Saturday, March 24, 2012

Surname Saturday: Le Goff

Today, we continue with the Smith theme moving from the East back to the West.  So far, we have seen Germanic Smith and Slavic Kowatch.  Now, let's turn to the Western edge of Europe and the Celtic language family.

At one time, speakers of Celtic languages were spread across Europe over France, Spain and Central  Europe (see map here).  Celts settled as far away as Asia Minor (Turkey), where they are known as Galatians (as in Paul's Epistle to the Galatians). However, with the Roman conquest and later movements of people, including Germanic and Slavic peoples, the languages of the continental Celts were replaced by other languages, like the precursors of Romance languages, such French, Spanish, and Italian.  The Celtic languages survived only in the British Isles, where they were threatened by another invasion, that of the Angles, Saxons and other Germanic peoples.  Speakers of British Celtic were pushed to the West surviving in Wales and Cornwall.  Another group left Great Britain and settled in what is now Brittany.  The similarity between the names Britain and Brittany is not a coincident.  The Breton language has close ties to its British cousins, Welsh and Cornish.

To this day, the Breton language continues in Brittany, although it has rapidly lost ground to French over the last two centuries.  The language survives in many place names and surnames.  One common surname of Breton origin is that of my 7th great grandmother, Catherine Le Goff, the wife of François Marquer and the daughter of Pierre Le Goff and Marie Perrot.  The name Le Goff comes from the Breton word for blacksmith, gov.  Like many Breton surnames, it is formed by adding the French article Le before the Breton element, perhaps translating the original Breton article Ar.  Also, as is common with languages which were not standardized or used in written form until relatively late, the spelling of names often diverges significantly from the modern standard. 

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