Mark Mandel thnidu at GMAIL.COM
Mon Feb 4 15:48:09 UTC 2008

I forwarded James's query to the American Name Society mailing list, ANS-L,
and received the replies below.

Mark A. Mandel


James Harbeck <jharbeck at> wrote:

    My understanding has long been that in English names ending in -ell,
    the -ell is originally unstressed, and where it has gained stress it
    has done so because the current rules would normally have it that
    way. I assume, when seeing names such as Twitchell, Winchell,
    Liddell, Meynell (the last name of a professor of mine in undergrad
    -- pronounced ['mEn at l], not, as some said it, [maI'nEl]), Tyrrell (a
    paleontological musem in Alberta -- ['tIr at l], not [taI'rEl]) etc.,
    that the stress is on the first syllable until I find that it has

    Are there any onomastics experts here who can discourse on the origin
    of the -ell suffix?

    James Harbeck.


Richard Coates <Richard.Coates at>:

I believe that Mr Harbeck is right about the original first-syllable stress
of names in -ell. The evidence is, as he implies, the core of people who
have the unshifted pronunciation. It's very hard to find hard evidence of
when the optional shift started; I have tried unsuccessfully. I have always
guessed that some people have modelled their pronunciation on French names
in -el (Blondel, Chanel), though the spelling in English is normally -ell. I
have also guessed that the same applies to some surnames in -ett, and this
possibility is supported by occasional spellings I have seen of the type
Burnette (and I suppose Gillette). If I'm right, then only the generalized
answer "when French was fashionable" fits the thin evidence.

The most bizarre case I ever saw - when I was about 11, and probably what
triggered my interest in surnames - was in a press report of a family called
Did-Dell [sic], and I thought even at that tender age that here were some
folk who didn't want to be called "Diddle" as their ancestors must have
been. (The surname must be very rare in any case; it doesn't appear on
Surname Profiler or in the dictionaries I have to hand.) I understand that
the American linguist W.F. Twaddell called himself "Twa-DELL". A recent high
profile criminal case in Britain involving a man surnamed Weddell has
brought out both the pronunciations "Weddle" (as in the sea in Antarctica, I
believe) and "We-DELL".

Personally I pronounce the final syllable unstressed in such names, whatever
their origin, until I am corrected (Russell, Chappell, Cattell, Scammell,
Rasell, Tyrrell formula 1 cars, author Esther Meynell, etc.; both the last
two instances are mentioned by Mr Harbeck).


Richard Coates
Professor of Linguistics ~ Professor of Onomastics and
Director of the Bristol Centre for Linguistics at UWE

Hon. Director, Survey of English Place-Names

Secretary, International Council of Onomastic Sciences

Contact details:
e:   Richard.Coates at
t:   +44 (0)117 328 3278 (internal 83278)
f:   +44 (0)117 328 2295
h:   Room 5E26
     Dept of Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies
     University of the West of England (Frenchay campus)
     Bristol BS16 1QY, UK

PS The prominent former BBC Newsreader Alvar Lidell pronounced "Li-DELL".
But his parents were Swedish!


Ken Tucker <posthaus at>:

"Diddle", with a count of 127, appears in Hanks' "Dictionary of American
Family Names"


Marc Picard <marcpicard at>:

Yes, but Diddell and Diddle have very different origins in North America.
The American Diddells seem to be relatively recent arrivals as you can see
at least in comparison to the Diddles who, as surmised in DAFN, had their
name altered from Aduddel(l) (other variants being Adduddel(l), Ad(d)iddle,
O'Diddle, Andiddle, Audiddle, Anderdiddle, etc. as can be seen at and who seem to have arrived in the
mid-1700s.You can find more info on all this at, including the fact
that Addidle exists in Northern Ireland. De Bhulbh (All Ireland Surnames)
says it is "[a]pparently another diminutive of Adam" but I wouldn't bet the
farm on that.


Tim Nau <Tim_Nau at>:

In the names refered to by Mr Harbeck and Professor Coates, the BBC
Pronouncing Dictionary recommends not stressing the final syllable, except
in one case: CatTELL.

Mark Mandel

The American Dialect Society -

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