From FHM issue 141
What's in a name? Parker
Although the etymology of the surname ‘Parker’ stems from the Old French term for ‘parquer’, ‘parchier’, meaning ‘keeper of the park’, it is generally considered to be of English origin. The name most likely arrived in England with the Norman Conquest, though it is quite possible that it was used prior to 1066. It is thought that the French word actually derives from a Germanic original, meaning ‘a park, enclosure, or thinly wooded land kept for beasts of the chase’.
During medieval times, the nickname ‘parker’ was given to English gamekeepers, thus continuing the association with outdoor public green areas. Several surnames are related to ‘Parker’ including Park, Parke, Parks and Parkes. These are, strictly speaking, place names adapted for people who ‘dwelled in parks’ but it is equally fair to say that they evolved as occupational names of those who worked within parks. Parkman, Parkhill, Parkhurst, Parkhouse, Parkerhouse and Duparc are other variations of the surname, the latter meaning ‘of the park’.
The first reference to the surname Parker is in 1086, when the Domesday Book records where one Anschetel Parcher is listed, living in Somerset. Indeed, the majority of Parkers seem to have originated from the south of England. It is now estimated that there are 72,000 Parkers in the United Kingdom – a significant rise from the 57,000 recorded on the 1881 census. It is currently the 49th most popular surname in the UK and – like Lady Penelope’s butler – there are 83 people that have it as their first name as well.
Interestingly, while there is a town called Parkerview in Canada, places called Parker Hill, Parker Range and Parker Point in Australia, and ten Parker-named towns in the US, there are no cities or major geographical features known as Parker in the UK.
There are, however, several historical references to figures named Parker, many of whom have been portrayed rather negatively for their actions. Most of us are aware of the colloquial term ‘nosey parker’ – meaning someone who cannot mind their own business. It was first used by critics in the 16th century who felt that Matthew Parker, the Archbishop of Canterbury under Queen Elizabeth I, was becoming too involved in church matters that did not concern him. The term remains a derogative accusation today.
Another historical Parker who bought little glory to his name was the one man who could have prevented the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Halfway through the evening’s performance at Ford’s Theatre, John Parker, an alcoholic policeman who was supposed to be on guard outside the president’s box to get a drink. The rest, as they say, is history.
Furthermore, it was the act of ignoring British Admiral Sir Hyde Parker’s withdrawal signal to the Baltic Fleet during the 1801 Battle of Copenhagen that won Nelson the entire battle. Being his subordinate and not wanting to disobey Parker, Nelson acted on his initiative by putting the telescope to his blind eye so that he could honestly claim he had not received Parker’s order. He then went on fighting and subsequently finished with victory.
However, fear not Parkers! There have been positive outcomes from your possible ancestor’s actions! Comanche leader, Quanah Parker, led a year-long Texas rebellion of 700 warriors against the full might of the US cavalry before agreeing to settle on a reservation in 1875. He went on to become a powerful mediator between Native Americans and whites, spending his last 30 years as a successful businessman while still retaining his Indian culture and beliefs. Other profiting Parkers include George who established Parker Pens in 1891 and the Parker brothers who have published over 1800 board games, the most popular of which being well-loved monopoly.
Another George Parker, this time the 2nd Earl of Macclesfield (and son of Thomas Parker whose family crest this was), concentrated his talents on making influential astronomical observations. Despite being a member of parliament, he was not much interested in 18th century politics. He was, however, prominent in effecting the changeover to the Gregorian calendar which came into effect in 1752. Unfortunately his actions in this matter were somewhat unpopular at the time as people generally felt that he had robbed them of eleven days.
More modern Parkers have also brought glory to the name. Sarah Jessica shot to fame in string of likeable eighties films before embarking on her signature role as Carrie in the hit US show Sex and the City. Successful Parkers in sport include Sonny who plays rugby for Wales and Scott, who plays midfield for Newcastle football club. Jazz saxophonist Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker is commonly considered one of the best jazz musicians, ranked alongside Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis. Countless critics, fans and musicians alike deem him to be the greatest saxophonist of all time.
Searching for Parkers
As with many of the most popular names in the UK, there is unfortunately no group for Parker research within the Guild of One-Name Studies group. There are however other groups that are engaging in ground-breaking research into the name. The Surname Project at DNA heritage (at http://nhn.ou.edu/~parker/Genealogy/DNA/index.html) was set up by one Greg Parker to trace DNA links between people with his name and the website leads you through how to match markers on your own profiles with those that have been uploaded.
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