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The meaning of the Sabey surname is a puzzle.  Most sources state it is derived from the Latin "Sabinus" or "Sabina", a member of the ancient Italian Sabine tribe.  There are various Saints called St Sabinus and a Roman martyr called St Sabina.  In French, Sabin or Sabine have been used as first names.  None of the sources offer concrete evidence that this was the origin of the name.

People always had first or given names, but second names were adopted once the need arose to further distinguish individuals.  Following the Norman invasion of 1066, supporters of the Conqueror named themselves after their estates to ensure their land and titles remained within the family, usually inherited by the eldest son.  Later, official records were needed to keep track of the general populace, for example recording payments made for Poll Taxes which were introduced in the fourteenth century.  Surnames were often created from everyday sources.  Sometimes a physical description or characteristic of the person initiated a surname, Long or Wise.  Your surname could reflect your job, Miller or Thatcher for example.  Your last name could reflect your father’s first name, David’s son became Davison.  It could stem from where you lived, such as a topographical description of the location of your home or the village itself, as in Ford or Bakewell.

In the absence of any clues for personal characteristics or trades that could have become one of the variants of Sabey, it is worth exploring whether the name came from a first name or if migration from a specific place created the surname.

People migrate for a variety of reasons.

·         Economic migration - moving to find work or improve income

·         Social migration - moving somewhere for a better quality of life

·         Political and religious migration - moving to escape persecution or war

·         Environmental causes, natural disasters such as flooding

In Sweden there are several towns called Säby, and there are three in Denmark called Sæby.  One of those is a town and seaport in Jutland, Denmark which grew up around Mariested Abbey when it was built in 1462-1475.  In 1524 Saeby was granted the privileges of a market town enhancing trade, but within a few years, the Abbey suffered under the Reformation.   In sixteenth century Denmark, there was unrest due to excessive tithes and other fees.  Whatever the reason to move away and settle elsewhere, a port is the ideal escape route for a better life.

The name Säby means "the village by the lake" so it is easy to see why there are several Swedish towns that bear the name.  Here are three of them.  Värmlands Säby is a mansion in Värmland, Sweden.  According to the owner, Säby was first mentioned in 1216 in a letter regarding Riseberga monastery (c1180-1534) then with the name "Sebui".  About 300km East of Värmlands Säby is a town called Säby Säteri.  Graves have been found dating from between 500 - 1050 AD, so this town boasts over 1,000 years of history.  600km south of Säby Säteri is Landskrona, a late medieval town located at the shores of Øresund, which was founded on the site of the former Danish fishing village Sønder Sæby.  A small settlement known as Säby still exists north of the town.  Apart from Värmlands Säby which is set by a lake, the other two towns are both on the coast for easy trade and migration.

Wherever you had cause to flee from, the adoption of your home town as your name could have been a nostalgic exercise or a convenient label to differentiate between families.

(Update January 2018 - Since this was written, it has been confirmed that neither of the two Sabey Y-DNA profiles in the Project have Swedish paternal ancestry.  Therefore the two Sabey branches identified so far did not originate in Sweden)

The English vocabulary and naming of places has been influenced by many languages.  The Scandinavian influence also extends to the name of English towns.  Those which end in "by" meaning "homestead" are of Viking origin, such as Corby and Whitby.

The Anglo-Saxon Sǽbe(o)rht means Sea-Bright or Sea-Glorious [Old English sǽ, sea + be(o)rht, briht, bright, glorious].  Aebbian or ebba are Old English for tide.  Note Sǽberht who was King of Essex and died 616AD and King Sæbbi who jointly ruled Essex from 664-694.  Bede tells us that the sons of Sǽberht familiarly called him Saba.  Derivations could be Saxon first names that were adopted as surnames when the need arose.

So our Sabey ancestors may have just lived by the sea, in fact there are at least two of the Sabey branches researched so far are recorded on early baptism/marriage entries in the Parish Register as Seaby.  Through time the clerks who logged their records, changed the way it was recorded and as most families could not read or write, they wouldn’t have noticed.  By the time of the census and civil registration was implemented 1837, they are mostly recorded as Sabey.

A sample of the earliest records found to date with variants.

