ORIGIN of SURNAMES : CORFF and LE CORFF p by Nicholas J. CORFF and Patrick LE CORFF    version française/French version

Corff: The story of a very old name : by Nicholas J. Corff                

 1-The expansion of the surname Corff in Europe

Among other things I have discovered the name to be a very old one, indeed, going back to ancient Celtic roots and consisting of old and prominent families. I have visited Corfe Castle on the south coast of England, I found a book in  St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) containing a picture and description of the old Count Corf of the Czar's court, I know a little about the Norman knight de Corf, and I have some information on von Corff in the Netherlands and the related von Korff's in Germany. I also know that in the ancient Celtic language "Corff" or "Corffe" or "Corf" meant the passage between two hills( a cutting or pass ) and in ancient French it may have had a connection to the raven.

I have found several dozen Corff or Korff families in America, but have found there are two very diffierent lines that these families come from.

  Peter The Great As I mentioned there is a noble family "Corf or "Corff" in Russia, a General Corf was one of Peter the Great's main army commanders and Catherine the Great was escorted to Russia to marry the Czar by a Baron Corf, there is even a Baroness Corf Bay on the Kamchatky Penninsula in old maps However, Catherine The Greatapparently a Jewish family living just above the Black Sea in Russia began to use the name, probably from living on or near an estate owned by the noble family, began to use the name sometime in the 1800s --

   Some migrating to Germany and some to the U.S. In fact one Baruch Korff, a rabbi, was a strong supporter of former President Nixon.

 I have found in the old geneological records that quite often birth records and/or baptismal records will include the name of the church or place where these events happened or the records were stored. This can be very helpful since religion is often carried down through generations and was not something our ancestors changed lightly. My father, grandfather and great grandfather were Catholics, this I know, so the very high probability is that so were their fathers before that going back many, many generations.

This allows me to eliminate as very unlikely connections those Corffs who are or were Jewish, and also to search for those that are not obviously Protestant, although at some point in the 1500s or 1600s there may have been a connection. This approach has led me to some conclusions which you find interesting. First the English Corffs are a special case since nearly everyone there was forced to become Protestant by Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Second, the major part of the Russian and German nobility remained Catholic, or Russian Orthodox, even up to the Twentieth Century. The Dutch Corffs could be either Protestant or Catholic, although if they married with the German's they were probably Catholic, as would be the case with the English (I have found such marriages).

 As to the Le Corffs, you are the first that I have found, so I know very little of your background or how you might fit in the above discussion. It may be that you are the most truly Celtic Corffs and therefore are the true source branch or are the closest to it.

It might interest you to know that in Germany today there is a Count von Korff and a Baron von Korff, in fact whole related families of Counts and Barons von Korff at the highest level going back to the earliest crusades. The "K" and "C" of the name seem to be interchangeable in spelling from what I can tell. The von Korff family line was given the French fleur de liev, in gold on a red background, in thanks for a Korff saving the life of Lewis the VIII of France in the crusades, and the crest comes with the motto in Latin roughly translated as "in him have faith". In the Neitherlands there is a von Corff family, that is very closely tied to these von Korffs"

My own Corff family came to America sometime in the middle of 1800s, perhaps from the Luxembourg area, were Catholics, and that my great grandfather was named Nicolas

.   2- possible origins

To start out, the oldest reference I have to the name is a Celtic one appearing in the book,"Celtic Heritage" by Alwyn Rees and Brinley Rees, printed by Thames & Hudson, 1961, reprinted in 1990. On page 182 of this book a passage reads as follows:

"The dichotomy manifested in the division into North and South appeared too in the division of the Welsh royal hall. One of the terms used for the partition that separated the two parts of the hall as corf, a word which is also used of 'a wood on the steep brink of a stream', such a wood as often formed the boundary between the upper and lower halves of territorial units. The king and his heir, his judge, his chief poet, and other dignitaries, sat in the upper part of the hall; the captain of the house/troop and his men, and the household bard, sat in the lower part..."

In another source, which I cannot immediately identify, the word corff is used as a term referring to the "passage between two hills" and could not be a more accurate term in describing the physical location of Corfe Castle. Corfe Castle : England© FreeFoto.com

   The Historical Research Center provided the following in a request for information on the name variations Corff, Corffe, Corfe or Corf (which seem somewhat interchangeable since, for instance, Corfe Castle has been spelled Corffe, Corff and Corfe in historical documents).

