What's in a name? You say "Whiteman", I say . . .
- Sharon Grant, Grantshire Genealogy


On the face of it, being presented with a research brief into the WHITEMAN family, things looked pretty straightforward; a good traditional English name. It was already known that John WHITEMAN was a sugarbaker from the admission papers of his son, George, to the Freedom of the City of London in 1798. And a handwritten transcript of extracts from a family bible gave the name of John's wife, Sarah, and their children's names (thoroughly English) and birth dates. I regarded this with some sceptism given that it had no provenance and there was no indication as to when and by whom the original entries had been made. But there were some clues in Bryan Mawer's Sugar Refiners and Sugarbakers Database where a John (or J) WHITEMAN was listed three times.

In locating the baptism records of the children and John's locations in the London Land Tax and other records, details emerged that made me begin to question the Englishness of the family. The doubts started with the close associations of the sugar industry with the German community in London; and my suspicions were confirmed by the discovery that the three youngest children were baptised in the German Church of St George's, Little Alie Street, Whitechapel in 1771, 1772 and 1773. These children were listed in the family bible extracts with exactly the same dates of birth as in the registers; in the former they are named as Ann, Katherine and Thomas, in the latter as Anna Margaretha, Cathrina and Thomas (no change on the last one, then!). The sponsors are littered with German names - KRAMMER/KRAMER, WACKENBARDH and JASPERS. John and Sarah also acted as sponsors on one occasion to a child, the son of Georg Michael KRAMER, "Sugar-Refiner" in 1770; this pre-dates, by a few months, the baptism of the first of their own children at this Church. The Church opened in 1763; it is unknown why John and Sarah started to use this Church some eight years after its opening - seven elder children were baptised at St Andrew's, Holborn and various churches in and around the City of London.

The earliest mention of his occupation as "sugar-refiner" appears in 1767 with his son's baptism at St John Wapping. In 1768 John was listed, again at Nightingale Lane, with Richard WACKENBARTH; presumably they were partners in business. In 1769, at the same address, Richard WACKENBARTH's name is crossed through and there is a description . . . "a Sugar house". In 1777 John is listed alone and there are two entries with the name John WHITEMAN listed together, one with the description "a hou" the other with that of "a Sugr hou". It may be that John was operating the very messy sugar-house from one of the properties and was resident in another property.

Then in 1777 he is described as of St Ann, Blackfriars, sugar baker, in 1778 he is listed in the Fire Insurance Policy Register as a sugar refiner at 235 Upper Thames Street, in 1783 at Addle Hill, sugar baker and in 1787 in Upper Thames Street, sugar baker.

Why would John have such an English surname when he was part of the German community? Time to consult an expert! I turned to Peter Towey, an Anglo-German expert, and asked rather naively: could this be an English family who, because of their close working relations with so many Germans, became germanised in London? Peter dismissed this as unlikely. He concluded that the family were very likely German, and that it was a reasonable assumption that WHITEMAN was an anglicised form of WEITMANN.

The trail was cold . . . then, taking up the challenge and using this German form of the name, I came up with the marriage of a Johann WEIDMANN (spelt with a 'd' rather than a 't') at the church of St Mary Magdalen, Bermondsey on 16 July 1758. Johann was described as of the parish of St Andrew, Holborn. The bride was Sarah BROGAN.

What's more the marriage was by licence and the allegation, dated 13 July 1758, has survived; it makes very interesting reading. John (or Johann) used his English name and signed in English script but this was then crossed through and replaced with his German name, Johann Weidmann, in German script. The amendment was possibly made on legal advice and explains why he used his German name at the marriage some three days later. The document provides absolute proof that John WHITEMAN and JOHANN WEIDMANN are one and the same man. (From the allegation, we now know that John was born in about 1726 and Sarah in about 1736).

It seems likely then that John was using his English name before the marriage; sad to say that, to date, no information has been found for John before 1758.

So there we have it - John says "WHITEMAN", I say "WEIDMANN" . . .


With thanks to Rob Whiteman, 5x great grandson of Johnann Weidmann. September 2014.
Please feel free to contact Sharon Grant.


My thanks to both Rob and Sharon for this interesting case study. John Whiteman has been on the database almost from the start but, like Sharon, I had never considered him anything other than English. This early name change will make me look at other early English names in a different light ! BM.