Year Surname Name Event         District                            County

1448 Saby William Court of CP Wold                            Northamptonshire

1475 Saby John Court of CP Elyngton                            Huntingdonshire

1489        Saby        Richard    Inquisition       London                               London

1531 Saby Thomas Court of CP Elyngton                            Huntingdonshire

1533 Saby John Document Lord of the Manor Finedon Northamptonshire

1535 Saby Thomas Document Manor of Finedon            Northamptonshire

1540 Sabie Edmund Marriage         Finedon                            Northamptonshire

1541 Sabey Thomas Warden         Lichfield Guild                    Staffordshire

1545 Saby Thomas Document Finedon Manor            Northamptonshire

1549 Sabie Mary Marriage         Finedon                            Northamptonshire

1558 Sabey Ricardus Christening Pontesbury                    Shropshire

1562 Sabey Margareta Christening Pontesbury                    Shropshire

1563 Sabie Laurence Marriage         Finedon                            Northamptonshire

1566 Sabey Francis Document Coventry                            Warwickshire

It is interesting to note that most recorded holders of the surname were born in Bedfordshire by the 18th and 19th centuries, yet there are none recorded in the table above.  The earliest are living in Finedon, Northamptonshire, (John Saby is Lord of the Manor c1533) and by the 16th and 17th centuries there are still more recorded in Northamptonshire than Bedfordshire.

Ellen, son of John Sabye baptised in Swineshead, Bedfordshire in 1606 is the earliest found so far in that county.  Thomas, son of Thomas Saby was baptised in Bolnhurst in 1634.  Mormons claim he is a son of Thomas Sabey who married Margarit Bradley on 9 Jul 1629 at Saint Martin, Birmingham.

The reasons for this shift need further research but may be related to religion.  Religion was a vital part of everyday life and there was turmoil in the European church in the seventeenth century.  This was a strong motivational factor for relocation to other parts of the country and many members of the Sabey family were Bedfordshire non-conformists, Baptists, where there was a strong Baptist movement by the middle of the century.  The author is not an expert on the various religious denominations, beliefs, and their history, but would welcome comments from those who are, to further explore this option.

Some genealogical forums suggest the name has a French origin.  According to there are around 119 holders of the surname Saby throughout France today, but very few in the UK.  The reverse is true for the surname Sabey, currently 382 are called Sabey in the UK, but only a handful live in France.  Saby appears more often in the early English Parish records, but then becomes Sabey by the time of the census (exact statistics will take time to compile).  So, if it is of French origin, it appears to have become Sabey in England, but remained Saby in France.

The story of the Huguenots is well documented elsewhere, but briefly, thousands of French Protestants fled religious prosecution in waves between the 16th and 18th centuries.  As many were skilled lace makers it has been suggested they may have gravitated towards Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire which were also lace-making centres, to find suitable employment.  However, to date, no similar Huguenot surnames have been found, but the list is not exhaustive.

The anonymous author of an 1874 book called “The Norman people and their existing descendants in the British dominions and the United States of America”, compared 6,900 Norman names from the London Post office directory with medieval records and then tried to identify the possible home of each family name in Normandy.  He concludes that Sabey is Norman and derives from Robertus Saba.  He believes that Sabey came over to England with the Norman invasion.  Unfortunately, as we know nothing about the author, we cannot know his qualifications or motivation for the research, but it is an interesting view worth including here.

Perhaps John Saby, Lord of the Manor at Finedon in 1533 was connected to one such follower.  It is difficult to find information on Robertus Saba or John Saby, but research is ongoing.

There may be nothing in these suggestions, but it is fascinating to speculate although it is noticeable that none of the other early records of the name are near the sea.  Northamptonshire couldn’t be more landlocked.  It lies obliquely across the centre of England and in 1840 adjoined nine counties, Lincolnshire, Rutland, Leicestershire, Warwickshire, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire.  Due to its central location and short ride from London, Northampton became an important meeting place for the decision makers in Medieval England.  Great councils and Parliaments were held there in almost every reign from Henry I until Richard II, making it a draw for those offering support services, officials with administrative roles and assorted other followers.

The conclusion is that it is likely there are several surname-originating ancestors spawning unrelated lines in view of the early widespread geographic distribution of these variants in England. The Y-DNA surname study will enhance the debate and distinguish lines of descent.  There are also Y-DNA projects for those with Scandinavian and other European heritage, including French and Norman, so all Sabey surname Y-DNA project members will be encouraged to join these too in the hope we can explore further.  More Sabey surname testers will enable the different branches to be clearly identified and will help towards solving the puzzle of its origin.

Sources include

Pigot & Co’s British Atlas Counties of England 1840

The History and Antiquities of the Church and City of Lichfield by Thomas Harwood

Sabey origins discussion

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