Origins of the surname

David Vawer

The name Vawer seems to elicit the similar responses from people who hear it for the first time - "That's an unusual name. Where does it come from?" There have been various suggestions over the years, some which are fanciful, others which are based on fact, particularly those suggesting a derivation from other more common surnames.

My aim here is to outline some of these suggestions, and then to offer what is the current supposition of our derivation.

My grandfather was the initiator of my own interest in the Vawer family roots. He told a number of stories whereby he had been informed by "reliable sources" as to a grand past of landed noblity with a castle carrying the Vawer crest and name. This he told me was lost by the then owner being duped at the gaming tables, and losing all.

He also suggested that the name had a connection with Alsace Lorraine, and that the name was derived from a misreading of the french name "Vanier" which when written in script can easily be mistaken for Vawer (or vice versa). As a young schoolboy I was fascinated by these stories, but the depths of the industrial West Midlands half a century ago was not the best place to be to follow up his tales. However if Grand-dad said it, it must be true!

At university, ten years later, I first came across a similar name - that of Vawter. The origins of that name seemed to be just as vague as those of my own. On looking into this name I also discovered "Vawser", which offered a further possibility. Suggestions were that these names were derived from a french name " Vavasour" which was descriptive of the owner's occupation, as many names are. Vavasour is the commonly accepted spelling, but various spellings have been used from the old french "vavassor" through our vavasour to the more modern french vavaseur or vavasseur. Such a person was a vassal of, hence swore feilty to, a baron. He then in turn had underlings who were responsible to him. He owned lands, and often acted as agent for the lands of his lord.

The idea therefore was that a vavasour became a Vawser, a proven link, and that then this was contracted to become a Vawer, which was an unproven supposition. The link between a french origin for the name and Grand-dad's story of Alsace lorraine seemed to fit. The land agent link to the name was also apparently reinforced when one Thomas Vawer was found in the magisterial records to have sold or purchased land cited in "MINISTERS ACCOUNTS 1263-1550 Cardiff Records, Volume 1, Chapter II" and entered as follows

VAWER (surname) Thomas (forename) 230 (page of transaction) 1542/3 (year) 4d for 2a (Brief description)

The suggestion is that Thomas either acquired or sold 2 acres of land for 4 pence. This was for a long time the earliest dated occurrence of the name Vawer as a proper surname spelt in the modern way to come to light so far. The idea of this as an origin ousted Vanier and became the accepted possibility for some years.

However, recent research has unearthed connections to the Welsh name Vawr. The work of Sandra E Oman has linked us to a long line of quite distinguished Welsh ancestry. In late mediaeval times individuals ceased to be identified just as "Son of" or "Daughter of" (in Welsh, ap and ferch) and began to use a fixed surname. These surnames often described a person, either by occupation, fixing a family name, or by a physical attribute. The modern welsh word fawr, or mediaeval spelling vawr means large or tall. Sandra's work links to William ap Rhys Vawr, whom we now know to be an ancestor of the modern Vawer line. See "Historical" for relevant links via Family Search

We are currently happy therefore that this is the origin for the name.

If this is the case then the expected pronunciation of the name would begin "Vow" as in "Marriage Vow" However, those of us who carry the name use another pronunciation.

We rhyme "Vawer" with "Drawer",

which is not as illogical as it may initially seem, looking at the spelling.

However we like to pronounce our name, people will always call us by peculiar variations which suggest that we have no idea how to spell or pronounce our name ourselves, particularly by adding extra letters to the name for us (especially a "Y" suggesting that our ancestors were peeping toms!).

There are entries in various records which do have other spellings for the name. Searching the IGI reveals both VAWRE and VAWR, as well as Vawer in recent times. However the accuracy of these as being spellings used by other families, or just the level of competence of the clerk at the time when few people could spell their own name is not clear. We currently accept these people as honorary members until proven otherwise. These spellings have not occured in the BMD registration documents since the 1830s, so are most likely to be relevant to our own family.

If you have any knowledge at all that can add to, or correct any of the above information we would be most grateful for your contacting us. Please use the Contact Us page for convenience.

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