“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell just a sweet”, or so said William Shakespeare in his play, Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2). I thought I’d have a little fun with this edition of A/O, and answer a couple of the most often asked questions I get, “how do you pronounce your name” and “what is your name’s origin”. Well, I have to admit, it’s a rather unusual name. In fact, there are only about 140 or so of us in North America. So, I guess the best place to start, as they say, is at the beginning, with a little history.
In the 1600's, the family appeared at Gravenhage (The Hague), Amsterdam, and Liden in the Netherlands. There is some indication they came France to Walloon/Belgium as Huguenots. Most were converting to the “New German Church” or the "Reform Church". Various spellings in the records included Hosiea, Hossea, Hoesse, Hose', Hoose, and Hossee. The family were mainly religious themed artisans and craftsmen and maybe have been active in the religious community. In 1680/90, Clement Hosse was invited by the Protestant Duke of Berg, to Solingen Germany (Clement's brother August Hosse, went to Halle, and became the Artisan-in Residence at Martin Luther’s Halle-Wittenberg University while Johann went to the Court at Magdeburg as a teacher). The duke was at odds with his Catholic brother, the Archbishop of Cologne, who was sponsoring Catholic artisans and craftsmen and we wanted to start a community of non-Catholic artisans.
The family was given a large tract of land in Hohenschild, just outside of the mostly Catholic Solingen, located in Westphalia, Germany, which formerly belonged to the Abby of Altenburg. The property was promptly renamed “Hof des Hosse” (this also enabled the family to avoid paying "pew taxes" which everyone did regardless of their religion). The family became premier artisans to the Lutheran Church and Protestant nobility throughout Northern Europe. By 1771, they created a community of artisans and craftsmen, and Hof des Hosse was renamed “Hossenhaus” (House of Hosse), which remained a family owned hamlet or village for independent artisans until 1921, when it merged with Solingen. Several of the houses remain (though some were damaged or destroyed by Allied bombing during WWII). Our family has been honored by the City of Solingen with a street called “Hossenhauser Strasse” (there is also a street named after the family in Magdeburg and August Hosse has been honored by the University of Halle). Most of the family today remain active in the arts and is still quite renown for their craftsmanship. Another tradition of the family has been to serve a theologians, ministers or lay ministers.
In Gascony and Aquitaine France, there are Hossegor and LaHosse, where the letter “f” is replaced with an “h” and means a trench, canal, or branch/shoot, also known as a “fosse” which then becomes “hosse”, although the “h” isn't pronounced. In Normandy France there is Hosseia, which was founded in the 10th Century, which mean a "holly grove". In Walloon (modern Belgium/Holland) the name appears to be a variant for Joseph and in common language means "to add". In Germany, "hasse" means “hatred". There are some other locations which has "Hosse" as part of its name, none are related. However, for the sake of research, there is Hosseia in Normandy, near Roen. The name supposedly comes from a French Norman word meaning "thistle-like" or "prickly" grove. The community today is known as La Houssaye in the Department Seine-et-Marne. The Norman family of Hussey and DeHosse or DeHose originated from there. There is a small tourist community, Hossegor, located on a small inlet on the French coast in the Aquitaine Department. There is also a very small farming community in the French Department of Pyrenees-Atlantiques. In both cases, the name derives from the word "fosse" where the local Gascony dialect changes the "f" to an "h". Either way, it means a trench, pit, abyss, or even a branch or shoot. In the Galilee portion of Israel, there is another small farming community named "Hossen" which means "strength". Chossen or chosse, by the way, in Yiddish, means a "bridegroom", while "Hossah" means a "seer". In Buddhism, a "Hosse" is some who teaches about dharma. In Islam, "Hosse" is often spelled "Hosseini" and comes from the name of Mohammad's grandson, Husain ibn Ali.
The name, in German is properly pronounced “Hoss-er” with a soft “r” or “Hoss-uh” as in the German words “bitte” or “danke”. For more formal matters, our family used the ennobled “n” as in Hossen since they were part of the landed gentry or Herrschaft of the time. On occasion, you would see in various documentation “des Hossen” or say, “Karl Wilhelm Hosse des Hossenhaus” ("des" means "of the"). During WWI, anti-German fever ran high in Great Britain and the United States. Folks were beaten and jailed for anything that remotely appeared German, and our family was very associated with the German community of Nashville, Tennessee (having founded the First Lutheran Church, brought over the first Evangelical Lutheran minister, co-founding the German-American Club and Oktoberfest in Nashville). Many families changed the spelling of their names or the pronunciation (Lord Battenberg became Lord Mountbatten for instance, and many a Schmidt became Smith and a Zimmerman a Carpenter), and ours was no exception.
Part of the family, including mine, began putting the emphasis of the “e”, which then became “Hoss-see”, while one branch wanted to sound more Southern, and changed the emphasis on the “o” and the “e”, so it became “Hose-see”. After the war, a few of the families gradually began to revert back to the former spelling and pronunciation. That is, until a little event called World War II came along. After that, few changed back.
Today, many folksin America have become more aware of their heritage. Many have either reverted to their original spellings or pronunciation, or have adopted names which reflect their ancestry. Suddenly, it’s become cool to have an ethnic sounding name, especially given the influx of minorities from Russia and Eastern Europe, as well as Mexico, Cuba, and Central and South America. Of course, I am forever amazed at the horrible butchering the five simple little letters of my name has to endure. I hear, on a regular basis such pronunciation as “Hoss”, “Jose”, “Hoos”, “Huss”, “Hose”, “House”, and my personal favorite, “Horse”. Amazing isn’t it?
Perhaps this says as much about our ethnic isolationism as anything. Still, I am proud of my European heritage, which extends to other lines too. I have often thought about using the correct pronunciation out of respect for my forefathers (any thoughts?). However, I do not in any way consider myself to be a “hyphenated American” to use the phrase of one of my political heroes, Teddy Roosevelt. Like TR, I believe we owe a loyalty to America. It doesn’t matter how or when we arrived, or if we became citizens by virtue of birth or naturalization. We are first and foremost, Americans. This is not to say, “My country right or wrong”, but rather, it’s our country and as citizens, we have the right to discuss and debate freely and openly without fear and to collectively guide our nation in the right direction.