Origins of the Balch Name

From Genealogy of the Balch Families in America pages v - x. By Galusha B. Balch M.D. Published by Eben Putnam Salem, Massachusetts. Yonkers New York. 1897. Transcribed by Charles V. Balch 1997.

The task of tracing the descent of any of he millions of families inhabiting this planet is not, under the most favorable circumstances, an easy one, but is beset at every step with various difficulties. The present inquiry into the origin and history of the Balch family, while simplified by the peculiarity of the name and the comparatively small number who have borne it, is, at the same time, rendered more difficult by those very conditions, especially as few of the name have ever achieved more than local distinction, though they have always been respected in the localities where they have lived.

John Balch [the first in America] came from Somerset, England, to Massachusetts, in 1623. With this central fact the Balch genealogy in America begins, and its branches have been traced out down to the present day. But to go even one step backward from that point has not been so easy, and it must be confessed at the outset that the missing links between the Balches who came to America and those who remained in the old country have not been found.

The search, however, has bought to light the names of many Balches in England and much information in regard to them which cannot fail to be of interest to all who bear the name in this country, for there can be little or no doubt that they were all related to each other in the same way that the American Balches are related.

The subject of the origin of the name of Balch opens an ample field for philological discussion, which has not been covered to any extent, for the reasons already indicated. It seems tolerably certain that the name is of Teutonic derivation, and as an English patronym, therefore, might have come in with the Saxons, about A.D. 500.

Mark Anthony Lower, one of the first to write analytically on the subject of British surnames, says in his Patronymica Britannica, that the name is an abbreviation of Balchin, a very old Teutonic personal name – in old German Baldechin. In his Essay on Family Nomenclature, however,’ he says that Balchin, in the middle and western counties of England means an unfledged bird.

R obert Ferguson, in English Surnames and Their Place in the Teutonic Family, after supposing a relation between the name of the great Italian poet, Dante Alighieri, and the English name Alger, observes: "Other Italian poets have names more certainly Teutonic’ as Alamanni, Baldacchini," etc. "These correspond with the old German names Alaman, Baldechin, etc.’ and with our Allman, Balchin," etc. Further on, in speaking of names derived from mental and moral qualities, he says, "Thus we have Bold and its patronymic Balding – Ball, the patronymic Ballinger, the diminutive Balchin, Baldock, etc."

How far the imagination enters into comparative philology is seen when it is observed that another writer on English Surnames Charles Wareing Bardsley, while not taking cognizance of Balchin at all, derives Ballinger from boulanger, a baker, and Bald and Ball not from bold, but from the prosaic characteristic of baldness of the Cranium!

William F. Balch [1000] devoted considerable time in the early fifties to an investigation of the origin of the origin of the family, and he mentions in a paper published in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register for the July, 1855, that he found the name of "Balchman of Bodeherstegate" on the roll of the Battle Abbey [A.D. 1066]. The name of Balchi, he also says, is to be found in Doomsday Book, the great survey of England, which was made by order of William the Conqueror, in 1086, and to have been recorded therein th bearer of the name must have been of at least Thane’s rank He also states that a John Balch was Sheriff of Somerset in 1392, and, starting with that name, he constructs a pedigree ending with John Balch who came to America in 1623.

Now all these assumptions can be shown to be erroneous, and though it is only just to say that they were not put forth as being absolutely correct, it seems proper to call attention to them , as they ore in print [in the Historical and Genealogical Register,] and copies of the false pedigree are in existence in possession of members of the family ond might prove misleading.

In the first place, the document, usually called the Roll of Battle Abbey was a list of these Normans who took part in the conquest of England, and of course one would not look there for a Saxon name. The list referred to in the article in question was really of the names of residents of the settlement which sprang up around the Abbey while it was building, to commemorate the battle of Hastings, composed of those brought there from surrounding counties for that purpose, together with tho amount of tax, on the kind of service, which they were to render far their houses and lands, which they held under feudal tenure. These persons were, of course, the Saxon inhabitants, but the name, No. 104 on the list, which the compiler mistook for "Balchman" of Bodeherstegate was really "Blacheman" and he was no more likely to have been an ancestor of a Balch than No. 26, "Blacheni, the cowherd."

