The Name “von Korncrake”

Several people have inquired about the provenance of my name, “von Korncrake.”

Most of these interlocutors have noted that the bird known in the British Isles as the “corncrake” (Latin crex crex, named onomatopoeically after its distinctive call) is known in German as the the Wachtelkönig (”King of Quails”) not the “Korncrake”.

Presumeably this is pointed out with the intention of calling into question the design of this webpage, which prominently features illustrations of the crex crex/corncrake/Wachtelkönig.

My polite rejoinder is that, oddly, the etymology of von Korncrake is not found in the name of the bird, but rather is derived from an ancient Yotvingian word, Kyrnkyrklus, which named a species of pygmy toad that lived along the upper reaches of the Servac river.

The genealogist in the family, my father, Herr Prof. Dr. Gehrhad von Korncrake, himself a medieval scholar of some repute, had before the war traced our paternal lineage back to Old Prussian and Baltic origins, specifically to an early 13th century pagan warrior named Simargl the Filthy, who converted to Christianity and was adopted by the Teutonic Knights as a sort of mascot.

It is in the records of the Knights that the Korncrake name first appears, when Simargl’s son, a stablehand, is recorded as Clokis Krynkyrklus-edju, “Clokis the Toadeater”. It is from this distinguished lineage that I am descended.

By the 14th century, this family name had not only mutated into its present form, but gained some repute with the figure of Eberhard, Schenk von Korncrake, a petty noble in service to Ludvig the Bavarian.

Finally, and ironically, I must note that in the 19th century my great-grandfather adopted a coat of arms which included the image of a corncrake/Wachtelkönig (azure, a chevron or fimbriated sable, between three crex crex close a cry proper) at the behest of his English second wife, my great-grandmother, Lady Edna Featherstonhaugh-Woolfardisworthy.

She had objected on aesthetic grounds to his previous coat of arms, (azure, a chevron or fimbriated sable, between three toads tergiant vert) and so, being deeply in love, my great-grandfather successfully petitioned the Royal Prussian Heraldry Office for the change. As a result, my grandfather and father both retained the bird on their own coats of arms until such things were abolished with the arrival of the Soviets.


One Response to “The Name “von Korncrake””

  1. Mr. Peperium responds:

    Fascinating. One question though: Could your English great-grandmother, Lady Edna Featherstonhaugh-Woolfardisworthy, whip up a really top-knotch toad-in-the-hole for her lovesick descendent of the toad eater?

    Probably not. I suppose that, being a solid 19th Century Teutonic family, were they trying to downplay that aspect of the family story in favor of their proud peasant-slaughtering heritage.

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