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Viking origins of the surname Blenkinship?

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Viking origins of the surname Blenkinship?

Posted: 983541895000
Edited: 993883986000
Viking origins of the surname Blenkinship?

By Donald L. Blankenship - 25 February 2001

Around 1801 an individual named N. BLENKINSHIP in northern England subscribed to a history book entitled “An Impartial History of the Town and County of Newcastle upon Tyne and its Vicinity.” This was a comprehensive account of its Origin; Population; Coal; Coasting & Foreign Trade, together with An accurate Description of all its Public Buildings, Manufactures, Coal Works &c.. John Baillie in Newcastle upon Tyne published the book in 1801. During the early part of the 1800’s a number of BLENKINSOPs also purchased or subscribed to historical publications on the people and history of Northumberland. From these English subscription lists of books purchased in England we see that both Blenkinships and Blenkinsops for the last 200 years have demonstrated a keen interest in their own history and genealogy. Joseph Blankenship in 1917 published the first known genealogy research on the Blankenships in America. This was followed about 50 years later when Col. Leslie C. Blankenship published his book entitled “Blankenship Family History.” Although some portions of Col. Blankenship’s research were found to be in error, and some have harshly criticized him for it, his book nonetheless has served many of us well as an important stepping stone in our own research of this English family named Blankenship. The history on this side of the Atlantic begins for us in colonial Viriginia in the year 1686/1687 when a 26 year old man named Ralph Blankinship traveled up the James river past Jamestown to land near Hopewell on the Appomatox River where it joins with Swift Creek. But where did Ralph Blankinship really come from?

My quest in search of the original homelands of the Blankenships in England continues to bear fruit. All my effort is, of course, made possible due the availability of so much pertinent information on the Internet. If Colonel Leslie C. Blankenship had had such vast resources available to him 70 year ago he undoubtedly would have been guided to the same conclusions as those I now embrace. In his quest for Blankenship origins it appears he was drawn primarily to Northumbria in the far northeast of England while my attention has been focused on the northwestern English County of Cumbria. I believe I now may have identified the precise area where the historically distant Blankenships came from in England and this is my story. It is based solely upon my original research and is not, therefore, copied from any other genealogy or history book. My original sourcing is referenced as an aid to those who wish carry forward this common interest.


For the last three years I've searched for the European origins of the name Blankenship and have come to the firm conclusion that the surname is derived from the root word BLEN and that the term KIN in this surname means son. BLEN-KIN would therefore mean the son of a person from BLEN. Sometimes the full expression of the term SON is used to designate the offspring of a man, as in Williamson and at other times only the letter "S" is used as in Williams. In the latter case the "s" suffix means William's SON. In other cases we see the surname Wil-KIN-son to perhaps designate the same thing. In any case we see that KIN shows lineal descendancy or family relationship.

We obviously do not find the surname Blankenship in England. Historically we know it never existed there and is never seen in civil or church registration records. The surname apparently changed from BLEN-KIN-SHIP to BLAN-KIN-SHIP after the immigrant Ralph Blenkinship first set foot on the English colony of Virginia in 1686/87. That is about as much as we know. We therefor must draw our conclusions from inference and logical deduction based on research of the missing elements of possibly how this name actually came into being. We sometime find the name Blankenship, Blenkinship, and Blenkinsop or Blenkinsopp listed in English surname books with the meaning of "Blenkins Hope" or more appropriately Blenkin’s Valley of Hope. Colonel Blankenship in his genealogy book sourced this etymology of “Blenkins Hope” to S. Baring-Gould’s book “Family Names and Their Story.” In his reference book he states that the term SOP (as noted in the suffix for the surname Blenkin-SOP) means a small bay, a gap in the hills or a valley.” The word SOP, it is asserted, is a corruption of HOPE. So Colonel Blenkenship concluded that “Blenkin’s Hope” became BLENKINSOP. He further concluded, and almost certainly in error, that….… “we find our name derived from Anglo-Saxon customs and places….” I agree with Colonel Blankenship only in the general meaning of the surname Blenkinsop and its association with term “Valley.” However, I do NOT agree with him that they name is derived from Anglo-Saxon language. As you will note shortly, I believe the name BLEN by itself is derived from the Norse language of the Vikings and that the term actually meant “river valley” by itself. Furthermore, I believe the word SOP, which we see in the suffix for Blenkin-sop, actually means “wheat” in Gaelic which was the old language spoken 1000 years ago, as it is today, in bordering Scotland. The Norse or the Viking language heavily influenced the Gaelic spoken in both Scotland and Ireland. It contains a lot of Norse vocabulary. If my assumption is correct then the three standing bundles of hay seen on the Blenkinsop coat-of-arms correlates with the surname suffix SOP. These same sheaves of wheat also are seen on the coat-of-arms at Penrith in Cumbria County, which is the area I firmly believe the Blenkinships and the Blenkinsops originally came from. So the word SOP is Gaelic for WHEAT and we know that the Gaelic language was heavily influence by the ancient Vikings who once dominated Penrith and all of Cumbria County.

