What's in a Name

What’s in a name?


  From as far back as I can remember whenever I meet somone new someone I ‘ve often been asked, what's the origin of my name, or sometimes what does it mean?


  These questions and others like it are what prompted me to embark on what undeniably has been, a never-ending journey exploring my family origins. Just when I think I have discovered the answers I come across new information or someone else who has a different opinion. While I am confident about the where we came from, what is the meaning and what is the source of the name are still just theories.


It was not until the 10th century that modern hereditary surnames first developed, and the use of fixed names spread, first to France, then England, then to Germany then all of the rest of Europe. It was at this time in Europe, that the individual man was becoming more important, commerce was increasing and the exact identification of each man was becoming a necessity. Even today however, churches do not recognize surnames. Baptisms and marriages are performed through use of the Christian name alone.

  Thus hereditary names, (last names, as we know them today) developed gradually during the 11th to the 15th centuries in various European countries.


  So... What does the name Vin Zant mean and what is the origin of our name? I will address both of these questions together because I believe that they are closely tied together.

  Surnames were most often derived from, either your occupation or from the region from which your family heralded from. Some like Thompson or Johnson simply meant that you were the son of Tom or John. Other surnames were awarded to people by governments or monarchies and may be connected to an estate or a great accomplishment. Like a battle or quest.

  So a surname can point to the reigon, A family occupation, A great accomplishment, An estate or simply who your father was.


There are as many theories of the evolution of the name Vin Zant and its origin. Here are three I have discovered.


  • The first is from a distant family line. Probably very distant, maybe not even related. (I’ll explain this latter) The Van Sandt/Van Zandt line.
  • The second theory of the name, is from a more likely near relative. Though there is no direct link at this time. Allen Vinzant’s theory.
  • The third theory is of course mine. Based on information I have gathered. David Vin Zant’s theory.


          Theory I: From The Van de Sandt Family History 

  The Van de Sandt family in Europe originates from an old Hof (homestead) called Op den Sande, Op Sand or simply Sand near the town of Rees, Germany. Probably the homestead got its name because it was built on a sandy island in the river Rhine. The history of the homestead dates back from the end of the first millennium. Originally it was one of the most important properties of countess Irmgardis of Aspel. About 1040 Irmgardis granted her properties to the archbishop of Cologne, to whom they belonged until 1392, when they passed to the duchy of Cleve. In a charter of 1358 Konrad vammeSande and his wife Greta are mentioned as possessors of the homestead. After them several generations of the family lived on it. In 1614, during the Eighty Years' War, Rees and surroundings were occupied by the troops of the Dutch Republic. To protect the town the Dutch built a fortress called 'Reeser Schans' on the other side of the Rhine. In that time the homestead consisted of two farms called 'Grosse Sandt' (Big Sandt) and 'Kleine Sandt' (Little Sandt) respectively. On a land registry map of 1661 the two farms ('Grosse Sandt' with a fortified tower) as well as the Reeser Schans are indicated. On a topographic map from about the same time the homestead is indicated as 'Op Sand'. On the 5th of June 1672, Whit Sunday, the French under King Louis XIV attacked Rees and the Reeser Schans. With the arrival of the first French troops both farms were set on fire by a Dutch officer in order to prevent giving a hiding-place to the French. Later on its ruins have been overflowed by the Rhine. From that time on the Van de Sandt family has spread over such places as Obermörmter, Xanten, Brienen, Griethausen and Warbeyen in Germany, and from the 19th century also in the Netherlands. Originally they were farmers and landholders, often in combination with local administrative functions. Later on they also were engaged in trade, services and academic professions.


         In Response:

  This story tells of the beginnings of the Van Sandt family line which later evolves into different strains called, Van Zandt, Van Zant, Van Sant, Van Sandt, and variations such as Van Zauen. "Note: these Sandt’s also originated from the Rhine region." Yet, these Van Zandt’s are all of Dutch decent and the change from Sandt to Zandt as seen on their descendent lists on their website. Takes place either in Holland or in the US after they emigrated from Holland. So while their family line originated in the Rhine as Sand's they did not become Zandt's until they left the Rhine region. This does not mean of course that we, the Vin Zant's are not just Sand's that stayed and changed our names in Alsace.

So I think that they may be a very distant cousin at best. But these pages are about the evolution of Vin Zant’s not Van Sandt’s So I think we need to look just a little further.


