Sunday, 5 August 2012

"What's in a name?" - Part 1

The Kiernander surname is a rare one, and it has always been so.  Seldom recognised in everyday encounters, it usually elicits an exasperated, “How do you spell that?”, or “Where’s that from?”.  The apparent simplicity of these two questions belies their thorny nature; for although Kiernander is not an ancient name it does have a tangled history.

"Where's that from?"

There was a time when the name Kiernander was well-known both in Britain and in India.  In the nineteenth century, not a year went by without reference being made in print to the first Protestant missionary to Bengal, companion of Clive and Hastings, the Rev. Johann Zachariah Kiernander.  At this time in Calcutta it was not unknown for children to be christened with Kiernander as a middle name in memory of the great man.  His name lived on in that city until relatively recent times through his legacy of charitable institutions: the church, schools, hospital, almshouses, and the cemetery commonly called “Mr. Kiernander’s burial ground”.

For two hundred years Calcutta was home to most of his descendants.  Thacker’s Indian Directory charts the growth of the family, and the proliferation of their name; at the end of the nineteenth century Calcutta cradled a population of Kiernanders yet unsurpassed by any other city – though this probably numbered no more than fifty individuals at any one time.  The inter-war period, and then Partition, saw a great migration of his namesakes out of India to the various reaches of the British Empire, and beyond.  As the twenty-first century dawns the name is most densely concentrated in the English speaking nations of the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the United States.

Although associated principally with Calcutta, Kiernander is not Bengali in origin.  When in 2011 I met the UK correspondent for Die Welt, Thomas Kielinger, I was surprised both that he was quite familiar with the name, and that he believed it to be “a classical Indian name”.  I can only think that he had stumbled upon it in some subcontinental context, and that it had remained with him by reason of its similarity to Kielinger.  Perhaps he had misconstrued some link to the Punjabi surnames Anand or Nanda, or to Vivekananda even; I’ve known many desis make the same mistake.  Kiernander is, in fact, a Scandinavian surname that emerged in seventeenth century Sweden.

How do you spell that?

The earliest proven paternal progenitor of the Kiernanders is one Sveno Laurentii (c.1580-1613).  He was an influential kyrokherde, or priest, who may have been the first Lutheran clergyman to the parish of Åsbo, in Östergötland, Sweden.  In Scandinavia at this time surnames, i.e. hereditary names common to all members of a family, were relatively unknown.  Instead, there was a system of patronymics, or compound names conveying paternal lineage.  If farmer Lars had a son, the child’s last name would be Larsson, meaning “son of Lars”; if Lars had a daughter, her last name would be Larsdotter, meaning “daughter of Lars”.   It was not until approximately a century ago that this practice ended and the patronymic stabilised into a surname, and whole families of Larssons, Andersons and Johannsons emerged.

Sveno Laurentii is, in fact, the Latinised version of the name Sven Larsson.  Before Sweden’s Lutheran Reformation, clergymen used only their Christian name preceded by the title Herr, meaning “Sir”; for instance, Sveno Laurentii’s predecessor at Åsbo was one “her Pauell”, or Herr Paullus.  Soon, however, it became necessary to differentiate between clerics with the same Christian name, and so the patronymic was added, albeit in a Latinised form: an Abraham Andersson became Abrahamus Andrex, a Björn Bengtsson became Bero Benedicti, and one Sven Larsson became our Sveno Laurentii.

From the clerical records gathered in Håhl’s Linköpings stifts herdaminne (1847) we learn that Sveno Laurentii had a son (perhaps, among other children).  This son was named Johannes Svenonis Kaliander, and served as komminister to his father at Åsbo from 1609-1614, before succeeding him as kyrkoherde there from 1614-1637.  If Johannes is a Latinised version of the name Johan, and Svenonis a Latinised patronymic from Sven, then what are the origins and meaning of this last name Kaliander?  And how is it related to the surviving surname Kiernander?

To further distinguish themselves, clerical students in seventeenth century Sweden created additional names commensurate with their social station.  One popular method, out of which the name Kaliander sprang, was the use of the suffix –ander, which derived from ἀνδρός – or andros, the Greek word for man.  Another example is that of Johannes Nicolai Eosander, who followed Johannes Svenonis Kaliander as kyrkoherde at Åsbo from 1638-1661.  Similarly, there is the recent fictional Swedish detective Kurt Wallander, whose surname would have originated similarly.  The origin of the prefix Kali- in Kaliander is less clear, but will be explored later.