It is difficult or impossible to know when during the last 800 years these people from the area known as BLEN (near Penrith in Cumbria) came to affix the suffix SHIP or SOP to their surnames. I can only assume that the Blenkinsops at some point in time around 1400-1500 began to disperse from this area and migrated to County Durham and Northumberland. Those few Blenkinsops who remained behind in Cumberland, near Penrith, later changed their surnames to Blenkinship.

What we know for certain from the etymology of English surnames is that once a family name was devised it nearly always contained two elements. These were the locative or geographic designator term and the adjective or descriptor. Furthermore we know that the two surnames Blenkinship and Blenkinsop were devised sometime after the Norman invasion of Britain in 1066 and also after the Norse occupation of these lands from 750 AD – 1100 AD. The date 1066 AD onward is when surnames first began to be used in Britain. In the case of northern England this process probably took a couple of hundred years more due to its remoteness in the extreme northern part of England. We can, perhaps, narrow down the time frame even more for the period when the Blenkinship and Blenkinsop surnames came into existence. We know that about 1580 we see the first evidence of both the Blenkinship and Blenkinsop surnames in historical references in church parishes in Cumberland and Northumberland. This gives us a timeline from about 1300 to 1550 when the two surnames most likely came into being. But what will explain the surname suffixes of SOP and SHIP? Here one can only speculate that some of these people from the area of BLEN around Penrith chose different professions. Those from the area of Penrith that chose the cultivation of wheat most likely came to be known as the Blenkin-sops and those who chose the profession of shipwright were known as the Blenkin-ships. There undoubted was much boating and shipping along the salmon rich Eden River which passes beside the town of Pernith on its way to Carlisle and the nearby inlet sea to the Atlantic Ocean. So the shipwrights, or those who worked on ships came to be known as Blenkinship. Their numbers were very small indeed when compared to the Blenkinsops and, in fact, there may only have been a dozen such families with that particular name during the 1600’s when Ralph Blankinship emigrated to America in 1686/87. Its existence, even in Cumberland County, England where it originated, was really quite rare.

I learned from my study of English placenames that most English surnames originally came into being based firstly upon placenames and secondly on some type of identifier of the family head of household. See: The identifier term used most often was a descriptor for the type of family work performed or the vocation of the head of household. Surnames came into being after the Norman Conquest and over time they were slowly adopted by the higher classes of society. It may not have been until the 1400's and perhaps even the 1500's when the peasant classes fully adopted surnames for themselves. Perhaps the people were forcibly assigned surnames by local authorities because they needed to clearly identify individuals for purposes of religious or governmental control and taxation. Prior to the use of placenames as surnames only the first name was used with some kind of identifier. For instance, around the time the Domesday books of 1086 were first prepared by the ruling English authority under William the Conqueror there was noted the mention of a "Ralph the Crafty" as a resident of London or "William the Goat", or Robert the Lazy, etc. Surnames made life much easier for everyone, especially the tax collectors and eventually by the 1500's everyone must have had them.

