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Mason

Mason

From FHM issue 156

What’s in a name: Mason

The surname Mason is the 81st most common in England and Wales. This is hardly surprising, as it is a metonymic or occupational surname, denoting someone who was a stone mason. Not only were there a lot of masons about in Medieval England, building castles, churches and so forth, but the occupation was a highly skilled and greatly respected one, so that it became an hereditary surname is hardly surprising.

          While a lot of nonsense is talked about freemasonry and its origins, the fact remains that many skills and secrets were passed down from one generation of masons to the next, and their ability to create sacred spaces such as cathedrals set them apart from ordinary people.

The surname was spelled in a variety of ways in the past, such as John Macun in 1130, Ace le Mazun in 1193, Richard Machun in the 1100s, Roger le Mason in 1200 and so on. All come from the Old French word for mason, maçon.

Interesting Masons include James Mason (1779–1827) who was a supporter of Charles James Fox in the campaign to abolish slavery and liberate Catholics from the penal laws, and Sir John Mason (1503–1566), who attended Oxford university and worked his way up to become a royal ambassador and Chancellor of Oxford University – which was not bad considering his father was a cowherd from Abingdon!

          The arms shown here are Or, a lion rampant with two heads Azure, with the crest A mermaid with comb and glass, Proper. They are the arms of the Masons of Hunningford, County Huntingdon. They are also recorded as the arms of the Masons of Cuckney, Nottinghamshire, and of the Masons of Sion, Middlesex, and their descendants the Masonbrook. County Galway. The latter were represented in the 19th century by Henry Monck Mason, a lieutenant colonel in the Royal Engineers: the latter used the motto Dum spiro spero.      

          There are a number of families of Mason whose arms include lions – two lions, two lions’ heads, or other double-headed lions of this ilk. The double-headed lion has a pedigree stretching back to Aker, the double-headed Egyptian lion god of the horizon – his two heads were for looking up to the sky and down to the underworld simultaneously. The surname Mason is an occupational one for a stone mason, and the craft of masonry was certainly held to have derived from the ancient Egyptians, so the double-headed lion might be some allusion to this. Mermaids appear more commonly in coats of arms, and will often denote some nautical connection.

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