In one source yet another name is applied to Johannis Svenonis; he is referred to as Jonam Johannis Ostrogothium.  The last is a locative name, deriving from the province of Östergötland, where he was born.  The same name is also applied to one of his three sons, Sven (1618-1674), also born at Åsbo in Östergötland, who is referred to as both Sveno Johannes Kaliander Öster Götus, and Sveno Johannes Ostrogothus.  Even Johann Zachariah Kiernander, born in the same province almost a century later, is noted as Ostro-Gothia Swecus in records at the University of Uppsala. 
In 1642, Johannis Svenonis’s son, Sven, travelled to the city of Åbo (Turku) in the eastern half of the Kingdom of Sweden, which covered most of present-day Finland.  There he studied at the famed Åbo Akademi, before settling in that city as a lawyer.  In the university records we find no less than twenty variations of his name.  While his Christian name is written as Suen, Sueno, Sven, Sveno, Svenonis, Swen, and Sweno, his patronymic middle name is sometimes Johannes, and sometimes Hansson, though more often than not it is absent altogether.  It is at this point that we see the emergence of a family name, or surname, and the disuse of patronymics. 

In some sources Johannes Svenonis’s last name is written Kalliander rather than Kaliander, but in these university records the variations for his son Sven’s last name are astounding.  Along with Kaliander and Kalliander, there is Kaliandri, Kaliandrj, Kaliandro, Caliander, Calijander, Calliander, Coliander, Collijander, as well as the more familiar Kernander.  Thus, in one place he can be referred to as Sven Kernander and in another as Swen Hansson Collijander.  This is indicative of the absence in earlier centuries of any standardised spelling, and of what little importance was attached by our forebears to the spelling of even their own names.  Most famous, perhaps, is the case of William Shakespeare, that most literate of men, who is known to have spelt his name with almost no consistency.

Another son of Johannes Svenonis was Jonas Joannis (c.1612-1662) who was komminister to his father at Åsbo from 1633-1639, and who, like his brother, was given his father’s last name Kaliander.  This, however, he seems to have adapted, while studying at Uppsala between 1626-1629, adopting the spelling Kernander and, perhaps, even Kiernander.  Records show his initial use of Kaliander, before assuming Kernander, but it is quite likely that the spelling Kiernander has been applied to him only retrospectively.  Jonas Joannis’s two documented sons were Israel Kernander (1644-1718), a priest in the tradition of his forefathers, and Jöns Kiernander (c.1662-1740), an oxdrivare, or drover, and soldier, whose two sons were Carl Gustaf Kjernander (1709-1769) and Johann Zachariah Kjernander (1711-1799).

Åsbo Kyrka as it is today.

Without a detailed knowledge of Swedish pronunciation in the seventeenth century, and the linguistic developments which no doubt took place, it is difficult to ascertain how these names were pronounced.  Similarly, it is unknown what phonetic relation they bore to each other, or to the present pronunciation of Kiernander.  Spelling was still not standardised, though by this time it seems individials often favoured one or two spellings, rather than a multitude.  Israel Kernander, Jöns Kiernander and Carl Gustaf Kjernander appear to have hardly deviated from these spellings of their names.
Thomas's Universal Pronouncing Dictionary of Biography and Mythology, 1887

Johann Zachariah Kjernander was the exception.  In the 1924 edition of Nordisk Familjebok, his surname is given as Kjernander, but the entry is followed by the assertion “skref sig Kiernander”, or “he wrote it Kiernander”.  Indeed, in letters written by him to Clive of India, he signs his name Kiernander.  No examples of him spelling it otherwise have yet come to light, but it is unlikely that he deviated from the present spelling after entering the English speaking world in 1735.  Kjernander remains quite unsayable in English, whereas Kiernander is perfectly manageable.  It seems that in Swedish the pronunciation of Kjernander would be Sherr-nander, and not much like the modern name Kiernander, which is pronounced /kiːrˈnændə/.  After Johann Zachariah’s adoption of the Kiernander spelling the surname has undergone no further changes.  This is essentially due to the fact that spelling has become almost universally standardised, and that the name has remained predominantly within the English speaking world.