I recently thought to myself that if I could find a placename in Britain, or anywhere else in Europe, that had BLEN as its root word then I would focus attention on that particular area in relation to the surname BLEN-KIN-SHIP. I already had plotted on a map of England the surname distribution of BLENKINSHIPs vs. BLENKINSOPPs using the several hundred names I had available from the BMD archives . This provided me an adequate sampling base. In spite of the fact that in February 2001 only 6% of the names from English Civil Registries were currently databased, the several hundred names I already had extracted from it clearly showed that the BLENKINSHIPs came almost exclusively from Cumberland and Westmoreland, England. These counties today are combined into County Cumbria.
By the late 1500’s the Blenkinsops appear to have been dispersed primarily in and around the city of Durham in County Durham while another smaller population of Blenkinsops resided in eastern Northumberland along the Tyne River near Newcastle. Only a very small group of Blenkinsops settled near Hatlwhistle in far western Northumberland. Haltwhistle, of course, is the location of the well known Blenkinsopp Castle and Blenkinsopp Hall which Colonel Leslie C. Blankenship wrote about in his 1971 book “Blankenship Family History.” During the 1800’s we also find some Blenkinsops and/or Blenkinsopps living in the same areas as Blenkinships in Cumbria near Penrith and Carlisle and also in or near Kendal in the former county of Westmoreland. You can see these surname distribution maps for Blenkinships and Blenkinsops which I've prepared and posted at my web site at . Population clusters in Cumbria and Westmoreland for the Blankenships are very evident as well as the Blenkinsop clusters in Northumberland and Durham. Countrywide dispersions of Blenkinships also are in evidence for the period of this study of 19th century civil registrations. There also is in evidence in England the surname BLENKIN and several other similar surnames with different suffixs. The geographic distribution of these surnames is so different from that of the Blenkinships and Blenkinsops that I will defer my studies of these surnames to some future time so that I now may concentrate exclusively on the two primary surnames of interest.


The Old Norse Language –Language of the Vikings

Runic Swedish – Basically the same as old Norse

The letter “e” in old Norse is pronounced as the “e” in “bed” or “Ed” which gives it an “eh” sound. The letter B, L and N had essentially the same sounds in Norse as they do in English. Therefore in the discussion below regarding the word BLEN (as in Blen-kin-ship) it can be seen that it would sound like Blen in the English word Blend.

Fortunately my search for geographic placenames with the root word of BLEN finally was rewarded. What I found is that the only place in the British Isles one finds placenames with the root word BLEN is near Penrith in Cumbria, England. This same area, as some will remember, is where I actually began my search for the origins of the Blankenship some three years ago. The English placenames, which begin with BLEN, are Norse or Viking in origin. The Vikings, sometime between-750AD - 1100AD, named these particular landscape features we observe today in present day County Cumbria. You'll find maps of these Viking named locations which have the root word BLEN by going to:

"Street Maps of the United Kingdom"


Once you have your browser set to either of the first two web sites you then simply type in the Norse names of the once Viking dominated towns that are listed below. Use the first URL "Street Maps of the UK" to search in England and then zoom into either the 1:50,000 or 1:25,000 map scale for best resolution. You will be able to view the topographic features or land terrain when you use the 1:25,000 resolution. Using this topographic or terrain data you’ll see that in almost every case the English placenames that begins with the root word BLEN is a village located in a river valley. All the placenames which begin with BLEN are in close proximity to Penrith, in Cumbria County, England. I therefore assume that BLEN must mean a "River Valley" location. In my opinion the most likely location for our Blankenship origins is one of the four places identified below. From this listing of BLEN placenames I further believe that a probable location for our Blenkinship origins is the present day hamlet of BLEN-CARN. This village location lies along Blencarn Beck or Blencarn stream. “Beck” is the Norse term for stream. In the same areas as these villages that begin with the root word BLEN one finds other Viking or Norse locative words such as FELL for “Hill” and GATE for “road.” It also may be interesting to note that our English word BLEND comes from the Norse word that means exactly the same in English as it once did in Norse. Nowhere else in the British Isles will you find placenames which begin with BLEN “except” around Penrith.

