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                     Extract from a 1695 tax registration document from Middleton in Westmorland

    Variants of the Hodgson Surname

    There are common variants of the Hodgson surname, such as Hodson and Hodgeson. The problem is to determine what surnames count as a Hodgson variant and and which do not. For example, are the surnames Hodge or Hodkinson variants of Hodgson?

    Before the introduction of mass education in Britain in the 1870s, a large fraction of the population was illiterate. It does not take much imagination to conceive of a scenario where the recording of a baptism, marriage or death of a Hodgson, when neither the clerk nor the Hodgson family involved are fully aware of the standard spelling of the Hodgson surname. This could result in a mutation in the spelling.

    Such circumstances are likely to account for variants such as Hodson, Hodgeson, Hodgshon, Hodshon and Hodghson. In the North of England, where the Hodgson surname originates, the ‘s’ in the name often becomes silent. This would account for other variants such as Hodgin, Hodgen, Hodgon, Hodgeon and Hodghon. These are likely to be genuine variants, in that they are derived from Hodgson.

    By the 1881 Census, Hodgson was still three times as common as Hodson. Hodson was centred in Lancashire, Lincolnshire and the West Midlands. This suggests that the loss of ‘g’ in the spelling occurred when Hodgsons moved into areas where the name was less familiar.

    Problems with the Soundex System

    How do we decide whether a surname is derived from, or closely related to, Hodgson? What variants are most important? One option is to follow the ‘Soundex’ system of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. However, this results in almost 1200 variants.

    This Soundex system seems to be worked out on the basis of the criterion ‘X sounds sufficiently similar to Y’. Such a criterion does not itself take the actual origin and descent of the surname into account. In contrast, in modern biology, taxonomic systems take common descent as well as common features into account. For example, birds and bats have strong similarities: both fly and have wings. But a bat is not a variant of a bird, because they are not of close common descent. Birds are descended from dinosaurs but the bat is a flying mammal. The criterion of ‘close common descent’ is relevant to surnames as well.

    The Soundex list of almost 1200 variants includes the surnames HodgkinHodgkins and Hodgkinson. These differ from Hodgson, with the addition of the ‘kin’ syllable. The geographical distributions of Hodgson, Hodgkin, Hodgkins and Hodgkinson are also different from one another. Hodgkin is most common in Kent and Leicestershire, Hodgkins in the West Midlands, and Hodgkinson in Cheshire and Derbyshire. (

    Hence Hodgkin, Hodgkins and Hodgkinson probably have an origin different from Hodgson. large mutation from Hodgson – such as the intrusion of a prominent and additional syllable ‘kin’ – is much less likely than a minor change in the spelling. Because of both the additional ‘kin’ syllable and a different geographical distribution, they should count as different surnames, not Hodgson variants.

    Notably, in dramatic contrast to Hodgson, Hodge is most common in Scotland and the South-West of England. This excludes Hodge as a variant.

    Hudson also has a different distribution, centred on Yorkshire and Lincolnshire - areas of Danish Viking settlement. Hudson probably derives from the Danish name Udd.

    Other names that appear with Hodgson in the Soundex system do not fit with Hodgson at all. They include ‘Hadgate’, ‘Hatson’, ‘Hedge’, ‘Higson’, ‘Hoads’ and so on. These are highly remote from ‘Hodgson’.

    Tracking Down Variants

    Names such as Hodgeson, Hodggeson, Hogeson, Hoggeson, Odeson and Odson appeared in the North of England in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Subsequently, Hodgsons become more numerous in the records, appearing in northern towns such as Preston, Newcastle and York. All these names seem to be of common linguistic descent.

    Our objective is to determine those principal variants that are likely to be derived from the group of names in the previous paragraph, which are recorded in these fourteenth- and fifteenth-century records. This group of names is concentrated in the North of England and certainly originates from that region. But we should also acknowledge that some Hodgsons moved south, to London and elsewhere, and in the context of a different regional dialect the spelling of this name was more likely to mutate. However, it is less likely that a large mutation – such as the intrusion of a prominent and additional syllable ‘kin’ – would happen in this way.

    The names close to or identical to Hodgson in the early records consist of two elements. First there is a ‘Hodg-’ element, where either the ‘d’ or the ‘g’ is occasionally missing, but at least one of these three consonants is present. Second there is a ‘-son’ element, where the ‘s’ is sometimes missing because it is sometimes silent in pronunciation. There is no intrusion of a ‘kin’ syllable.

    Some names are similar to Hodgson, but end in ‘don’ or ‘ton’. Two important cases are Hodsdon and Hodgeton. The complication is that the ‘don’ and ‘ton’ endings may indicate place-names that have become surnames, in contrast to surnames signifying a paternity relationship with ‘son’. Many surnames are derived from place-names. But the Hodgson surname is not of this type.

    Hodsdon may thus have been derived from Hoddesdon, in Hertfordshire in England. A ‘-ton’ ending is Anglo-Saxon and is found in many British place-names. The name Hodgeton seems to have its origin in a place in Scotland. In the Montrose area in the thirteenth century there was a Symon de Hogeston. Hodgeton seems to refer to one or more place-names and hence it would not be derived from the thirteenth-century English surname Hodgson.

    Some Rules to Derive Hodgson Variants

    In Hodgson Saga (Martlet Books, 2005, 2008) some rules were developed to identify a list of close variants of the Hodgson surname. These rules are slightly modified below.

    (1)    A Hodgson variant must start with a ‘Hod-’, ‘Hog-’ or ‘Od-’.

    (2)    A Hodgson variant must finish with ‘-gen’, ‘-gens’, ‘-geon’, ‘-ghon’, ‘-gin’, '-gins', ‘-gon’, ‘-shon’, ‘-son’, ‘-sone’, ‘-sonn’, or ‘-sonne’.

    (3)    A Hodgson variant must not include a ‘k’.

    The first two rules express the two key elements of the Hodgson name. The third rule excludes Hodgkinson, Hodgkiss and many others with an intrusive ‘k-’ syllable.

    The next step is to establish the principal Hodgson variants from all the possible variants established by the above rules. For this reason the following two rules are adopted:

    (4)    A principal Hodgson variant must have at least 100 known records of the name.

    (5)    A principal Hodgson variant must be in current use.

    Any name that satisfies all five criteria is described as a ‘principal Hodgson variant’. Applying these criteria, we get 11 principal Hodgson variants, namely in decreasing frequency, Hodgson, Hodson, Hodgeson, Hodgshon, Hodshon, Hodgin, Hodgins, Hodgen, Hodghson, Hodgon, Hodgeon and Hodgens.

    Hodgson is by far the most common variant, followed some way behind by Hodson. Variants beginning with 'O', principally Odson, Odeson and Odesone, are found in the 14th century records but are now extinct.

    Geoffrey M. Hodgson