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Are People Named “Abbott” Descended from Celibate Abbots?

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Onomastics is the study of the origin and history of proper names. Many family names, such as Smith and Cook derive from occupations. That poses a conundrum for Marina Abbott from Sonoma, California: If abbots traditionally took a vow of celibacy, how did her ancestors get that name? You might ask the same question about folks named Bishop, Monk, Nunn, or Pope. It may be that Marina’s ancestors were in the employ of an abbott, or maybe they were known for pious behavior. Sometimes proper names derive from a one’s proximity to something significant: A family that lives near a forest may be named Woods, or in French DuBois, or a family in Spain that lived near a riverbank might be named Rivera. Similarly, it may be that a family living near the home of the head of an abbey acquired the name Abbott. This is part of a complete episode.

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