People who came from Blencarn (7 miles east of Penrith) in Cumbria presumably adopted this placename as their own surname but spelled it slightly differently over time. We therefore find the name Blen-kharn, Blen-khorn, Blen-khorne and perhaps Blen-kham. Nearly everyone with this unique surname (or a variation of it) lived in nearby Westmoreland, Lancaster or Yorkshire Counties that bordered on County Cumberland. During the 1800’s most actually lived in the town of Kendal about 20 miles south of Blencarn and Pernith. During the 1800’s it was possible to draw a 60-mile radius around Blencarn and find nearly everyone with the Blenkharn surname (or a variation of it) living within that circle. For some unknown reason all English people with this unique surname, which sounds phonetically like the placename Blencarn, had migrated southward of Pernith at some point in time prior to the 1800’s.


We don’t really have that answer. Almost certainly this information has been lost in history. Colonel Blankenship suggests the Blenkinsop name existed back as early as the late 1300’s, but he gives no supporting data. I would not disagree with this notion but I think the facts probably don’t yet support the theory. I would only suggest that the name Blenkinship and Blenkinsop probably came into being a century later, perhaps during the 1400’s.

Do I think the Blenkinships and Blenkinsops were of Viking blood? No, not necessarily, but that is a very distinct possibility. I do believe, however, that the people who once lived in the area of Penrith came to adopt the Viking root word BLEN for their surname. The people from BLEN such as the Blenkinships and Blenkinsops and their descendant bloodlines are certainly from either Roman ancestry, Vikings or Norse peoples, the Celts, the Normans or Anglo-Saxons, or possibly even people of Germanic descent. We can’t be certain because there is no recorded history available that will unveil this mystery. If I had to venture a guess I would like to think the BLENKINSHIPs and BLENKINSOPs descended from the Vikings. However, I certainly can’t prove that theory. Modern science in the form of DNA analysis might answer such questions but historical data alone is almost totally lacking. The name BLEN, as coined by the Vikings in the Norse placenames around Pernith, came into being sometime between 750 AD and 1100 AD. However, the people living around Penrith in present day County Cumbria may actually date back several thousand years, long before the Romans came to conquer and dominate this area of England. This area also was populated by the Celts in the 5th century BC and still later by the Druids who were in Britain from the 2nd century BC to around 100 AD. It was much later in 122 AD that the Romans conquered the Druids in this area of England and built Hadrian’s wall along the current day English-Scottish border. The wall, of course, served to protect their legions from the Picts and Scots who then dominated the landscape in this northern British domain.. We just can’t be sure from which bloodline the Blankenships descend. It was the Celts living in England that gave the Romans cause to name the country Britain from the Latin word Britanni that identified the Celts then living there. It is interesting that the Celts occupied the area of County Cumberland from the 7th century right up to 11th century during the same time the Vikings also were living in this area.


As a result of the decline of the Roman Empire the Roman legions departed England by 410 AD and new invaders appeared on the scene by the 7th century. This also is the start of the dark ages and when the accounts of King Arthur are first noted. (Note: For more information on what may have caused the dark ages see the footnote at the bottom of this posting). Germanic peoples once brought over to Britain by the Roman Legions during their conquest began to foment trouble when they departed. These Germanic peoples during earlier times were hired by the Romans as guards against the ferocious Picts and Scots from northern Britain, which today is Scotland. During the 7th century the Germanic mercenaries subsequently rebelled against their Roman employers in Britain and ran amuck in England as they tried to establish their own semblance of rule. Then the Normans invaded shortly thereafter. The Normans originally were Vikings who settled northern France during the 9th and 10th centuries. The Normans went on to later conquer England in 1066. The Anglo-Saxons, who were there all along in Britain were Gauls from northern France. These Anglo-Saxon people were Angles, Saxons, Frisians, Jutes, and Franks in origin.

