Friday, March 27, 2009

Beenanawell Gibbs

A few questions about this gravestone:

1) Is this baby's name really "Beenanawell"?*

2) What is the origin of the name "Beenanawell"?

3) Is it pronounced bee-NAN-uh-well or buh-NAN-uh-well or some other way?

I have no answers, but I do know this: Beenanawell Gibbs joins Godbert Godbertson, Wigglesworth Switser, and Orange Wedge on my list of all-time favorite New England names.

You can visit Beenanawell in the Newport Common Burying Ground in Newport, RI.

*There's a man named Benanawell Bradford who lived in Michigan in the 19th century — he is sometimes listed as "Benamuel." I've found several other Benamuels, though none in the Bible. Did they mean ben Samuel? The closest in the KJV is Ben-ammi, Lot's son/grandson. The name translates as "child of incest." 


Robert J. said...

How about Benanuel? 1770 entries in Google, thought I don't know its origin.

Robert J. said...

There are also a few double-n Bennanuels, with one page suggesting -- on what grounds I don't know -- that it's a version of Bennaniah (which appears in 1 Kings).

Caitlin GD Hopkins said...

Good catch.

I certainly don't know enough about Hebrew to know whether Benanuel might be linguistically related to Bennaniah.

Strangely enough, I can't find anyone named "Bennaniah" or "Benaniah" in the KJV. I Googled "Benaniah" and found pages directing me to 2 Samuel 23:20-1 and 1 Kings 2:25-35, but when I look those verses up here and here, all I'm seeing is "Benaiah."

Is this a translation issue? A stuttering issue? Am I just losing my mind? Lots of people on the internet seem to think there's a guy named "Benaniah" or "Bennaniah" in 2 Samuel or 1 Kings, but I just can't find him.

Robert J. said...

Pure exploratory speculation follows.

"Benanuel" in whatever form is clearly a pretty rare name, and one of the people who accounts for most of the Google hits is one Benanuel Bowers, who married the neice of Henry Dunster, the first president of Harvard College. (So Benanuel has a connection to a Hebrew-literate family.) Benanuel was the son of Lincolnshire immigrant George Bowers who settled in Cambridge. In addition to Benanuel, he named one of his other sons Jerathmeel, which is another pretty obscure Hebrew name for (among other things) a particular arch-angel. So this Bowers family seems to have a penchant for unusual Hebrew nomenclature, and so may well have been using unusual sources, doing their own transliterating, etc. (George's girls were named Patience and Silence.)

(And to my delight, I just realized my own Benanuel-connection: Jerathmeel Bowers, buried in Groton, is my 9th-great grandfather, making old Benanuel Bowers my uncle.)

Caitlin GD Hopkins said...

One of these days, we will figure out how you are related to Pete. I have no doubt that you are some kind of cousins.

Your speculations seem reasonable to me. If his father was doing his own translation/transcription, "Benanuel" could very well be an unusual variant of Benaiah (or another name) or a slight error in translation.

It seems like it might be an error — I've found several modern books and sermons that talk about Benaniah when they make reference to the stories about Benaiah found in 2 Samuel and 1 Kings. The extra syllable makes sense if you are used to talking about Jedidiah, Hezekiah, Amariah, and all of those other 4-syllable -iahs. Though, I guess there are plenty of 3-syllable -iahs too: Uriah, Josiah, Beriah, etc.

"Benanuel" could be the result of a similar slight error/variation of Benaiah, Ben-ammi, "son of Samuel," etc.

It seems plausible that George Bowers made a small error (or chose a less common way of interpreting a Hebrew name), thus inventing a new name that sounded Bible-y enough to be copied by a few others, even though it isn't found in published translations of the Bible.

Robert J. said...

"One of these days, we will figure out how you are related to Pete."

This is my immigrant list, although I haven't worked on it in a long time:

If someone in his line is on that list then that's the link (between us and a few million other people, perhaps).

Caitlin GD Hopkins said...

Hmm, I don't see any names I recognize, but I am also just starting this process.

Most of the Hopkins ancestors I've tracked so far are from Rhode Island, Plymouth, or Taunton/Attleboro, MA.

The Plymouth/Taunton/Attleboro last names include:
Deane, Leonard, Hodges, Carpenter, Follett

Rhode Islanders:
Weaver, Coggeshall, Jenckes, Comstock, Fisk, Sprague, Arnold

Shimshonit said...

Benanuel in Hebrew (beineinu El) might translate as "God is between us." Since "Ya" and "El" are two of the many names of God in Hebrew, Benaniah would mean the same thing.

Jerathmeel sounds like a slightly altered version of Yerachmiel, meaning "God will comfort me." I know a family here in Israel whose late father was named that, and who is naming the next generation of baby boys that name (in tandem with something else a little more common and wieldy).

Very cool blog. You don't meet people interested in the art and history of tombstones and the people they commemorate every day.