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"The 'W' in Hawthorne's Name"

"The 'W' in Hawthorne's Name"

By Edward C. Sampson

EVERY STUDENT OF HAWTHORNE knows that it was Nathaniel Hawthorne who added the "w" to the family name. When and why Hawthorne made the change is another matter: The name had not always been without the "w." According to Vernon Loggins it was during the life of the first William Hathorne, born in 1543, that the "w" was dropped.'

The Hathornes who came to America continued this never spelling, though there is some indication that the pronunciation remained the same as if.-the "w" were present. U. S. Milburn, in a manuscript note in the Milburn Hawthorne collection at St. Lawrence University, points out that though Major John Hathorne signed his name "Hathorne," he is referred to in some contemporary Salmi church records as "Hauthorne" implying as Milburn notes, that the name yeas pronounced according to its present spelling.' By Nathaniel Hawthorne's day, however, the pronunciation had apparently shifted. H. H. Hoeltje shows that at the end of his senior year at Bowdoin ( graduation was September S, I8 2 5 ), Hawthorne was using his nickname "Hath," an indication that the name was pronounced with a short "a."3

Yet it may have been before this time that Hawthorne thought about changing the spelling of his name. If one can trust the accuracy of Julian Hawthorne, Hawthorne had used the "w" as early as 1822 or so. In a cryptic and undated note that Julian Hawthorne says "nay have been written about Hawthorne's eighteenth yes," the signature is "Nath. Hawthorne." 4 But this may be inaccurate. Julian H Hawthorne is definitely wrong in his reproduction of a letter from Nathaniel H Hawthor a to his sister Louisa, dated August 11, 1824. The letter, now the New York Public Library, is signed "Hathorne," though Julian Hawthorne has recorded it as "H Hawthorne." 5 Certainly H Hawthorne was using the "w" in 1827, when be signed his copy of The Beauties of the Spectator with "Nath: Hawthorne 1827."6 Perhaps the best one can say as to when Hawthorne added the "w" is Randall Stewart`s comment that it was "not long after his graduation from college." 7

Changes of this sort take some time to catch on, mad Hawthorne himself may not have been consistent. At any rate, be did not bother to have the certificate of his share in the Salem Athanaeum, dated the twenty (?) first of April, 1829, made out with his name spelled the new way, for the certificate read "Nathaniel Hathorne." As late as 1836, Hawthorne's good friend Bridge was writing "Dear H Hathorne," and many times, "Dear Hath."9 ( Again, one may question Julian Hawthorne. But if be were going to be inaccurate, it would seem more likely that be would err by adding the "w" when be should not, rather than by leaving it out when it should be in.)

When the changes in spelling and pronunciation became well established, I do not know. Vernon Loggins points out that Nathaniel Hawthorne's mother retained the old spelling while his two sisters followed his example. 10 Hildegarde Hawthorne's comment can sum up the matter; she writes: "For very soon after leaving college [Hawthorne] ... changed the spelling of the name, finding in some of his researches into family history that it had been spelled with the "w" in England, and ring that the pronunciation was becoming vitiated to match the spelling."" The evidence would seem to show that the pronunciation had already, by Nathaniel Hawthorne's time, become "vitiated." But his conscious moves for the change may well have been as Hildegarde Hawthorne suggests. What the change may suggest about Hawthorne's interest in the past, and his identification with the past, is a matter for speculation.

One might stop here, except that I am not sure that Hawthorne's effort to change the pronunciation of his name has even yet met universal success. Visiting, a year or so ago, what is called in Salem The House of the Seven Gables, I unmistakably heard the girls who conducted the guided tours say, in their flat eastern Massachusetts accent, "Hathorne."


1. The Hawthornes ( New York, 1951), p. 12. In a letter to Norman Holmes Pearson S. Milburn wrote that the first Hawthorne who came to America retained the "w." The point is not critical. John Hathorne clearly had dropped the "w." The spelling of the shrub, by the way, had gone through its own variations: for the 16th and 17th centuries the O.E.D lists haithorne, haythorne, and `hathorn.

2. Norman Holmes Pearson, in a note to me, states that Richard Manning had informed him that when Nathaniel Hawthorne's mother was referred to, the name was pronounced "Harthorne." But whatever the pronunciation had been, Nathaniel Hawthorne's intention seems clear enough. He would not have added a "w" if he had wanted to retain an "r" sound.

3. Inward Sky ( Durham 1962 ), P. 90.

4. Hawthorne and His Wife (Boston, 18$8),I, 104.

5. Ibid., p . 115.

6. B. W. Labaree, and B. B. Cohen, "Hawthorne at the Essex Institute," Essex Institute. Historical Collections, XCIV (July 1958 ), 304.

7. Nathaniel Hawthorne ( New Haven, 1938 ), p. I .

8. Marion Kesselring, Hawthorne's Reading, 1828-1850 ( New York, 1949), frontispiece.

9. Hawthorne and His Wife, I, 138, 140, 142.

10. The Hawthornes, p. 255.

11. The Romantic Rebel (New York, 1932), p. 73.




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