The Milam Name

The Ancestral Milam Names in Great Britian and France

The oldest known record of a MILAM in England is from the County of Norfolk: the 1375 AD Will of George de Mileham. In 1066 William "the Conquerer", Duke of Normany, lead an army of Normans to victory over the Anglo-Saxon forces of Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings in what has become known as the Norman Conquest of England - and he brought the French language to England. The translation of de from French is of in English. So George de Mileham literally meant George of Mileham which indeed was, and is, a village in Norfolk County.

King William ordered the compilation of the Domesday Book (link), a survey listing all the land-holdings in England along with their pre-Conquest and current holders. Mileham is listed in The Doomsday Book of 1086 when King William was the Tenant-in-Chief, see here (link). Its population of 45 households was described as "very large" and its total tax of 6.3 geld units "quite large". You may read more about Mileham village and the ruins of its Norman Castle (1100 AD) here (link) .

Mileham Village Sign
Mileham Village Sign: The Castle was built in 1100 AD in the Norman style.

The village name Mileham itself is even older, originally of Anglo-Saxon origin and is unique within the British Isles, not found elsewhere. British linguistic authorities agree that English names ending in -ham are of Anglo-Saxon origin. ham literally meant settlement and hamlet meant small settlement. Mileham and its alternates i. e. Milam, Millam, Mylam, Milum, Millum, Mylum, Milom, etc. simply meant mill hamlet. The earliest of many recorded births I found in Norfolk was a Bridget Mileham in SEP 1568. She was born to a William Mileham. Please see my maps of early British births here (link) .

About 15% of Norfolks' male population is R1b-U152 like the Virginia Milams so I had high hopes we would find our ancestors there when we tested the Y-DNA of 27 British men. However the MILAM men from Norfolk, and the adjacent Suffolk County, whose Y-DNA our FTDNA Milam Surname Project tested were haplogroup R1b-U106>Z326 - an entirely different haplogroup from the Virginia Milams. They all spelled their surname: Mileham.

In addition to Mileham in Norfolk, there is the village of Millom in historic Cumberland County in northwest England. The name Millom however is said to be of Norse origin. Historically the spelling of Millom was also written Millam, Milham and Millum.The earliest MILAM births in England were in fact recorded in Cumberland County. The earliest was Edmund Millam in JAN 1539 as you can see on the map I referenced above. He was born to a Johnis Millam. Since I first wrote this paragraph, I undertook extensive research on the Millam / Milham of Cumberland who were very successful ship masters and Virginia merchants in the early 1700s. Read what I learned about these Millam mariners and their voyages to Virginia here (link) .

About 15% of the male population of Cumberland is R1b-U152. Unfortunately, our FTDNA Milam Surname Project was not able to find an address for a MILAM man in online telephone directories so we weren't able to Y-DNA test a man from this county. You may read more about its Millom or Millum Castle here (link) .

Millum Castle, also spelled at times Millam, Milham and Millom. Itching 1739
Millum Castle itching

Interestingly, across the English Channel from the County Kent is the village of Millam in the Nord-Pas de Calais region of France equidistant between Calais and Dunkirk. About 19% of the population is genetically Rib-U152 like the Virginia Milams so it has fascinated me.

The name Millam is unique in France to this one location; place names in this region are mostly of Flemish origin.  It is possible that some Millam familes found in England today have their origin in migration from this region of France in medieval times because it was an area of both civil and religious conflict.  In particular, the Protestant Huguenots left this region because of persecution from the sixteenth century onward.  

By 1600 MILAMs were living in seven counties in England: Cumberland, Norfolk, Berkshire, Surrey, Sussex, Kent and York as you may see on the birth map by extending the date to 1600 and beyond. Recent Y-DNA testing of 27 British men demonstrates that they were from five genetically distinct families. However, none were matches with our Virginia Milam haplogroup which is R-U152>L2>Z367>L20>CTS9733>S10068>BY33970.

For details on our FTDNA Milam Surname Project's Y-DNA testing of 55 American and 28 British men please see Milam Genetic Genealogy here (link).

The Milam Name in Virginia

The oldest Virginia spelling of Thomas Milam’s surname was Mylam which is found in Orange County Court Order Book 1, page 285, dated 24 March 1737/1738 (link) which you may view here (link) . The earliest Virginia record of a Milam writing his own name occured on 26 August 1760 when Thomas Milam's son, Benjamin, witnessed Thomas' land warrant and spelled his name - Millam - as you may read here (link). [446] Also notice that that Thomas signed with his mark "TM" because he, like John Milam Sr, was illiterate.

