The Ancient Arms of Bellman

Jonathan Bellman

The internet, bless it, is (as former senator Ted Stevens might agree) quite an effective series of tubes.  Today it provides me the background on my glorious name, including our—umm—family coat of arms.  I was unaware that Ashkenazim that escaped eastern Europe (in this case Lithuania) in the first part of the twentieth century had coats of arms, but, y’know, learn something new every day.  Turns out the Bellmans are of Pictish descent, which will come as a surprise to an English friend I oftern accuse of Pictishness and Jutishness.  (Which is odd, because he doesn’t look Jutish.)  “Their name is thought to have originally been occupational for a ringer of bells or a town crier.”  Well!  Vocal and instrumental accomplishment and expertise!  Unbeknownst to every other member of my family, then, it’s a tradition from way back.

Of the early immigrants to the colonies is listed a Christian Bellman, in 1932.  My suspicion is that he was not a relative.  But for the “noteworthy people of the name Bellman,” they list Richard Bellman, the famous mathematician (American Jewish), the composer Carl Michael Bellman (Swedish), and (weirdly) me.  Lest I consider myself too “noteworthy,” though (Debbie frequently carries a hatpin for use on my ego, so no worries), I also learn about the existence of Bellman jokes among Swedish schoolchildren.  It seems best to refrain from sharing my new knowledge of these jokes with my parents.

Noteworthily Yrs, I remain…

About jonathanbellman

Professor of Music History and Literature and Head of Academic Studies in Music at the University of Northern Colorado. Author, *The _Style Hongrois_ in the Music of Western Europe* (Northeastern University Press, 1993), *A Short Guide to Writing About Music* (2e, Longman, 2008), *Chopin's Polish Ballade: Op. 38 as Narrative of National Martyrdom* (Oxford University Press, 2010), Editor, *The Exotic in Western Music* (Northeastern University Press, 1998), author of bunches of articles and reviews and so on. Likes to play the piano, the mandolin, and even guitar sometimes. A. M. and Jo Winchester Distinguished Scholar at UNC, 2011.
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5 Responses to The Ancient Arms of Bellman

  1. haruspex says:

    Perhaps you are related to the well-known Bellman, the organizer of the hunt for the Snark? He of the singular map:
    “What’s the good of Mercator’s North Poles and Equators,
    Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?”
    So the Bellman would cry: and the crew would reply
    “They are merely conventional signs!”
    I hope you are not reminded of any conductors of your acquaintance when you read:
    He was thoughtful and grave — but the orders he gave
    Were enough to bewilder a crew.
    When he cried “Steer to starboard, but keep her head larboard!”
    What on earth was the helmsman to do?

  2. jonathan says:

    “Just the place for a Snark!” Lewis Carroll’s Bellman is doubtless one of my most distinguished forebears. Almost two decades ago, when I was suffering on the job market, I was moved to write a bitter parody of Carroll’s poem (titled *The Hunting of the Job*), from which I will quote but one verse:
    He sought it with lectures, he sought it onstage
    He pursued it with research and notes;
    He stalked it with guile, supplication, and rage,
    He utilized relevant quotes.

  3. D.L. MacLaughlan-Dumes says:

    Give thanks that you’re not Shakespeare’s “fatal bellman” from Macbeth: “It was the owl that shrieked, the fatal bellman, which gives the stern’st good- night.”
    Actually I was investigating your surname for its likely meaning. Jews didn’t have surnames much before 1820-1840 unless you were very famous, so in the villages you’d be X ben Y or A bat B, or whatever.
    When the non-priestly-class Jewish population began to take on surnames, some were patronymic (Levenson), some derived from placenames (Berlin), some occupational (Kauffman), and some derived from colors or local geographic features.
    Yours seems to be occupational. Because your ancestors were so close to the German border, you ended up with a German-style occupational name, originally Beilman (and so transcribed into Russian). In German that means “axe man”, so it’s very possible that their occupation had something to do with forestry, lumber, or some such wood-related business.
    So coat of arms, though, sorry!

  4. D.L. MacLaughlan-Dumes says:

    I meant “No coat of arms…” of course. I wish those companies would quit that. No family name has a coat of arms, they were only handed out to an individual to be used during his lifetime, not by his heirs.
    Oh well, it’s easy money.

  5. Birdseed says:

    I’m not sure I’d call Carl Michael a composer since he mostly just nicked lute melodies off contemporary classicist pieces. But he was an extremely talented poet and songwriter and in many ways the father of Swedish popular music, a century before everyone else caught on. His stories of city life, drinking and death are all totally rock’n’roll and every generation since have latched onto them.

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