    "The English surname Corfe derives its origin from two quite distinct sources. In the first place, this name is of toponymic origin, deriving from a particular place name near which the intial bearer resided or held land. Here the name Corfe derives its origin from Corfe Castle or Corfe Mullen located in Dorset or from Corfe in Somerset. Thus, the surname Corfe denotes one who hailed from one of the above places named Corfe, which name is derived from the Old French "corf", meaning "raven".

   References to the surname Corfe, where it derives its name from the place name Corfe, are generally  prefixed by "de", meaning "of or from", and go back as far as the twelfth century. One Alard de Corf was recorded in the Pipe Rolls in the year 1195. Interestingly enough, the etymology of the place name Corfe bears a direct relation to the alternate origin of the surname Corfe. Early references to the name carrying the Norman-French definite article "le" meaning "the", identify Corfe as a nickname, being derived from a characteristic of the initial bearer. Here the name denotes one with the characteristics of a raven, that is, one with black raven hair or one with a hoarse croaky voice.

Records of this surname date as far back as the thirteenth century, to a mention of Angod le Corf in the Curia Regis Rolls   for Berkshire in 1208..." As you probably aware the Welch variation on the meaning of "Corff" is indeed a reference to "body". In fact this usage has continued to this day in their use of Corff to refer to almost any form of body -- including their governmental committees and legislature.

"A cutting or a pass": these two uses seem to precede the modern Welsh use of the name for "body", which makes me think that perhaps the modern Welsh usage is a corruption of the English word "corps", since in the old writing script a "p" and an "s" both tended to look like an "f".

Of course you could also connect all meanings in a kind of Druidic way: with the idea of a "pass" as a connection between life and death, and by extention bring in the symbolic "raven" and the resulting human "body".

However, the use of "Corff" as a proper name of very respectable families across many countries of northern Europe over a thousand or more years argues strongly for the more universal and positive meanings of the name and, I believe, limits the modern Welsh meaning to an aberation that is probably not connected to the proper name usage at all. It is much more likely that these proud old families took their names from places of fortification and glossy black ravens then from dead bodies.

How these three very different meanings (boundary. raven and body) interrelate is  an extremely intriguing question.

The name itself is so rare in numbers  and so distinctive in pronunciation and spelling that an accidental variation of meaning at the original source is somewhat unlikely. More on this later. As to the Dutch, German and Russian connections."

Corff, Le Corff : a Celtic origin ? :by Patrick Le Corff:

 "For the time being and back to the XVth century for the oldest sources, we can say that the French branch is located only in Britanny (West of France) and more especially in the département of Morbihan. We have identifyed 2 regions : one in the centre of Morbihan and the other one on the coast, close to the town Vannes). The name is commonly written LE CORFF or LE CORF (more rarely CORFF but it exists). It was a common custom in Britanny to add the briton article "AN" before the name ; later it was translated to the French article "Le".

- As regards the meaning, i am very interested in you explanation about the meaning of CORFF. So far, the unique meaning found refers to the briton word KORV, i.e. Body. This might have applied to people having an uncommon physical look. One can also find CORVIC or CORFBIHAN (little body) or CORFMAT (handsome body). You are right when saying that CORF meant RAVEN in ancient French, with a latin origin, like KORV ( corvus) I have also found out the name CORFF on the web and the site of the city Reading in Berkshire (GB).

- One CORFF ( his profession was moneyer ) is mentioned as having had a role in the history of Reading in the early XIth century. This matches your own references. As you probably know, celtic populations left Great-Britain in the Vth or VIth century because of Saxon invasions. They came back to Britanny and mixed themselves with local populations."

Introduction | Informations statistiques générales sur la France |  Les sources de recherches  | Analyse  des sources : Bignan / Moustoir’Ac comme foyer principal | Répartition des LE CORF(F) sur le Morbihan | Une implantation sur Bignan ancienne et significative  |  1427 : un LE CORFF déjà cité à Bignan / Moustoir’Ac  |  Secteur Crac’h – Auray – Carnac – Région du Golfe  |  Mouvements de population et approche sociologique Exogamie   |  Mouvements de population à Bignan  |  Métiers  |  Liens entre LE CORF(F) des secteurs 1 et 2   |  Le sens et les origines possibles du patronyme LE CORFF  |  Prénoms les plus fréquents ou spécifiques jusqu’à 1900  |  Quelques LE CORFF au fil des archives


 © Roland Le Corff  10/03/2008

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