The origin of the prefixes Kali-, Kalli-, Ker-, Kjer-, and Kier- are purely hypothetical at present.  In the text Skrifter av Eric Wennæsius there is an entry for a Jonas Kiernander (1647-1717), who was born a farmer’s son in Kärna, Östergötland.  As the surname denotes, he too was a clergyman, and he studied at Uppsala in 1670.  In 1706, his son, Andreas Jonæ Kiernander, was also a clerical student there.  The surname spanned four generations before dying out, and again the spellings Ker-, Kjer-, and Kier- were used interchangeably.  The origin of this family’s name is explained away in Skrifter in the line: “den berömde missionären Johan Kiernander… otvivelaktigt härstammade från samma släkt”, or “the celebrated missionary Johan Kiernander… undoubtedly originated from the same family”. 

If there was, though, a relationship between these two families it remains as yet undiscovered.  Such was the nature of society at that time, however, that the records of mothers, wives, and daughters were very rarely detailed, and so there might have been some unrecorded, or yet undiscovered, link by marriage or maternal descent.  If there was no relation through blood, then this later Jonas Kiernander might have adopted the surname out of some other association with, or respect for, his fellow alumni of the University of Uppsala. Otherwise, the two families might have originated from nearby farmsteads in Östergötland, and the prefixes may be locational indicators.  Ker-, Kjer-, and Kier- could be derived from Kärna, where Jonas Kiernander’s father’s farm was no doubt situated. Sveno Laurentii was an influential man and, as the son of a farmer himself, may also have been a landowner, perhaps in this locality.  This use of a locative prefix with the –ander suffix was quite common.  So, perhaps, with Kärna not being far from Åsbo, the two Kiernander families were somehow related afterall. 

A letter kept in the Swedish National Archives seems to go against both theories, however.  Written in 1809 it describes the “äventyrlige Joh. Z. Kiernander och hans prästsläkt från Åsbo vilken inte är att förväxla med den Kiernanderska prästsläkten från Glyttinge i Kärna socken” – “the adventurous Joh. Z. Kiernander and his priestly family from Åsbo; who are not to be confused with the priestly Kiernander family of Glyttinge in the parish of Kärna”.  Whether this is a more trustworthy source than those above is only to be judged after more investigation.

My reason for calling this post “What’s in a name? – Part 1” is that there is much more research to be done.  I have recently registered the surname Kiernander and its variants with the Guild of One-Name Studies, and contacted NORNA: The Nordic Cooperative Committee for Onomastic research and the Swedish Institutet för Språk och Folkminnen.  I have also made contact with a genealogical society in Östergötland which may have access to additional sources.

The etymology that I find most appropriate at present relates to the surname of the famed Danish philosopher, theologian and poet, Søren Kierkegaard, whose name was often written Kjerkegaard.  It was pronounced Keer-ker-gore, and so the initial sound is identical to the modern name Kiernander.  The name meant ‘churchyard’, and is related to the surnames Carr, Kerr, Kirk, and many others with the suffix Ker-.  These originated from the Teutonic word Kirche, a church, which may have derived from the Gælic cearcall, meaning a circle.  As William Arthur explains in his Etymological Dictionary of Family and Christian Names (1857), “the primitive places of worship among the Celts were round, a symbol of eternity, and the existence of the Supreme Being, without beginning or end”. 

Perhaps, then, Kiernander simply means “Churchman”.  It is very apt, as generations of the Kiernander family were men of the cloth, and the Kiernanders of Åsbo were a well-known prästsläkten, or priestly family.  Appropriate too, that the first Protestant missionary to North India, who built at his own expense the oldest surviving Protestant church there, Johann Zachariah Kiernander, should be named, quite simply, “Churchman”.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Daphne and The Kiernander Dancers

I couldn't quite believe it when I found this image for sale in an on line auction, and so I bid for it immediately.  I had never heard of a Daphne Kiernander, as a dancer or otherwise, but I could see that she had been well known to some, including her fan "Peggy", for whom she autographed the photo, adding her "good luck and best wishes always".  From her costume and poise she appeared to be a ballerina.

A trawl through the Internet revealed that Daphne Josephine Kiernander was born in September, 1921 at East Preston, Sussex.  I could find no reference to her early life, schooling, or creative training, but the next reference was for her part in the musical Bobby get your Gun, which ran for 92 performances at London's Adelphi Theatre from 7th October, 1938.  At this time, and until 1941 Daphne lived at Kensington Mansions, Queen's Club Gardens, Fulham, and from 9th November, 1942, danced in Cole Porter's new musical comedy Let's Face It, which ran at the Hippodrome Theatre for 348 performances.  She was one of the ensemble.  After the war, Daphne was still performing, this time in Piccadilly Hayride (1946), which starred Sid Field and Terry Thomas, at The Prince of Wales Theatre, London. 