By the 7th century the Germanic kingdoms in Britain included Northumbria, Bernicia, Deira, Lindsay, Mercia, East Anglia, Essex, Wessex, Sussex, and Kent. The northern portion of this domain, namely Northumberland and present day Durham are precisely where we find the Blenkinship and Blenkinsop clans some 900 years later. These were turbulent warring clans back then, but by contrast the remaining Anglo-Saxon societies in Britain were characterized by strong kinship groups, feuds, customary law, and a system of money compensations for death, personal injury, and theft. They practiced their traditional polytheistic religions but lacked a written language, and depended on mixed economies of agriculture, hunting, and animal husbandry.
NORSE or VIKING towns near Penrith, Cumbriashire

BLEN-CARN was first noted as a placename in 1210 AD. It is seven miles east of Penrith, Cumbria. It lies in the river valley at the foot of Blencarn Beck which runs through Blen-carn. The word BECK is a distinctly Norse term
for stream. The Vikings gave the names to many of these land features in Cumbria County. These placenames, still in use today, were given when the Vikings occupied these lands between 750AD - 1100 AD. The official Norse placenames were first recorded in 1085 when they were placed into the Domesday Book which King William ordered to be prepared for purposes of taxation and accountability.

About 1/3of a mile east of the old Viking village of Blen-Carn is a very old Roman Road known as Maiden Way. The "Hanging Walls of Mark Anthony" are Cultivation Terraces which lie about one mile northeast of Blen-carn. This Roman road and the cultivated terraces were probably in place some 600 to 800 years before the Vikings ever inhabited present day County Cumbria in the area of Penrith. The town of Penrith is about 20 miles south of Carlisle and perhaps 30 miles south of the Scottish border and Hadrian's Wall built by the Romans in the 2nd century AD

BLEN-COGO is about 18 miles west of Carlisle. It is more accurately described as two miles south of the River Waver inlet inlet from the Atlantic Ocean, It is just south of Moricambe bay and the creek or waterway is now called the River Waver channel inlet. Blencogo is four miles west of Wigton in Cumbria County. This is also about 15 miles south of Scotland.

BLEN-CO was first noted as a placename in 1232 AD. This hamlet lies along River Fetteril four miles west of Penrith and 17 miles south of Carlisle in Cumbria County. It is about seven miles east of Penrith in Cumbria County.

BLEN-NERHASSET is first noted as a placename in Cumbria in 1118 AD. It is located about 12 miles southwest of Wigton and 15 miles northwest of Penrith. Blennerhasset is on the Ellen River valley.


The first instance of the name Blenkinship appears in 1584 in County Durham. The IGI records are interesting in that they appear to show that a young lady named Agnes was christened a Blenkinsop on 16 Nov 1579 and later married as Agnes Blenkinship on 13 June 1584. There may have been two different people with the name Agnes or it is possible the surname was changed for some reason. I believe it is also possible this is a recording error because it is the only instance I have of the surname Blenkinship in County Durham for any period in history. All other Blenkinships from the 1600's to 1898 are recorded only in Cumberland and Westmoreland Counties. The first instance in the IGI of the name Blenkinsop (spelled then as Blenkynsope is also in County Durham in 1572.

Agnes BLENKINSHIP - International Genealogical Index / BI
Gender: F Marriage: 13 Jun 1584 Whickham, Durham, England

Abigill BLENINSHIP - International Genealogical Index / BI
Gender: F Christening: Mar 1670 Saint Mary, Carlisle, Cumberland, England

Abigall BLENKINHIP - International Genealogical Index / BI
Gender: F Marriage: 25 May 1692 Saint Mary, Carlisle, Cumberland, England


Annes BLENKYNSOPE - International Genealogical Index / BI
Gender: F Marriage: 11 May 1572 Saint Oswald, Durham, Durham, England

