Friday, September 15, 2006

Etymological epiphany

The C in KC stands for Clark, the last name I was born with and the one I used most of my life. Sometime in my childhood, I asked what it meant. My Dad, whose family name it was, told me it was English and came from the word clerk. But it didn't mean clerk in a store. He told me it was more like being a clerk in an office. I suspect he told me that because he wanted to give me an example I might understand.

So, for all my life, I've thought that was the etymology of Clark.

I'm sitting in worship class yesterday, reading a text reproduction of a 1552 Church of England worship service, and I see on the page: The clerkes then...

And it was a moment of epiphany.

My brain, which sometimes has trouble with names, quickly called up my Dad's old definition. Clearly there had been more.

So, I asked who the clerkes were, and the prof says the clergy. That's the word for clergy. Really, he said, it referred to anyone who could write, but the majority of those were clergy.

So I'm now one of those people (or someday will be one of those people, Board of Ordained Ministry willing) who lives out the vocation of their name!

Here's what one website had to say about the origin. (I'd look it up in the OED online, just for precision's sake, but I'm not a subscriber)


The distinguished surname Clark is Anglo-Saxon in origin. It is derived from the Old English "clerec," which itself dervived from the Latin "clericus," meaning priest. The term "clerec" originally denoted a member of a religious order, however, as these were the only people who were taught to read and write, the term eventually came to refer to any literate man. Thus the name Clark may refer to a scholar, a scribe, a secretary or a member of a religious order.


molly said...

My OED (!) says that "Clark" is an obsolete form of "clerk." And, before the Reformation, affirms that clerks were ordained clergy.

HOWEVER (and not meaning to complicate things, but wanting to pursue truth...) it has been, "since the Reformation, applied to laymen [sic] who perform such of these offices are are retained in cathedrals, churches or chapels. In the Prayer-book of 1549, the Clerks were the choir men; in later times, the clerk or Parish Clerk, is the lay officer of a parish church, who has charge of the church and precincts, and assists the clergyman [sic] in various parts of his [sic] duties by leading the people in responses, assisting at baptisms, marriages, etc. In other senses, usually with some distinctive epithet, as Bible Clerk, a scholar who reads the Scripture lessons in some ancient college chapels; Lay Clerk, a singing man in some cathedrals and college chapels; Singing Clerk, etc."

Perhaps you are and will be "clark," in many ways...

Much further down, in the seventh defintion, as you get combinations of clerk-and-other-words, I was delighted to find:
"clerk-ale: an ale-drinking for the benefit of the parish clerk; also the ale then provided."


I'm enjoying my dictionary. Thanks.

Kelli said...

I think it is a sign:)

Marian said...

Awesome. I love it when co-incidence becomes something more magical. :)