family that originated from this area of Southern England that had Norman origins. Maybe this is where this connection came from? However if the Mott’s or Mort’s came over on a boat with William the Conqueror, this would make them French people and not Essex people.

Ernie Mort’s learned friend believed that Mort was an old English word for ‘tree stump’. I have no idea where this came from, but have to give it a mention anyway. I don’t really fall for this one (get the pun .fall.felling)! I give up!

I have read elsewhere that Mort actually related to the word Moor, which would sound quite similar to Mort after a few bottles of Mead. We had Moors in Lancashire (as in the Pennines) so this is a possible area source description for a Lancashire family. The West Pennines are bang on the location of the textile industry. Mor is old English for ‘wet lands’ as in a wide expanse of windy infertile swampy land - just like what parts of Bolton and Manchester were probably like before concrete. I can relate to being ‘of the Mor’. On a wet Lancashire Autumn day on a Monday morning I still feel ‘of the Mor’.

I have also heard the word ‘Mort’ to simply be descriptive of where you lived as in Mortimer being ‘lived by the sea’. Mer = French for sea. Likewise, I have also read that it means ‘dead sea’. There’s no getting away from the death connotations..they are always there to haunt us. Mor is also a word associated with Wales, which just to confuse us even more, also means sea in ye olde Welsh. If Mort was Welsh, maybe it could mean ‘as by the sea’. Still the connection with wet places.

I have also heard yet another theory that people with the English surname of ‘Death’ (as in meaning an actor who played the part of Death in plays or pageants), altered their surnames to De’Ath or Mort - to confuse anyone who mocked their true surnames. So, it is possible we could be the descendants of actors - which is fine by me.

In summary, the very fact that there are probably more Morts in England than anywhere else, does make for very compelling evidence that this is where we all started irrespective of what the name actually means.

AGAINST: It keeps coming back to the fact that Mort is not an English word. Also that if records are to be believed (and the problem is we can’t actually 100% believe any of these old records), the Morts seemed to have just appeared in England. Just appeared meaning = was somewhere else before. Also the fact that Morts are to be found in mainland Europe would suggest a European connection beyond the windswept Lancashire Moors.

NB:
To anyone reading this article outside of the UK, you will be confused as to my referral to Europe as not including the British Isles. I should explain that Britain is part of Europe; it is just that we Brits haven’t quite got used to the idea yet. So, grumpy middle aged Anglo Saxons like myself still refer to France / Spain / Italy / Germany etc as Europe, whereas Britain is an Island just outside Europe. We are trying to be European and we will catch onto the idea sometime very soon - honestly!

IN SUMMARY:

This is a ‘tongue in cheek’ light hearted approach to the origins of the Mort Family.

If the text on these web pages can incite enough interest, then maybe some of you will be inspired to take this a stage further and come up with some interesting theories of your own. Hopefully, you will share your findings with the rest of us.

From a very personal perspective, I would not take the ‘appearance’ issue as being evidence as to where the Mort’s came from. Yes I have seen pictures of some of the 16th century Mort’s and they do not look typically English. However, they had both a mother and a father, and we do not know where the mother came from.

I have 16 GGG Grandparents and only one of these was a Mort (Ann Mort). I therefore had another 15 GGG Grandparents who may flown in from the planet Mars and invaded Leigh in 3000BC. The point being, that we are melting pots of many genes from many places, and the genes that dictate our looks only tell one part of the story. As a matter of interest, I did have my genetic profile done many years ago as part of a medical research survey into Reynauds Syndrome. This is a condition that affects 10 million people in the UK and is thought to be genetically inherited. My DNA suggested that I had originated from Northern Europe. Nothing unusual here as I suspect anyone with a Saxon heritage would have the same traits.

So - English, Welsh, German, French, Scandinavian or Flemish?

The jury’s out. Please tell us what you think?

 
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