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Home: Surnames: Tuten Family Genealogy Forum

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Re: The Tuten Family in North America
Posted by: Tony Tuten (ID *****0116) Date: July 14, 2002 at 06:41:18
In Reply to: Re: The Tuten Family in North America by Tony Tuten of 553

I pulled this off This Donald Tuten must be a descendant of Terrell Thomas Tuten of Savannah.

My cousin William Robert Tuten IV told me he had a friend and probably cousin "Jim Tuten" in the Army tell him that we were descendants of Vikings.

Anyway here is a message from Donald Tuten and I quote; "I send this out to those who are interested in the origins of the surname Tuten...

I am a historical linguist and a Tuten from Savannah. I was in the Emory Library today and happened past the section with books on the history of surnames, so I decided to research the history of Tuten. Here's what I have come up with? (most of which corroborates and adds to information provided in other messages posted on this site).

It turns out that Tuten is one of many English surnames derived from Old Norse (the language of the Vikings). The original name is THORSTEINN. This fairly-common Norse name meant "Thor's stone", and seems to have referred to the sacred stones associated with Thor, the Norse god of thunder and lightning. Even today the word "thunderstone" exists in English; it is used to refer to meteorites, which, unsurprisingly, were associated with the thunder and lightning of Thor. (I have to admit that I have reconstructed this as best I can, but someone who specializes in Norse mythology would be able to give a more certain explanation of the mythological significance of the name).

The Norsemen settled in eastern England, the area known as the Danelaw, and carried this name with them. There, it developed into the names Thurstan, Thurston, Thurstin. However, they also settled in Normandy, in Northern France. Here, the Norsemen quickly adopted French. French, however, lacks the interdental fricative "th" found at the beginning of Thorsteinn, so the French-speaking descendants of the
first Norse settlers began to substitute a simple stop "t" for "th" (as the French still often do). As a result, the pronunciation of the original Norse THORSTEINN was transformed first into Turstan, Tourstan, Tourstain, and, with the gradual loss of the weakly-pronounced word-internal consonants ?r and -s, the pronunciations Toustain and Toutain appeared (the spellings I give here are those of Old French). Toutain is the form that seems to be the precursor of modern Tuten (Tutin, etc.).

In 1066, William the Conquerer and the other Norman French invaded England, and, logically, their surnames went with them. Toutain became Tutin, and has survived today as such in England (e.g., the London stage actress Dorothy Tutin). Of course, until standardization of spelling began in the 1700s, people spelt their names as best they could, in line with local pronunciation, but with no fixed rules. This probably accounts for the wide variation in spelling and pronunciation today: Tutin, Tuten, Tutan, Totten, Tootin, etc. (the unstressed vowel ?i? is often pronounced as a schwa, as in ?but?, so this second vowel in the name is particularly susceptible to spelling variation).

Of course, these days we hardly even pronounce a schwa, just a "toot" and "n"!

So, there's the story of Tuten -- as far I have been able to reconstruct it. Incidentally, it is very unlikely that Tuten is a German name (though it is Germanic, in that Old Norse and the Scandinavian languages are considered to be members of the Northern Germanic language family, but this language family is different from what we today call German). The common myth that Tuten is a German surname seems to stem from ?folk etymology? ? in other words, people notice the superficial similarity in pronunciation between Tuten and the German word Teuton/Teutonic, and assume that there must be a meaningful link ? but this is merely what historical linguists call a ?chance resemblance?. In fact, if you look through all the names of Tutens in the genealogies, what is most striking is the almost total lack of German first names used with the surname of Tuten. There are also very few Germans with the surname Tuten. There is some evidence of Tuten as a surname in Holland, but one must remember that many English moved to Holland at different times (even the Puritans lived in Holland before moving to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and some of the Puritans never made the trip to America), so we shouldn?t be too surprised to find the surname there. The other possibility is that some Norman French with the name Tuten (or Toutain) relocated to Holland rather than England, but I think this rather less likely.

Donald N Tuten
Assistant Professor of Spanish and Linguistics
Director, Spanish Language Program
Dept of Spanish
Emory University
Atlanta, GA, 30322, USA

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