          Theory II: From Allen Vinzant

  Based on several factors, the Nationality and Origin of the Vinzant Family is probably French. Significant support for French origins comes from a Vinzant daughter who inherited an old, flowered dinner-size plate that has been handed down through the generations with “came from France.” A known owner of the plate would have been her great-great-grandfather, William Vinzant. Data for William is very consistent in showing he was born in Kentucky in 1800, and all indications are that his father, James, was probably born in Maryland as indicated by two of his children in the 1890 census.
  Allen Vinzant spent many hours in the early 1960’s searching for the name Vinzant in all of the phone books in three different libraries. The result was five Vinzant families in France, one in Australia, and one in Rome, Italy. (Currently in 1998, the numbers are as a Vinzant from Nebraska who became an Australian “war groom” after World War 2. A letter was sent to some of the Vinzants in France and eventually the brother, who had moved to Rome replied. A part of his reply is: "I had the opportunity of finding it in some regional books concerning regional history. The family is originally of the arrondissment of Ussel department of Correje (or Correye). I found it as Vinzan, Vinzant, and Vinzen in documents going back to the high middle ages, 1100 to 1200 century. The difference in spelling comes from the transcriptions, made by more or less illiterate clerics. There was anyhow a manor or lordship of Vinzan. Presently it remains part of a poor little village of that name where there is no longer traces of the seignorial residence (Manor House). I think Vinzant comes from Vincentus. Vincentus was the head of the post commanding 20 men that Julius Caesar, after the conquest of Gaul, put along the Roman highway to insure the Pax Romano (Peace of Rome). These Vincentuses married in the region to the native women of Gaul ( France). This was the origin of the Vinzants of Limonsin. I must add that the country during Roman era was inhabited by a population originally Celtic. It is possible there are Vinzants in other regions of France. I nevertheless have never had the opportunity of meeting them who are not originally from Limonsin."


     In Response:

  Allen makes the claim that the name Vinzant comes from Vincentus. While I can't say for sure that the Vinzant's and the Vincentus' don't have a connection not knowing the history of the Vincentus line. It may even be possible that Vincentus comes from Vinzant or Vinzen as described above in Allen's text. A well known tradition amongst Roman statesmen was to take the name of lands, property or victories and incorporate them into their own name. Also not all Roman Statesmen or Centurions were of Roman birth many were enlisted from concurred lands. Most of Spain and southern France and especially the Rhine region were under Roman occupation through-out the Christian-Roman area (AD). Some of the earliest groups of scholars to record names were Latin clerics who would record the names in as they heard then do to the fact that most people could not read or write. The phonetic spelling of these names was often Latin influenced. So Vinzant could have been recorded as Vincentus (Romanized as apposed to Americanized). Allen also gives the origin of the name as from Limonsin also spelled "Limousine." This is located in south central France. This is not consistent with all the other information which gives the origin as coming from The Rhine which is in the central eastern part of France and Germany.

  Yet this is Allen's theory and we need to consider all possible theories, still we are no closer to salving the puzzle of the origin of VinZant.


          Theory III: From David Vin Zant (My Theory)

  To begin, I first took a hard looked at my name. Now in my family we spell our name Vin Zant. That is we spell our name with two capitals a capital V and a capital Z and a space in between the Vin and the Zant, just like our cousins the Van Zandt's. While there are a number of Vinzant’s out there like Allen Vinzant and those in our distant past who do not use a capital Z. I believe this is mostly due to a simplification of the name more then a different line. This space capital Z is a very important distinction and separates us from being Vincent’s or Vincentus. So it is this distinction that led me to believe that just like the Van Zandt's. Zant must be the root of the name and Vin is a pretext, like Mc or Mac is to Donald.

  Sometime back in the late 70's when I started researching I happen to came across a company which would find your family crest, for a fee, of course. At first I had researcher look for Vin Zant but they could not find it. Then they looked up Zant. What they found was Zandt. Zandt was first registered in the book of heraldry in a town located along the Rhine near Alsace-Lorraine. At least this clue was right. My family does maintain that we did indeed come from Alsace- Lorraine. But is Zandt the same as Zant? The answer is yes. It is common in German phonetics to use “dt” in words ending with the “T” sound. In fact there is a kind of silent "d" in Zant. When going from "Zan to t" you almost have to make a "d" sound. It’s just that "d" may have got lost as the name evolved into its German-French hybrid. The Vin being French and Zant is German. In fact the word Zandt is in the German dictionary and has two different meanings as well as the two for-named different spellings. Just to make things more confusing.


          Definition of Zandt.

  Due to the fact that most common people could not read or write and words varied from region to region language evolved form what we call root words the root word for Zandt it is Zahn. This is some what like that of Allen’s “zen” in Vinzen.

There are two known definitions for this root word, thought I believe that the core of the two definitions is basically the same.

  • The first definition is a person with uneven or deformed teeth.
  • The second definition is a rocky crag or jagged cliff.

     {Note: There's an old World term used to describe someone’s teeth it is; "He has craggy teeth.” or “His teeth are craggy."}


  I believe these two definitions came from the notion that the teeth were shaped like jagged or craggy rocks. So you can see there's a similarity between the two definitions.

So, in conclusion- have we discovered the true origin of the name? Probably not.

  • We are either named after jagged cliffs or the crumblings at the base, "Sand".
  • Or are we just the descendents of people with bad teeth. "No comment."
  • Or is it that our name dates back to Roman times.

Anyway you look at it our search is not finished.

For it is the journey... and not the goal that we press on.

New information:

  I have recently found out that there is a connection between the Vinzant's and the VanZandt's and Vinzant and about the origin of the their family lines. Allen Vinzant and a Mr. Van Zandt decided to have their DNA tested to see if there was any connection between the Vinzant's and the Van Zandt's.

The result was that there is a DNA match and that their DNA put their origin as Alsace France. So we now have DNA proof that at least Van Zandt's and Vinzant's come from Alsace. Now all we have to do is have someone in our Vin Zant line have their DNA tested to complete the conection.

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