Benjamin Millam's Signature on Thomas Milam's land warrant to the future Col John Green, 26 AUG 1760
Thomas MIlam 1760 Warrant

The images of the spelling of the Milam name at the top of this page are from 18th century court records of Orange County, Culpeper County and Bedford County in the Colony and Dominion of Virginia. The records concern my oldest known ancestor, Thomas Mylam, and his sons. The seven spellings of Milam represent different phonetic expressions of the name’s sound written by court clerks, sometimes the same clerk: Mylam, Mylum, Milam, Milum, Millam, Millim and Mileham. There is an eighth that I have seen: Milom. Fifty years later in March 1787, Bedford County Deed Book 8, pages 59 and 60, has an indenture (link) involving Thomas’ eldest son, William, and his youngest son, Rush, in which the Clerk used three different spellings: most frequently Mileham but also Milam and Millam. I found the use of the Mileham spelling quite unusual since I hadn’t previously encountered it in Bedford County where Thomas and his sons had lived since 1761.

Reviewing Bedford County court records, Thomas’ surname initially was spelled Millim and Milum then rather consistently as Milam for two decades. Such variation in spelling was the fickleness of the Clerk of Courts if one was not of the Gentry class (link) and couldn't spell one's own name. However it should be noted that during the eighteenth century the spelling of the English language in general was not well codified. After the eighteenth century, "Milam" increasingly became the most common spelling as you may see on this graph of the frequency of useage of "Milam", "Mileham", "Milum" and "Millam" in English language books over time.

Graph of Useage of Milam

A Brief History of American English Spelling

A brief history of English dictionaries may help put this in context. English Schoolmaster Robert Cawley’s Table Alphabeticall, published in 1604, was the first exclusively English "dictionary" but contained only 2,449 words and no definitions. The spelling of English words did not begin to become standardized until Samuel Johnson published A Dictionary of the English Language in April 1755. The first edition of his dictionary contained 42,773 words. An important innovation of Johnson's was to illustrate the meanings of words by literary quotation of which there are said to be 114,000. The authors most frequently cited by Johnson were Shakespeare, Milton and Dryden. In addition, Johnson added notes on a word's usage rather than being simply descriptive.

In an effort to remedy the confusion of English spelling, Benjamin Franklin of Philadelphia in 1768 developed A Scheme for a New Alphabet and a Reformed Mode of Spelling to simplify and regularize the spelling of English. His scheme deleted the letters c, j, q, w, x, and y, which he thought were redundant and proposed six new letters for sounds which were not uniquely represented by a single letter. This scheme found little support. Now it can be seen as part of a broader effort to establish a uniquely American culture.

In 1783 Noah Webster, an American lawyer, editor and educator, began publishing his three volume compendium, the Grammatical Institute of the English Language including The American Spelling Book - the famous "Blue-Backed Speller" - that went on to sell over 100 million copies. It reflected his principle that spelling, grammar and usage should be based on the living, spoken language. He complained that the English language had been corrupted by the British aristocracy, which had a preference for using certain French and Latin words. Over the ensuing years, he changed the spelling of words so they became "Americanized". He chose s over c in words like defense; he changed the re to er in words like center; he dropped one of the l s in traveler. For a time he kept the u in words like colour or favour but in later editions he dropped the u. For the next one hundred years, Webster's books taught children how to read, spell and pronounce words. In 1807, Webster began work on his landmark American Dictionary of the English Language, first published in 1828. It contained 70,000 words. Some 12,000 had never appeared in a published dictionary before, adding American words like skunk and squash. He was seventy years of age at the time. Subsequently he led the publication of yet a second edition in 1840.

Thus toward the end of the 18th century, the spelling of our name became more or less standardized as "Milam". However, if you are a Milam, you no doubt had the experience of having your name spelled various ways especially the replacing of the i with y or the a with u. Alas, such is the sound of our name and the vagaries of the English language.

Since the spelling of the "Milam" name often varies even within a single document, I will sometimes revert to the generic "Milam" rather than using the various spellings. I use MILAM to indicated multiple possible spellings.


NOTE TO READERS: All the words in bold type face are links to images, maps or word definitions in the Glossary.The Citations and Glossary are available under the Resources tab or here (link) .


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