Surname Evolution: Dennies v. Dennis

The records have various spellings of my family name. Is there a genuine difference? In some cases, such as Denys, Dennes, and Denniss, the variants are simply quirky spellings, and Damos is clearly a mistranscription of difficult handwriting. However, the two main variants Dennis and Dennies appear to reflect a real change in pronunciation.

In original records from Leicestershire and Derbyshire, for example the 1851 census for Bagworth and the 1841 census for Moira, Dennies is used (though in Oakthorpe 1841 Dennis). This, I believe reflects pronunciation like “Denn-ease“. When I was introduced to a new manager, who was from the Liverpool area, he used this Denn-ease pronunciation, until corrected. There are regional variations in pronunciation, for example in the Stoke-on-Trent area the “e” is pronounced by many as “a”, so “Dannis“. A similar variant can occur in Northern Ireland, and, though the spelling would be Dennis today, this might have been written down by a Victorian census enumerator as Dannis.

The Dennies – Dennis evolution is recorded in the Probate Calendar entry of 28 June 1877: “The Will of William Dennis otherwise Dennies …”.

So, is it correct to transcribe Dennies to Dennis? Sure, sticking to a single spelling is neater, and there are contemporaneous examples of both variants, but the answer is probably not, if indeed it does reflect a real difference in pronunciation and therefore the identity of the people concerned.

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