In 1948 she is shown living at West Kensington Court, Fulham, where she stayed until 1963.  1948 was probably the height of her career, as on 1st November of that year she danced at the London Palladium for H.M. King George VI and H.M. Queen Elizabeth at the Royal Variety Performance.  

In 1951 and 1952 she danced in two revues, Latin Quarter and Excitement, both at the London Casino.  But in 1954, at the age of thirty-two, she moved into choreography, working on Mountain Fire at Liverpool's Royal Court.  This play with music starred a young Julie Andrews, who herself had perfomed twice at the London Casino, as well as at the 1948 Royal Variety Performance.  In 1955 Daphne worked at London's prestigeous Old Vic on The Taming of The Shrew.  And this career change seems to have brought her work in The Netherlands as well as in England.  She worked solidly for the following five years between the two countries, in England's theatres and in Holland's music halls, where she toured with her own troupe The Kiernander Dancers, until 1960.

 {for larger images click here}

Daphne seems to have married in 1963, when she left an English firm for whom she had worked for two years as their Outside Publicity and Marketing Officer.  After this, I could not find any more information.  She is mentioned in R. Mander's British Music Hall: A Story in Pictures (1965), and K. Ganzl's The British Musical Theatre, 1915-1984 (1986), so these will be the place for me to start investigating.

Daphne must have been immensely talented to have performed and choreographed such high profile productions, and to have had such longevity in her career.  But it would be fascinating to find out more about the lady; where she was trained, whom she married, and what became of her. 

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

In Memoriam

"The dinner parties given by the Kiernanders were famous for their profusion of dishes and their brilliance.Biren Roy, Calcutta, 1481-1981: Marshes to Metropolis. (1982)
The above quote was written in reference to Rev. Johann Zachariah Kiernander (1711-99) and his third wife Ann, whose elaborate "banquets and wine were famous in England" in the latter half of the eighteenth century.  But it would also serve to describe the great feasts prepared more recently by my grandparents, and in particular my grandfather, George Albert Kiernander (1926-2006).
At home among his books, including Hobson-Jobson.
Having lived across the length and breadth of what is now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh my grandfather was quite the authority on the food of the subcontinant.  He was born in Calcutta and there, in that hotchpotch city of many tongues, he acquired the palate that would inform his cooking in years to come.   When, on one of our many Thursday evening visits, he produced the greatest vegetable curry I've ever eaten it was, he revealed, the addition of 'a touch of soy sauce' that elevated the dish; and this secret he had learned long ago in his cosmopolitan hometown, Calcutta.
At a dinner with Prime Minister Z.A. Bhutto in 1973.
Rising to the rank of Deputy Chief of the General Staff in the Pakistan Army had not given him much opportunity to cook during his working life, but tastes and recipes acquired from Balouchistan to Chittagong, at tribal feasts and official dinners, and from the many khansamas at home, were reborn in his retirement.  Curries, dhals, pulaos, breads, chutneys, salads would all be served up to his adoring family in such quantities that the dining table would strain with the weight of it all.  I cannot recall a dish of his that has been bettered, nor one which was not perfection itself.  Jhalfrazee, Pork Vindaloo, Murgh Musallam, Tarka Dhal, Yakhni Pulao, Aloo Barta, parathas were just some of his specialities.  And if you really couldn't get enough of a dish (I ate so much I could never sleep on Thursday nights) he would write you his recipe and post it to you the next day.
One versatile recipe I treasure and make regularly is for Khicheri, or as Hobson-Jobson has it,

"KEDGEREE, KITCHERY, s. Hind. khichri. a mess of rice, cooked with butter and dal (see DHALL), and flavoured with a little spice, shred onion, and the like; a common dish all over India, and often served at Anglo-Indian breakfast tables, in which very old precedent is followed... The word appears to have been applied metaphorically to mixtures of sundry kinds, and also to mixt jargon or lingua franca."
This recipe is an appropriate choice, then, as my grandfather spoke in the most wonderful 'kitchery' himself.  He was a great and knowledgeable raconteur, and his tales were always peppered with a whole range of Anglo-Indian idioms, now falling from usage.

This is the very simplist of all his recipes, and he would more often than not add vegetables, spice powders, and chillies to his khicheri.

