Concerning the Extra “We"

When I was six years old, a new sign sprang up on Highway 36 just before the turnoff to my home town.  There had always been a sign announcing the direction and the distance to a rural village we traveled through once a week on our way to Superior: “Lovell 7 Via County Road.”  But now there was another sign, larger and more elaborate, pointing the way to something called Lovewell Reservoir, which lay a mile or two farther up that same bumpy road that made your teeth rattle when you drove down it.  It seemed awfully coincidental that there should be two places situated so close together with almost, but not quite, the same name.

As long as I can remember, the name of the town and its pioneer namesake was always pronounced as if spelled Lovell, although people sometimes did throw in that extra half-syllable when talking about the reservoir, as if the town and the lake were named after different people.  As I delved into his story a few years back, it became apparent that Thomas Lovewell very often took pains to pronounce both syllables distinctly, because his surname is always spelled correctly in census records, and almost always on his Army forms.  His eldest daughter must have taken careful pronunciation to extremes because her name is rendered as “Julia Love Well” on her marriage record.  Although maps showing the location of Lovewell’s Fight often denote the body of water as “Lovel’s Pond,” it’s clear from the ballads sung about Thomas Lovewell’s great-great-grandfather, that Captain John Lovewell’s  family name was also pronounced with two distinct syllables.  “Of worthy Captain Lovell, I purpose now to sing…” simply can’t be sung.   

Despite the existence of generations of Lovell ancestors in England, I am told that the original English surname was actually Lovewell, a compound word which became contracted the way English compound words sometimes do, viz. ha’penny and ne’er-do-well.  After Robert Lovell brought his family to America, the family apparently wanted their half-syllable back, perhaps a way of cutting ties with Lovell family members involved in an English Civil War which was brewing about that time.  It’s only a guess.  Maybe it was just a way of signalling that they were making a new start.  In any case, Robert Lovell’s descendants in America are the Lovewells, and they have often had to fight tooth and nail for that extra “we,” and sometimes for the final “l” as well.

When Washington County Deputy Sheriff Charles Murdock cautiously tiptoed into Republic County during the height of Indian troubles in 1869, he penned a news item about a stop at “Lovel’s at White Rock.”  Excelsior colonists who ran into Thomas Lovewell in Jewell County earlier that spring wrote the folks back in New York that “deliverance came in the shape of an old frontier man, Lovel by name.”

And it wasn’t just strangers who sometimes misspelled the family name.  Forty-five years after Thomas Lovewell’s brother Christopher fell to enemy fire at Vicksburg, his widow wrote the Pension Bureau that she wished to apply “for Pension as widow of Christopher W Lovel.”  She may be forgiven for the lapse concerning her first husband.  By that time, Martha Jane Honts Lovewell Singleton Stone had a lifetime of memories competing for her attention. 

© Dale Switzer 2023