Fairly often I get a message that reads something like, “Well, if you are going to write about the Faulkners you could at least do them the courtesy of spelling their name right!” And, then, I try once again to explain. But the explaining is best left to the Falkners/Faulkners.
The story of the “u” in Fa(u)lkner – is it used or not, did he use it or not, was he born with it or not, did he change it or not…
William Clark “Old Colonel” Falkner was born July 6, 1825, with the “u” included in his last name, Faulkner. The Old Colonel deleted the “u” after moving to Ripley, Miss. He meant to distinguish himself from another Faulkner family living there. The Old Colonel’s son, John Wesley Thompson “Young Colonel” Falkner, along with his sons, Murry Cuthbert “Big Dad” Falkner and John Wesley Thompson “Uncle John” Falkner, were all born Falkners. As it was with the next generation, the four sons of Murry Falkner; William Cuthbert “Brother Will” Falkner, Murry Charles “Uncle Jack” Falkner, John Wesley Thompson “Grand John” Falkner and Dean Swift Falkner. John Falkner continued the line of Falkner sons with the birth of James Murry “Jimmy” Falkner and Murry Cuthbert “Chooky” Falkner, Jr.
The “u” in Faulkner came back into the family tree when Brother Will and Grand John added it during their careers, on the advice of their publishers. Jimmy also decided to use it to follow suit with his father and uncle. Jimmy’s sons, James Murry “Rusty” Faulkner, Jr. and Thomas Wesley “Buddy” Faulkner — were the first Faulkners in five generations to be born with the “u” in their last name.
All these Faulkners who were born with or without the “u” should be substantiated by their respective birth certificates. When any of the family changed the spelling of their last name, there was no “official” name change filed with any authority, but was done at will. In St. Peters Cemetery, on the head stone at the plot where Grand John & Grand Dolly and Jimmy & Nan are buried, Faulkner is spelled without the “u” on one side and with the “u” on the other side.
I can trace our family back to Edward Faulkner, b.1570, in London. His son, William, b. 1590, married Elizabeth Filmer on February 6, 1619, at Saint Benet Church, at Paul’s Wharf, London. The Old Colonel was 9 generations later. I’m generation fourteen and my children, Sarah Jane “Sarah” Faulkner, John Wesley Thompson “John” Faulkner V, Thomas Wesley Dure “Jack” Faulkner II, and William Charles “Will” Faulkner all have the “u”. Thru 15 generations there are approximately: 7 Thomas’s, 8 Williams, 14 Johns and 5 Murrys. And, while the Old Colonel’s name change has been a topic in literary circles for decades, he lightheartedly explained it away at the time by saying, “it’s pronounced the same and uses less ink.”
Courtesy of John Cofield, a hottytoddy.com writer and one of Oxford’s leading folk historians. He is the son of renowned university photographer Jack Cofield. His grandfather, “Col.” J. R. Cofield, was William Faulkner’s personal photographer and for decades was Ole Miss yearbook photographer. Cofield attended Ole Miss as well. Contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org.