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The Mordecai / Mort confusion

The name Mort is often associated with the name Mordecai and this relationship has occasionally created some confusion for genealogical researchers. As such, I decided to explore how these two names could be linked. Research and the resulting knowledge from such research, often sparks a few flames fanned by the sparks of interest, dispute or local knowledge. As such, I make no excuses in ruffling a few tail feathers and igniting the odd controversial spark!

An example of this connection includes a few details picked up via an Internet search engine. For those of you who do not use a search engine for genealogical research - you are missing out on an amazing free resource. All you need to do is put the names of Mort and Mordecai together and the results are vast. I have itemised just a few examples, but do try this experiment for yourselves if you doubt these results or have any other ‘name combo’s’ you want to investigate.

Example number 1 being Mordecai Cattail:
Mort is a temperamental little fellow. Of course, you would be too if your home was constantly in danger from pollution and shoreline development. Mort is a big fan of the folks at Peterborough's Ecology Park, who have worked on restoring his neighbourhood, and the neighbourhood of his family and friends.

Example number 2 being Award-winning journalist Mordecai (Mort) Persky:

Example number 3 being Mordecai "Mort" Bible 26 Mar 1849 - 24 Dec 1933

Example number 4 being Persky Mordecai (Mort) b.1931, Savannah, GA
Interviewed in Charleston, SC on November 3, 1999 (DR, DS) #T(a).Aik.1999.11.228.

Example number 5 being Mordecai ``Mort'' Smith.
Chief Financial Officer of the school district

Example number 6 being:
Mary Melcina Zinn, a daughter of Lemuel Hall and Ruhama (Hickman)Zinn, was born in Doddridge County WV April 9, 1880. She married Mordecai "Mort" Snider. Mordecai, a son of Henry Jacob and MarySnider, was born about 1880.

Example number 7 being:
His name is Mordecai, but my husband and I call him Mort for short. He definitely has a bit of Sailor's personality. And he's incredibly spoiled...

I could continue forever and fill several pages with past ‘Mordecai Mort’s’. However there seems little point as I think we have all got a clear picture of what appears to have been happening here. Yes indeed, Mort was and probably remains to be, a shortened version of the forename Mordecai.

COULD A NICKNAME HAVE BECOME A SURNAME?

Mordecai was often shortened to Mort and in many respects I guess both could have turned into a surname after time (as with the forenames ..now also surnames of Thomas, Williams) etc........

As a living example of this, my husbands name is ‘Sohail’ but because it is slightly unusual and Manchester teenagers struggled to either say it or remember it - he became known in his youth as Zowy. He probably also thought it sounded a bit funkier and made him look cool (this was the 1980’s do remember)!

When we got married we had to include both names as some people only knew him by his true Christian name and others only knew him by his daft nickname. So the invitations were to the wedding of Sohail ‘Zowy’.

If we lived in the era when surnames where being created, his child may have been known as James son of Sohail Zowy. Over generations, this could have possibly turned his nickname (Zowy) into a surname.

In generations to come, some as yet unborn genealogist may find copies of that wedding invitation and wonder how his surname became Zowy. Pure supposition but a likely and realistic theory.

This is just a mere hypothesis, but we do know for a fact that some forenames and nicknames did become surnames. Could this have happened to Mordecai AKA Mort?

ORIGINS OF THE FORENAME:

The Hebrew forename of Mordecai can be found in the bible. As such, both Mordecai and Mort are common Jewish fornames. MORDECAI is a Masculine forename. Its usage is mainly Jewish/ British. It is pronounced mor-de-KIE and if you ‘say it quickly’ it is easy to understand how it soon became shortened to Mort. It translates to "servant of Marduk" in Persian. Marduk was the chief Babylonian God. In the Old Testament Mordecai was the cousin and foster father of Esther.

See the following links:
http://www.jafi.org.il/education/jewish/purim3.html
http://www.myjewishlearning.com/holidays/Purim/TO_Purim_History.htm
http://www.ancestry.com/search/SurnamePage.aspx?html=b&ln=Mordecai&sourcecode=13304

There are many many other sites for those who care to investigate.

Then there is also Mort as the shortened version of Mortimer and Morton.

Morton was formed from the surname and an old English word meaning Moor town. The Lancashire & Yorkshire Morts could certainly relate to living by the Moors.

