November 27 – Happy Birthday, Frederic Crowninshield

Posted on November 27, 2018

Today's famous birthday was born on this date in 1845 into a wealthy and important Bostonian family. Frederic Crowninshield graduated from Harvard and became an artist, illustrator, and art teacher. When he was older, he became the first president of the National Society of Mural Painters and, later, president of the Fine Arts Federation and director of the American Academy in Rome. 

One thing I find interesting about this artist is his name. Crowninshield, of course, is three words strung together in one name: Crown In Shield. I wondered how such a name came to exist!

It turns out that a Danish man named Johann Caspar Richter moved to a little Germany village, and there he married and started a family. The village they lived in was named Kronenschieldt (Crowninshield), and I gather that Johann decided to add the town's name to his own, using the German word "von" (of/from), to seem more grand:
Johann Caspar Richter von Kronenschieldt

(Many noble Germans had and still have "von" and then a town or city name at the end of their surnames, but in early modern times, many commoners adopted the practice as well.)

Johann also invented a coat of arms that would go with that name. It of course featured a crown on a shield! 

The important thing to remember here is that he designed this coat of arms out of nowhere - by which I mean that he just sat down and invented it to make the family seem more important than it was. 

(Most coats of arms used then had long family histories going back many centuries. But of course, ultimately, they were ALL made up to make families seem grand!)

One of Johann's sons was Johannes Caspar Richter von Kronenschieldt. It was he who traveled to Boston, in what was then the colony of Massachusetts, and rejiggered his name into an English version of the looooonnng Germanic name:
John Caspar Crowninshield

Note that Richter, the original last name of the Danish immigrant to Germany, is now lost!

That move and name change were way back in the late 1600s, but the Crowninshield name continues on today.

In honor of Frederick Crowninshield's ancestors, you might want to invent your own coat of arms.

Here are a few more resources for this project. 

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