Derivation of the Surname

English records of the Humstons before 1700 show the name to have been spelled Humston, Humstone, Humpston, and Humpstone, all being variants of the same surname.

The patronym, defined technically, is a local name, having been acquired by the family from the place where, or near which, it first lived. The ending “-stone,” or “ston,” classifies it, the meaning being enclosure, seat, dwelling, or home.

As there is no place bearing the name, it is evident that an orthographical change has taken place; the original spelling has been departed from. In searching for the original spelling of Humston, one arrives at the belief that formerly it was Humberstone (Humberston), a place name of Lincolnshire and Leicestershire, and the name of a family which first appeared in those counties.

A place name, if a compound word, is likely to suffer changes because compounds in common speech are not usual, and because the place name after a while loses its meaning when applied to a family. In familiar speech there is a tendency to do away with any consonant which checks the flow of sound, depending upon the condition that the word remains recognizable.

It is believed that local dialectal pronunciation of Humberston would but slightly, if at all, indicate the presence of the middle syllable “ber”. Thus one would hear “Humston,” with perhaps and added note as the unstressed syllable is eliminated. Various spellings of Humberston indicate such a pronunciation. In the old records one encounters, among scores of other examples: Hummerston, Hummeston, Humbuston, and Hubstayn.

The parish register of Ardeley, Hertfordshire, of 1589, contains Humm’ston, the apostrophe showing the omission and probable pronunciation. Spelling conformed eventually to the spoken sound, and thus occurred the change from one name to the other.

Heraldic evidence also links the two names. The coat-of-arms of the Humberstons of Lincolnshire, Hertfordshire and Denbighshire was “Argent, three bars sable, on chief as many pellets.” (Burke, “General Armory.” Yorke, James, “Union of Honour” (1640). Barry of 6 argent and sable, in chief 3 ogresses) Bishop Robert Humston in 1602 assumed as his arms “Argent two bars sable, in chief three pellets.” (Bedford, W.K., “Blazon of Episcopacy,” p. 168.) These two arms are not identical but the Bishop’s follows closely the basic Humberston design. It is probable he changed the bearing slightly so that the arms would be individual and yet show his descent. There can be no doubt that the similarity in the arms proves the kinship of the Humston and Humberston families.

Burke assigns the Humberstons of Lincolnshire, Norfolk, and Denbighshire, the crest: “A griffin’s head erased argent charged with three pellets in pale.”

Humberston, literally defined, might mean seat or home on the Humber River. Another theory held by some is that it evolved from Hubba’s town, after one of the chiefs in the old Danish conquering days, (“Leicestershire and Rutland Notes and Queries,” I, 273.) and became Humberston because of the camp’s proximity to the Humber.

The Humberston family appears in the earliest records of Lincolnshire. Among the first of the name was Hugo de Humberstayn, and in 1202 is found William de Humberstone, Alan de Humbertein, Ralf, Walter and Thorold de Humberstain. ( Lincoln Record Society, “Earliest Lincolnshire Assize Rolls.”) In 1271 appears Jerlo de Humberstayn. (“Lincolnshire Notes and Queries,” LX, 60.) The family became a large one in Lincolnshire and Leicestershire and spread rapidly to other English counties. The name is of frequent occurrence in ecclesiastical annals.

In the pronunciation of a compound word such as Humstone or Humston, the resulting sound has brought about the insertion of a “p” between the equally stressed syllables. The lip change form “Hum-“ to “-ston” causes a forceful closing of the nasal “Hum-“, thus accounting for Humpston. The resulting sound is almost unavoidable, and pronunciation again ruling orthography, part of the family accepted the “p”. It is to be noted that the Virginia family always has spelled the name “Humston,” bringing the form to America from the connecting branch in Britain.

The first record of the surname of Humston is found in Cheshire as early as 1564. As a distinct surname it may date to 1500. Since all branches of the family apparently have their origin in Cheshire, it may be that the alteration in spelling took place in that county, and by accepting Humston as a surname apart from its original form, the family may thus consider Cheshire as its first home.