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H.L. Mencken (1880–1956). The American Language. 1921.

Page 326

all countries. The name of Taaffe, familiar in Austrian history, had an Irish prototype, probably Taft. General Demikof, one of the Russian commanders at the battle of Zorndorf, in 1758, was a Swede born Themicoud, and no doubt the founder of the house in Sweden was born a Frenchman. Franz Maria von Thugut, the Austrian diplomatist, was a member of an Italian Tyrolese family named Tunicotto. This became Thunichgut (=do no good) in Austria, and was changed to Thugut (=do good) to bring it into greater accord with its possessor’s deserts. 9 In Bonaparte the Italian buon (o) became the French bon. Many English surnames are decayed forms of Norman-French names, for example, Sidney from St. Denis, Divver from De Vere, Bridgewater from Burgh de Walter, Montgomery from de Mungumeri, Garnett from Guarinot, and Seymour from Saint-Maure. A large number of so-called Irish names are the products of rough-and-ready transliterations of Gaelic patronymics, for example, Findlay from Fionnlagh, Dermott from Diarmuid, and McLane from Mac Illeathiain. In the same way the name of Phœnix Park, in Dublin, came from Fion Uisg (=fine water). Of late some of the more ardent Irish authors and politicians have sought to return to the originals. Thus, O’Sullivan has become O Suilleabháin, Pearse has become Piarais, Shields has become O’Sheel, Mac Sweeney has become Mac Suibhne, and Patrick has suffered a widespread transformation to Padraic. But in America, with a language of peculiar vowel-sounds and even consonant-sounds struggling against a foreign invasion unmatched for strength and variety, such changes have been far more numerous than across the ocean, and the legal rule of idem sonans is of much wider utility than anywhere else in the world. If it were not for that rule there would be endless difficulties for the Wises whose grandfathers were Weisses, and the Leonards born Leonhards, Leonhardts or Lehnerts, and the Manneys who descend and inherit from Le Maines.
  “A crude popular etymology,” says a leading authority on surnames, 10 “often begins to play upon a name that is no longer significant to the many. So the Thurgods have become Thoroughgoods, and the Todenackers have become the Pennsylvania Dutch Toothakers,