I usually add haldi, fresh green chilli, dried red chillies, a little Sri Lankan roasted curry powder, curry leaves and cubed potato to my take on it.  As he would say, 'very delicious'.  Eating this, and thinking of you Grandpa!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Kiernander's Church

A couple of years ago I came across this page from The Gentleman's Magazine (Feb. 1824) for sale online.  It is a reproduction of an engraving made by G. Hall in 1774,  and is the earliest known illustration of Kiernander's Church at Calcutta.  An original print from 1774 can be found at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

Johann Zachariah Kiernander was a Swedish Lutheran, who was dispatched from London to India in 1740 as a missionary under the auspices of the S.P.C.K..  After eighteen years labour in the south, he was invited to Bengal by Lord Clive, victor of the Battle of Plassey, 1757.  In a house given rent free by the Governor,  Kiernander established his Mission Church. 
In 1767 he resolved to purchase ground and build a church at his own expense, and the present church was completed, after many setbacks, in 1770.  Kiernander himself called it Beth Tephillah (Hebrew: House of Prayer), but it was known to many as Lal Girja, or the Red Church, as it at that time dominated Lal Dighi, or the  Red Pool, of Tank Square around which old Calcutta was centred.
This is most clearly seen (below) in Thomas Daniell's 1786 coloured aquatint etching Part of the Old Tank, a copy of which can be found at the British Library.
Kiernander's Mission was the city's sole Protestant place of worship from 1758 until the completion of St. John's Church in 1787.  Subsequently became commonly known as the Old Church, or Old Mission Chuch, while St. John's was often referred to as the New Chuch, or sometimes Pathure Girja, the Stone Church.
An article in The Telegraph in 2003 refered to Kiernander's church as the Swedish Church, and this name has recently acquired some currency, but it is rather misleading.  Though Kiernander never lost his Swedish accent, he never preached in that language - though he did in Portuguese, English and German.  He laboured as a missionary for the English S.P.C.K., and to all intents and purposes saw himself as English, to the extent of refering to England as "Home".  Ironically, he had spent less than a year in England.  Almost sixty years of his 88 years were spent in India; more than forty of those were spent in Calcutta.


Kiernander's church continued to dominate central Calcutta after his death in 1799 (above).  Gradually, however, it retreated behind a row of new commercial buildings which sprung up as Calcutta wrested its status as second city of the British Empire in the nineteenth century (below).



Photographs show that by the 1880s and 1890s Kiernander's Mission Chuch  had become a quite magnificent, being well maintained, extended and restored (below).  J.Z. Kiernander's great-grandson, George Henry Kiernander, made several large donations, including one for a stained glass window for the new chancel.


1897 proved to be an annus horribilis in the history of the church.  The steeple was wrecked in the great Assam Earthquake of that year, and had to be demolished along with the tower.  Replacing the steeple was not possible, such was the damage to the church.

But the church continued to function, and its history is recorded in Westcott's One Hundred and Seventy-Five Years at the Old or Mission Church, Calcutta (1945).

In 1948, on account "of the ravages of time and white ants" what was unsafe roof was removed and replaced, allowing in the process for the church to be enlarged.  No steeple was added at this time, and the church to this day remains without.

Though The Telegraph suggests the church now "lurks despondently" behind B.B.D. Bagh, the photographs below from 2005 seem to tell a different story.

Saturday, 19 May 2012


"An extraordinary family saga, the Kiernander contribution to South Asia".

Lt.Col. G.A.Kiernander with FM M. Ayub Khan, President of Pakistan.
(East Pakistan. 1966)
In 1965, my grandfather, George Albert Kiernander (1926-2006), then a lieutenant colonel in the Pakistan Army, wrote to the University of Uppsala in Sweden to research the history of the Kiernander family.  This foray into the archives inspired his distant cousin, Benjamin David Kiernander (b. 1914), to painstakingly trace, in the pre-internet days of the 1980s, the earliest recorded origins of the family, and to construct our first comprehensive family tree.

B.D. Kiernander with the R.A.F.'s biggest bomber - the Lincoln.
(Khartoum, Sudan.  25 Jan. 1949)

Over the past few years, I have garnered from the internet and the British Library various snippets of information, and  the purpose of this blog is to bring together, and so make sense of, these fragments.  It is my hope that this will serve as a touchstone and a meeting place for others, so that our mutual history may be preserved and better understood. 

The Kiernander family is rooted in British India, but branched across the British Empire and beyond, bearing testimony to a fascinating past.