The Meaning of the Belcher Place Name

Bel * cher

("Good * Cheer")

   According to a book of Kentucky place names, the town of Belcher, Kentucky was named for the prominent Belcher family.  The family name of Belcher is a historic one in England and America.  There are many thousands of individuals named Belcher throughout the world.  Of these, a large number are residents of Great Britain, but most live in the United States of America.

    Although the family name of Belcher is a prominent one in English and American history, it is actually Old French in origin.   The ancestor of the Belcher family came to England from France, as part of William the Conqueror's army that came to England in the Norman Conquest of 1066 A.D.  This Belcher ancestor's name, as listed on "The Roll of the Battle Abbey" (the original list of those who came to England with William the Conqueror), was Belesur.   Belesur is believed to have come from Bellasis (near Paris, France).  Belesur's name can be defined from the meanings of the words that comprise it:

bel (derived from the Old French) beautiful or fine
sur (derived from the Old French) sir; a man of authority; a master or lord

    Because the English language (as we know it) was forming and taking shape in medieval England after the Norman Conquest, sur, sir, sire, ser, sere, schere, and scher were variant spellings of the word we know today as sir.  Thus, today, the Belcher ancestor's name might be spelled with the two syllables "Bel" and "Sir" -- Belsir.

    According to Henry Barber, British Family Names: Their Origin and Meaning (1894), the name Belesur became Belcher, which is now the most common spelling of the name.  The first person documented as using this spelling was Ralph de Belcher, who was a witness to a deed in 1176 in Staffordshire, England.  Because the English language was forming and taking shape during the medieval era, slight variations occur in the early records in the spelling of the name.  Some examples are:  Richard Belechere, who resided in Gloucester County, England about 1273; John Belsire (1273) of Kent County, England; Leonard Belshyre, a squire of Oxford in 1553; William Belsher, who was Sheriff of Bristol, England in 1562; and Edmund Belchier (also listed as Edmund Belcher), who died in Northamptonshire, England in 1529.  Governor Jonathan Belcher (1682-1757), who was very proud of the family name and had researched the matter, believed that "Belcher" was the most correct and honorable spelling of the name.

    Therefore, the surname (family name) of Belcher has its roots in medieval England, and, before that, in France.  The name Belcher is composed of two syllables:  "Bel" and "cher".  In Old French, Bel meant "beautiful or fine."  The Middle English word cher (also derived from the Old French) meant an "an expression on the face"; in Middle English, this word was also spelled chere (as in Richard Belechere).  A person's mood, especially gladness or joyfulness, as expressed on a person's countenance or face, was called chere or cher, the word we know today as cheerCheer denotes gladness or joy.   Cheer was also spelled scher, shere, or chire (which is very similar to some of the variant spellings of sir or sur, as in Belesur).  When spelled cher or chere, the word also referred to good hospitality (such as one would find on the estate of a sir, knight, or gentleman).  Thus, the Belcher name refers to a beautiful or fine expression on the face, hospitality, or, in summary, "good cheer."

    The Belcher name is sometimes described as meaning "beautiful dear or beloved," because in modern French, the word cher refers to "dear" or "beloved."  However, a meaning more consistent with the name's Old French origins is "good cheer."  Thus, according to William Arthur, An Etymological Dictionary of Family and Christian Names (1857), the surname of Belcher means "good cheer".

    Finally, it should perhaps be noted that the family name of Belcher has no connection to the word "belch," which is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word bealcan.  The family name of Bel-cher, as we have seen, means "good cheer" and is derived from the name of the original ancestor Belesur, which is Old French (not Anglo-Saxon) in origin.  The family name of Belcher is also divided into the different two syllables of:  "Bel" and "cher."  By contrast, the word "belch" is derived from the language of the Saxons (not Old French), has an entirely different meaning, and is composed of just one, undivided syllable: "belch."  (The Saxons were a Germanic people that invaded and moved to England several hundred years before the Norman Conquest and Belesur's arrival in England).  Therefore, etymologically speaking, there is no connection between the family name "Bel-cher" and the Saxon-derived word "belch."  (Etymology is the study of the origins and history of words.)


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