I received the following message from a Guild member regarding their One-Name study. As the details will make it obvious which member had the question, they have given their permission for the message to be shared in full.
My pondering’s about a possible variant or something else?I found XMAS used as a surname. I first noticed it a few years ago, not sure where….. FreeBMD has a marriage in Dec 1875 XMAS, Richard Auckland ref 10a 287.(transcribed by 2 transcribers) In the other names it shows four others one being CHRISTMAS, Richard Auckland 10a 287, (transcribed by 2 transcribers) The original scan are typed and the two sections are CHR and X.I do not know what the original Parish register says? Could there be two entries or is there an amendment and the official was being really lazy? Saying that FreeBMD starts at 1837!I then checked Family Search: XMAS found 115 results! Does this point to it being a valid name or just a clergyman or cleric being really lazy? (Another one of my pet hates is the use of Xmas!!!)A couple of other names are CHRISTMAN (173,756) I think that’s another line!CHRISTMASS (2,026) seems large to be deviant, possible variant!CHRISTMASSE (87) low enough to be deviant? Or I seem to see mention this as Germanic?
This is a fascinating question because it raised the point of abbreviations and how they could, and do, come about and the impact they have on genealogical records. We then look at deviants and variants. We also are reminded of the absolute need to record when we research, what we actually see and to not use abbreviations. If we do use an abbreviation, then first and foremost we must create a core document which identifies what abbreviation is used for what word. That said, I personally do not advocate using abbreviations, nor do I recommend writing dates solely using digits, I prefer writing the month in words, removing any confusion.
The marriage in question is in the Registration district of Bishop Auckland in County Durham. Having looked into the details of the email I received, I can confirm the transcription of the GRO Index which has been conducted by the volunteers of FreeBMD shows the marriage has been recorded as XMAS. We need to check the actual marriage register at the archives and that will confirm the surname that was actually recorded at the point of the marriage.
If indeed it was, then it is worth thinking about when did we start using the abbreviation for Christmas as Xmas, the impact that has on genealogical research and the history of it and how that becomes part of the baseline story of the study.
I had a quick look at Ancestry and found the marriage in question in the Registration district was recorded as both Xmas AND Christmas.
I then did a little test. Christmas is a common name in my native Surrey. I did a quick search for a parish that I know has Christmas references, here is a birth for the Surrey parish of Elstead.
The image here, shows the transcription of the baptism of an Ann Xmas baptised 16 October 1715, the daughter of Thos Xmas.
As Ancestry has the images of the registers online, I searched for Ann to see what it said….Xmas or Christmas?
The register revealed the use of Xmas, which I found surprising. The register was in shocking state, I can tell that because not only have I seen the images on Ancestry, I searched the microfilm 30 years ago looking for the Ellis entry that was a little further up the page. The image confirms that Ann Xmas daughter of Thos Xmas 16 October 1715 Elstead, Surrey.
So revisiting the questions above, it is likely that the Registrar did record the baptism as Xmas and it is entered twice, once as Xmas and once as Christmas because of the abbreviation. I will look at the register as soon as I am able.
In this situation I would add Xmas as a variant, along with Christmass and Christmasse.
I also had a look at the distribution map for Xmas and found that, this yielded more questions than answered, meaning that the Guild of One-Name Studies member who is researching the surname Christmas is going to have more fun with those results and considering the detail.
In conclusion, I was sure that the abbreviation for Christmas to Xmas was a modern invention, but evidently not. The X representing the cross and Mass (Mas) an addressing the coming together of people to celebrate.
In the meantime, if you have Christmas ancestors, certificates or photographs and would like to share them with the Christmas study, please leave a comment.