New name

Before the advent of centrally-organised official record keeping about individual’s lives in the mid nineteenth century, spelling of names was largely a matter of personal choice. Birth and death certificates starting in 1837, regular censuses detailing everyone’s names from 1841, a unified system of keeping wills in 1858, together with more and more printed sources like local directories and newspapers, combined to mean that the vagaries of orthography were largely eliminated. In earlier times, people had chosen to write their surnames as Cotgreve, Cotgreyve, Cotgcriff and Codgreyffe, and even in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, spellings like Cottgrave and Cotgrieve were common enough. But after the massive Victorian increase in record keeping, everyone who had inherited Thomas de Cotegreve’s surname by descent started to call themselves one of three versions – Cotgreave, Cotgrave or Cotgrove.

But when Ann Cotgrave moved from Cheshire to Scotland in the 1850s, she generated a brand new spelling that had never been used before. She had been baptised Ann Topping Cotgrave, the illegitimate daughter of a woman called Ann Cotgrave, at Thornton-le-Moors near Ellesmere Port in July 1837.

Assuming she was a few weeks old at the time, she had just missed the official start of civil registration of births, which in theory applied to anyone born on or after 1 July. Without an official record on a birth certificate, her father’s name is unknown, but it seems a fair bet that he was called Topping – a man named William Topping was buried ten miles away at Bebington in 1857, and both Ann and her sister Emma later claimed their father was called William (although they pretended his surname was some version of Cotgrave).

It is not clear why Ann moved to Scotland in the 1850s, where she started to be called Annie, but in the 1860s and 70s, she had three daughters, all born in Lanarkshire. The eldest, Mary, was registered with the surname Cotgreve in 1866, but Annie (1871) and Catherine (1875) were both recorded as Coatgreave. Perhaps it was something about the local accent that made the first syllable of her their surname sound more like “Coat” than “Cot”. After Catherine’s birth, the second syllable started to be consistently spelled “grieve”; the name Coatgrieve stuck. Mary, who has been born Cotgreve became Coatgrieve, as did her two sisters, the last of whom did not die until the 1950s.

Mary’s children, including two sons who went on the serve in the First World War, were all given the new spelling of Coatgrieve. The eldest was named Absalom, a name of Biblical significance, and he was decorated as a gunner in the Royal Field Artillery.

There is some evidence that in 1858, Annie had signed her name in the traditional Cheshire way as Cotgreave. But she clearly decided later that her name had become Coatgrieve and that is the maiden name under which her death was registered when she passed away at a quarter to seven on the evening of 20 November 1911.

Birth marriage and death certificates via Scotlandspeople
National Archives: WO372/4/177570; 177571
Cheshire Parish Registers

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s