Mortimer on the other hand is from the French meaning 'still water'. This is easy enough to translate as Mer = Sea & Water (as in Mermaid) and Mort in French means = (Nah - not going to say it because if you don’t know now you will never know).

See the following quote from a Genealogy web site:
"As with place names, surname and personal name data may be subject to variant spellings. Older records may include greater variation in spelling than modern records. Phonetic spelling may be the only link variantly spelled names; e.g., "Quilter" and "Kieltagh". Records may also include completely different variants of names, such as MORT for MORDECAI."

IMPORTANT QUESTION: DID THE MORT SURNAME ORIGINATE FROM A NICKNAME?

If I could go back through the years in my magical time bubble, I would give you a absolute answer to this. As it stands, all that anyone can ever do is give you a best guess based on all the evidence we know to date.

The general feeling of ‘those in the know’ (and I am not one of those elite) is a big chunky definitive ‘NO’ .

The surname of Mort is very old and has been around for a long long time. We have dates of pre 1100 for the Mort surname in England (which is why we are trying to get access to the index of the Doomsday book). As the forename of Mordecai was seldom used in England - it would seem very unlikely that the English Mort surname developed as a shortened version of this forename, which in the UK was mainly restricted to Wales.

Quote from Dr Gradeless: Dr Donald Gradeless is Fellow of the American College of Genealogists and has served for the past 29 years as Registrar of the Sons of the Revolution. He has been working on the Mort Family history for the past 40 years
"Mort is the common shortened form of Mortimer and Mordecai but I don't think that would hold for the surname. A lot of ‘given names’ have their origins in surnames but I don't think using the given dimunitive for a surname is a practice noted anywhere. This is why this name change from Mordecai to Mort is unlikely. These families just lived in the same towns and areas but the given names of all those are just common given names and have nothing in common with the surnames. I would also except that there were some Mort and Mordecai intermarriages."

THE MORDECAI NAME AS A POSSIBLE WELSH VARIANT!

It is possible that there are some lines of the Welsh Morts that came from a forename hop via the Mordecai route. The reason we can assume this as a possibility is that Mordecai was a forename that gained a great deal of popularity in the Welsh valleys. It was almost unknown in England which is why it seems very unlikely to be a Mort family Lancashire transition.

I can understand why this name has a connection with Wales as it does sound very Welsh.

I have spoken with one Mordecai researcher who believes it is actually not Hebrew, but Welsh in origin and means ‘ by the sea’. I am not Welsh and I don’t have a clue. Help! Cai is a Welsh word, but for what? Are there any Welsh speaking Mortfamily members who can shine a light on the Welsh language for us please? The search engine informs me it is Welsh for the name ‘Kay’ which doesn’t sound a lot like sea. How about the other part of the name ‘Morde’? Well, urm, the Google search results are mainly in German which does not bode well.

Here is a neat trick, just in case you don’t know how to do this.. Open up a word document and type in the word you are trying to translate. Click on TOOLS and then on LANGUAGE. Then in this instance I asked it to translate the German word of Morde to English - and it came up with ‘Murders’. Ah.. now we are back to the death connection once again.

If someone can contradict or challenge me I would love it - but I cannot believe that Mordecai is a Welsh word. Using a jumble of Welsh and German translations it seems to relating to the ‘killing of Kay’ - poor Kay. If Mordecai does appear as a name in the bible, which indeed it does, then it sure ain’t Welsh!

END CONCLUSION:

In any historical research (minus the time machine bubble) most things are a best guess from what we presume to be true.

We can ‘best guess’ that the English Morts took their surname from a source that was nothing to do with the Mordecai forename - since hardly anyone (if anyone) was given this Christian name. In England - and especially not in Lancashire. Well - not Manchester anyhow.

We can ‘best guess’ that maybe some Welsh Morts may have inherited their surname as the Mordecai diminutive of Mort. It is possible but unproven that maybe some Welsh Mort’s represent a differing DNA line of lineage not connected to the Lancashire Morts.

However - we also know of Welsh Morts that can trace their ancestry directly back to the English / Lancashire Morts and whose surname has nothing to do with Mordecai nickname..at all!

As always - minus the time machine bubble, the jury is open for debate.

 
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