Leathem Family Website

What's in a Name?

"The name Leathem is of English origin, and means 'the slope land', from the two old English words - Llith, a slope of hillside and hamm, an enclosure or piece of land. It is not in origin a variant of Latham, a word of Viking origin meaning 'at the barns', from the old Norse Llatha, a barn, but some confusion between the two has always existed."

G. Healey-Irish and Reference Librarian
Linen Hall Library - 20 September 1985

In examining various records on my branch of the family, the oldest spelling found was Leathen, the next generation used Leathem and half of the following generation changed to Latham contributing to the confusion noted above.  However, in looking at British, Irish and American records numerous variant spellings are apparent.

On of the most compelling reasons why there are not more people using Leathem, Leatham or similar spellings becomes evident when you look into the records from the 1800s.  Variant spellings abound.  In many instances the ancestors who were emigrating to the New World or elsewhere had the spelling of their surnames changed to the more common and similar sounding, Latham by immigration personnel.    Too, illiteracy often contributed to approximate spelling of the name by well meaning but poorly informed public record keepers, census takers et al.  Even where literacy or accuracy were not issues, sectarian differences sometimes resulted in surname spelling differences.

We have been asked, several times now, if there is a Leathem Coat of Arms.  The technically correct answer is no. There are no family crests that cover all with a certain surname.  Coats of Arms historically have been granted to individuals and, in some instances to their direct lineage. Yes, there was a Coat of Arms that was granted to a "Lathom" many centuries ago.  Commercially, it is offered for those whose name is Latham, Leathem or many variants seeking to display the decorative symbolism that it represents.

Most of us enjoy the labels and symbols that we associate with our flags, favorite sports teams, political parties, religious affiliations, corporate or social groups.  Certainly, the same is true of our family surnames.  As an artist myself, I am an admirer of the humble monks and artisans who created the beautiful calligraphy, illuminations and heraldry that came out of the medieval period.  It is to be enjoyed.  However, the divine right of kings has long since past and the use, or possible misuse, of heraldry is more a matter of decorative and personal preference.

Americans, although we typically hold the countries of our family origins in special affection, do not subscribe to a social contract that allows for the special rights, privileges and prerogatives given to royalty and nobility.  In the United States, and probably the Republic of Ireland, you are free to use any Coat of Arms without regard to a heraldic authority.  If you or your country's laws hold royalty and nobility and their privileges in special respect, you should not.

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