Agnes BLENKINSOP - International Genealogical Index / BI
Gender: F Christening: 16 Nov 1579 Whickham, Durham, England


We don’t know for certain when the Blenkinships and the Blenkinsop parted company. However, we can say that it probably occurred during or before the late 1500’s when we first begin to see evidence of a clustering of Blenkinsops in Durham County while the Blenkinships remained behind in County Cumbria near Penrith and Kendal in Westmoreland County. Kendal is located about 25 miles south of Penrith. We know from historical and scientific studies of this region that a great famine, and periodic scourges of infectious plague and other life threatening diseases spread through this region in the 1500’s. This would probably be the persuasion needed to rapidly move large groups of people out of a particular area so afflicted by these terrible calamities.


Place Name Origins in England

Viking Terms: 750AD - 1100AD

Akr: Acre
Beck: Stream
Booth: Summer pasture
By: Farm; Village
Ey: Island
Fell; How: Hill or mound
Fiord: Fiord
Fiskr: Fish
Gardr: Yard; landing place
Garth: Enclosure
Gate: Road
Geit: Goat
Gill: Ravine or valley
Holm(r): Island
Hus: House
Ings: Marsh; meadow
Kald: Cold
Kelda: Spring, stream
Kirk: Church
Laithe: Barn
Lin: Flax
Lund: Grove
Melr: Sandbank
Orme: Serpent
Pollr: Pool
Skar: Cleft
Sker: Rock
Slack: Stream in a valley
Stakkr: Rock in the sea
Stan: Stone
Stokkr: Sound
Tarn: Lake
Thorp: Daughter settlement
Thwaite: Forest clearing; meadow
Toft: Homestead
Wath: Ford
Wray: Remote place



The suffix SOP in the name Blenkinsop has been researched to determine what language it might be derived from. The only language I've found which it most likely relates to is Gaelic, the language spoken in Ireland and Scotland. The Old Norse Language of the Vikings had a strong influence on Gaelic. The word SOP in both Irish and Scots Gaelic means a loose bundle of straw or hay. MacBain's Gaelic-English Dictionary gives the word SOP a Norse derivation as you will see below.

The fact that the Blenkinsop coat-of-arms has three bundles of wheat on its shield would seem to correlate well with the surname suffix of SOP. Presumably the early Blenkinsops were wheat farmers. Cumberland County in northwestern England has been known for its wheat and grain production since at least the 1500's. It is very likely the Vikings who settled this area prior to 1100 AD also engaged in wheat farming. The village of Penrith in Cumberland was first established in the 1300's and it has on its community coat-of-arms two bundles of standing wheat. The fact that the Blenkinsop coat-of-arms is similar may not be a coincidence.

230 on-line foreign dictionaries.
Scots Gaelic - English Dictionary

nm. g.v. suip; pl. an and suip, wisp, loose bundle of straw or hay
MacFarlane's Dictionary - Section 11
The School Gaelic Dictionary

nm. g.v. suip; pl. an and suip, wisp, loose bundle of straw or hay
MacBain's Gaelic-English Dictionary - Section 35
An Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language

a wisp, Irish sop, Early Irish sopp, Welsh sob, sopen; from English sop, Norse soppa. Zimmer takes the Irish from Norse svöppr, sponge, ball; Stokes derives it from Norse sópr, besom. the Welsh sob, sopen favours and English source.


(* Recent scientific inquiry strongly suggests that the worst volcanic eruption in the history of mankind precipitated the Dark Ages. This occurred about 625 AD on the Island of Krakatoa in the Indonesian peninsula. A blanket of soot and ash was propelled as airborne aerosols that rained down upon the earth for perhaps several years blocking out sunlight and severely affecting worldwide agriculture. A world economic collapse ensued, There was pandemic famine and major epidemics decimated the populations as plaque, smallpox and other infectious diseases spread like wildfire throughout Europe. Citations from the tales of King Arthur mention the bleakness of the land during this era
Ice core samples from Greenland confirm this world catastrophe theory.)
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