The "John Balch" who, he says, was sheriff of Somerset in 1392, was, by a similar error in the eyesight, really John Bache, probably of Doreset, as those two counties had but one sheriff before 1566.

That disposes of the foundation of the pedigree, and as for the second step it is certain that no George Balch, between the years 1362 and 1420 was the "founder of St. Andries, the seat of the family in Somersetshire," as that estate, which is one of the best known in the county, did not come into the possession of a Balch until long after John Balch hand come to America.

The earliest mention of a Balch in Somerset records, which is at present known, occurs in a tax list compiled in the first year of the reign of Eward III, 1327, and it is remarkable that at that early date it takes the simple form of Balch, while in the meantime it has, at different periods, and in individual instances, lapsed no such add orthography as Balche, Balsh, Balshe, Baulch, Bawlch, etc.

But in 1327 at least two persons in Somerset were taxed under that name. Willelmo Balch, xii d., "Purye" [perhaps Puriton Hundred] and "Roberto Balch, I I k S.’ v. d.," in Manerium de Wryngton [manor of Wryngton]. There also appears on the same roll the name Balth, Blatche, Borliche, Barlich, Balchich, Balde and Bald – any or all of whom might have been Balches, since other and far more common names, such a Baker, Brown and Smith, appear with almost as peculiar variations.

It would be strange indeed, at a time when the English language was not yet crystallized, when only "clerks and priests could write, and official documents were drawn up in a medley of Latin, Norman-French and Anglo-Saxon, if such a name has escaped variation. Zone can well imagine the queer twists that spelling would take, when the Norman tax gather attempted to set down the name of a "Zummerzet" rustic as given to him with a bread west country accent.

Barlich and Barliche mould certainly not be improbable metamorphoses under such circumstances, and , indeed, the fact that these forms have not survived would seem to be evidence that they were merely clerical errors. Some of the e forms which we knew the name to have assumed at later dates were evidently phonetic , and point to the probability that the "a" in Balch had a very broad sound, much broader than it has at present as pronounced in this country.

It is of interest in this connection to remark that some of the name in London pronounce the "a" sharp, as in "bat’" and also to note that’ out of the more than four million people in the British metropolis, there are but six of the name Balch registered in the Post Office Directory of London of a recent Date – both "court’ and "commercial" divisions included -- while the are an equal number of Balchins, one Baulch, one Balck and one Baldach.

It thus appears that Balchin remains a surname in England today, and seems, like Balch, to be a shortening of the earlier form – Baldechinn. It has been spelled Balchen, Ballchen, and Balchan, In 1744 Admiral Sir John Ballchen was lost in his ship, the Vicony, off Alderney.

Baldachin is defined by Johnson’s Cyclopedia – and the definition is retained by our modern American dictionaries – as "The canopy carried over the Host in processions. The term is derived from Baldach, a corruption of Bagdad, the early seat of the manufacture [of the stuff of which the canopy was made] and was originally applied to the canopy carried over an Oriental prince."

It has been objected to by a scholarly member of the Balch family that the deduction of Balcdach from Bagdad is untenable on the philological grounds, and he remarks that "the old Persian city Balkh bears exactly our family name. But whether Balkh or Baldach furnished the root of the word, it appears to have come from the zorient. The Teutons came from the zeast, their language, culminating in modern German, had many Oriental affinities, and it is not too improbable to suppose that the Teuton who took, or more likely had bestowed upon him, the name of Baldechin, might have been one of the bearers of a princely or ecclesiastical canopy.

The stuff of which these canopies, and priestly vestments, generally, was made, was a very rich fabric of silk and gold embroidery, and in old English records the word is variously found written baubekin, bawbekin and even bodkyn and bodkin, certainly as wide a departure from baldachinn in orthography as is Balch.



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