What’s in a surname, anyway?

wordcloudAs a youngster, my DNA was evident through my green eyes, light brown hair with a cowlicked plume of honey-streaked hair just above my right eye. Could these physical traits have been carried down the DNA ladder?

I recently did one of those DNA tests to find out about my ancestry. With a Polish mother and an English father, I assumed there’d be an even split, half Eastern Europe, half Northwest Europe. However, the percentages didn’t reveal as I expected. Forty-eight percent of Eastern Europe was in my blood, and the other half was split between Germanic Europe and England, Wales, and Northwestern Europe. Single digit percentages rounded out my profile from Baltic States and Scandinavia.

I thought of the many ways how we identify ourselves, geographically, through science and ancestry and even by our last names. We behold our names like badges indicating our member status as if we are a part of a tribe dating back thousands of years. While my DNA was being dropped onto a slide and analyzed, I searched to find the origins of the name “Chadwick.” Awaiting discovery of my roots, I considered the possibility of how underfoot they really could be.

Since my last name is English, I assumed such a heritage. A search of my last name came up with a robust, multi-use with not only persons, but also of places and things in the Chadwick name. Chadwick’s of Boston (women’s clothing), Chadwick Restaurant of Beverly Hills, Sir James Chadwick, physicist, The Chadwick Hotel, St. Anne’s; Chadwick, Illinois. I confess a penchant for clothing, culinary arts, and hotel management. Perhaps there is some connection there but I am curious how a woman’s clothing catalogue, a restaurant, a physicist and a hotel and I have the same name.

I wondered about the origin of “Chadwick” and if my ancestors came from royal blood.  The Chadwick name genealogy goes back to the tenth century and is believed to be of Saxon origin.  It is derived from a powerful chief, Chedde. The last part of the name “wick” means fort or residence. So when I put it together – “fort of Chad-Chedde” – I liked to think there was a mystical place in the rambling green hills in rural England called Fort Chad which was a gathering place for aristocrats and perhaps anyone who identified as being a Chadwick.

The Chadwick School in Palos Verdes, California was founded by a Margaret Chadwick in 1935. Does my pull toward California and my few years of living there have anything to do with the Chadwicks of California?  James Chadwick proved the existence of neutrons in 1932 and won the Nobel Laureate prize in physics. He lived in Wales . . . I spent a day there. I can say, without a doubt, that any attraction or admiration I have to physics or science is remote. There is also a Chadwick investment group that perhaps was started by someone with my last name, or whoever started the business saw the name “Chadwick” somewhere and claimed it as nice-sounding. And then there is Alan Chadwick, a famous proponent of organic gardening and founder of biodynamic French intensive school of horticulture. I’ll take organic harvests wherever and whenever I can get them. The most eye-catching Chadwick I came across is Eduardo Chadwick. His family tree extends back to Don Maximiano Errazuriz, who in 1870 founded the winery, Vinedo Chadwick, that Eduardo now owns in Chile. A Chilean Englishman or is it an English Chilean? I’m excited to think that somewhere there’s a wine bottle with my last name on the label. I do fancy the fruit the vine. John Chadwick (1920-1998) was a linguistic discoverer and William Chadwick (1879-1962) was an American Impressionist.  I find myself curious languages when I travel abroad. William died the same year I was born.

I wonder if all these Chadwicks are connected and somewhere, somehow I belong in this mix. But my call is my own to find out just who I am, how I got here and what my contribution is to the world. I may hope there is a little Sir James in me, somewhere from many years ago or even a dash of royal blood.

007Tree roots seek their path snaking through the ground where they nestle, sprouting generations of their families along the way while their trunks gain girth as the seasons rotate. They forage blindly but knowingly in search of water and sustenance, claiming the earth’s nutrients with an undeniable quest for growth.

I claimed a particular tree, a birch, as my buddy when I was a girl. It grew tall and arabesque in the corner of my home’s front yard, with its limbs seemingly flowing up and outward, its shiny green leaves waving delicately in mild breezes. I established my roots with every step when circumnavigating the house as if my footing marked my connection to home linking my steps in a never-ending circle. My home was underfoot and in my hands when would place my finger in the center of a smooth papery curl of my buddy’s bark.

I had an undeniable sense for connecting back then and it remains with me today. Whether we connect with ancestors from long ago, or with places or things in your name, the connections make us feel whole, that we belong, that we are someone.

Perhaps we can never claim one particular membership for pieces of us assimilate and together we belong undefined.