The name, Scalf, had its origin three centuries ago from a morass of misspellings, mispronunciations, illegible documents, and phonetic renderings. In the middle of the Seventeenth Century we find these names from which the present day spelling evolved: Scarfe, Scafe, Scarge, Scape, Calfe. As the decades passed other renderings of Calf, Scaff, Scaf, Sarlf, Scaife, Calif, Calef, Scapp, Scag, Scapp, Scalp, Sculf, Sealf, Shelp, were added.
Hereditary surnames evolved from various sources, one of which was place names. If we looked no farther than English place names for the origin of the name Scalf it would be easy to fall into assumptive error. Scalford is the name of a place in Leicestershire, England, and, like nearly all English towns and villages, no doubt gave its name to a number of families who lived at or near there, or who came from Scalford. The place is an ancient one and is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Scaldeford. The meaning of the name is "shallow ford" from the Old English "skaeld" (shallow) and "ford" (a place where water may be crossed on foot). From Scalford the name might easily have been shortened to Scalf, since there were no set rules for spelling, especially the spelling of surnames, at the time hereditary family names were developing. Any firm conclusion that the name Scalf evolved from Scaldeford is based upon the assumption that the name is of Old English origin. This assumption has been found to be untenable in the light of research.
All the names first mentioned evolved up out of the dim past, fathered by old Norse and Anglo-Saxon patronyms. There is a Scandinavian family name, Scelf, meaning "bundle." The "1" seems to be almost silent and the "c" has an "h" sound, making the pronunciation in English something similar to the word "shef." There is the old Norse name, Skarfr, meaning "cormorant," which was corrupted to Scarfe, meaning "ravenous." Other old Norse names that were corrupted in the centuries were Skeifr, and Skali.
Seeming to bolster a theory held by some students of the surname Scalf that it was of Italian origin are the number of family names with similar spellings in Northern Italy. Near Genoa is the Scalfi family that has an oral history of two centuries. The names of Scala, Scaligeri, Scalfaro, Scalfarotto are numerous in Lombardy. However, it is possible to take any Italian surnames and Anglicize them to names in every day use in America. There is no evidence of any kind that the modern American Scalf evolved from the Italian despite the indicative spellings.
It has been determined that there is no known connection between
the Scalf and the Scaife families in America. The latter originated in England
and the members of the family later became New England industrialists and
prominent churchmen. Scaife and Scarfe are both of Norse origin.
The Scarffe family has been seated in the Isle of Man for centuries with a definite indication of its Norse origin. Those who migrated to America continue the spelling in many instances, especially if the migration was fairly recent. However, in the mid-Seventeenth Century there were British families spelling the name Scarfe. We have documentary evidence that the name Scalf used in America today evolved from Scarffe and Scarfe.
Scarffe is an ancient name, being found not only on the Isle of Man but is of long standing in the North and east Ridings of Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Norfolk. There it was often confused with Scarth. An early mention of the name is that of Hugh Scarffe, fisherman and freeman of York, whose name is found in 1300 A.D. Thomas Scarf appears in Yorkshire in 1563 and a few Yorkshire wills bear the name. John Scarf, (a common popular rendering, the first name numerous with Scarfe and even Scalf today) is mentioned on the church registry in 1602 for Pocklington between York and Hull as having repaired the ducking stool.
Scarffe has been peculiar to the Isle of Man for centuries, almost confined to the Parish of Lonan. Originally, or at least as early as 1400 A.D. the name was Skerffe to which was often rendered as McSkerffe. By 1500 A.D. the McSkerffes had become the largest landowners in the Parish of Lonan. Here on the Isle of Man there seems to have been a popular and legal renderings of the name for we find Skerrow and other variations.
The Isle of Man, area 227 square miles and in 1960 with a population of slightly less than 50,000, is in the Irish Sea, 20 miles from Scotland and 30 miles from Cumberland. The present day capital is Douglas. The island has its own laws and a Lieutenant Governor, appointed by the English Crown. In the first millennium Anno Domino the language was practically identical with Irish Gaelic but in the Ninth Century the raiding Vikings found the island, effected settlements and by the Tenth Century these old Norsemen had the island firmly under the control of the Scandinavian kings residing at Dublin. In 1266 A.D. the island was ceded by Norway to Scotland but suzerainty shifted to the English by the end of the Fourteenth Century.
One writer has found that the Isle of Man surnames in local use today are laden with nine percent purely Scandinavian surnames and seven percent partly so. The Scandinavian names have undergone much corruption and are now giving away to English. The Old Norse word for cormorant was "skarfe" and when the use of surnames became common because they were imposed by English law the name Scarffe, and in many cases Scarfe and Scarf, was given to a person or families who caught and sold cormorants since these large sea fowls that frequent the coast of England have long been esteemed for food by the northern islanders.
The British Isles are tightly confined by geography and the Scarffes had by the Sixteenth Century appeared in not only the shires of Lincoln, York and Norfolk but in Wales. The Scarffes, having suddenly flowered into an established family in Wales, as suddenly disappeared there. The family, however, continued to exist in England, does so even today, as well as on the Isle of Man. There seemed to exist a knowledge of each other between the English Scarffes and the Manx Scarffes, indicating that the branches had the same generic roots in history.
W.W. Gill, in his THIRD MANX SCRAPBOOK, describes the Scarffe
coat of arms: "A Chetham library manuscript gives sable, an eagle displayed
argent, armed and crowned or in the north of England and the Isle of Man the
shag or cormorant. Properly the green cormorant is called scarf; for example the
Manx name of the shag Rock near Port St. Mary is Creg ny Scarroo and it is
possible that the ambiguous bird of the Scarffe coat was in its original form an
allusion in this sense of the word without at all implying that such is the true
meaning of the surname."
Copyright (C) 1970 by Henry P. Scalf, All Rights Reserved.