The Origins of the Name “Dunebat”

As the principal member of Dunebat Country, it occurred to me that I might have an obligation to tell you more about myself. I figured I’d start with my name, as names are important things that tell you much about the person, place, or thing so named. While Dunebat is my online moniker, my batty little nom de plume actually has a bit of interesting history to it.

Well, not the Dune part. That bit’s easy: I hail from the arid plains of the Trans-Pecos (or “Far West Texas”, an extension of the vast Chihuahuan Desert), and I’m accustomed to lounging around the quartz sand dunes that drift through the area.

As for the bat part of Dunebat, this is actually the modern form of a slightly longer, older word used as my family’s name. While the name has at least three possible secret origins shrouded by the mists of history, what I present to you herein is one hypothetical origin story…

A long time ago in Medieval England, a family of merchants made their living hawking their wares. Existence was rough for merchants in those days. If businessmen didn’t have the means to protect their goods, they likely wouldn’t have any more goods to trade for very long. Medieval marketeers had to attain and learn to use cheap, easy-to-use, easy-to-maintain weaponry, or they were out of business the moment they were accosted by some nefarious highwaymen. One of the most basic weapons readily available was the lowly cudgel — commonly called a “bat” in modern parlance — and many members of this family of merchants became so proficient in its use that their clan became well known for it. (If any members of this family were travelers, their weaponry could serve double-purpose as walking sticks, too.)

By the time members of this family had spread throughout England,1 the family had adopted the word “bat” — well, one of its many Olde English variant spellings2 — as their surname.3 Sometime before the Renaissance period, these tradesmen had grown so wealthy that their family became an institution among the English middle class. Soon, they owned lands and estates, and some of them found their way into the nobility.

Once you’re in the nobility, of course, you have to requisition a spiffy family crest so others can see how far your family has come. Crests were all the rage back then! An entire language of fantastic iconography arose around the designing of such sacred sigils. The heraldic symbols on one’s coat of arms had to embody the strength, honor, and respect one’s family had earned through their deeds (or that they had acquired through their wealth). While nobles often had weapons of honor emblazoned on their crests — swords, staves, axes, maces, and the like, the weaponry of knights and warriors without peer — it’s a little tough to gain respect among the upper class with the lowly beating stick, sidearm of the lower class, adorning your coat of arms.

That’s when someone in the family realized: “You know, there’s something else that’s called a ‘bat’…”4

In heraldry, the humble bat (also called the “reremouse”, or the ratpenat in Catalan) is primarily associated with the townships of the old Crown of Aragon (as the symbol was most famously used by King James I the Conqueror and his offspring). Initially used as an alternative to dragons on some crests, the bat was used to inspire fear in one’s enemies and signify one’s familiarity with the powers of darkness, obfuscation, and chaos. In Christian circles, the bat was often depicted as “the bird of the Devil”,5 the physical manifestation of the Prince of Darkness himself.6 Over time, the creature also symbolized the death-and-rebirth cycle depicted in numerous mythologies and the way a sojourner conquered their fear of the dark as said sojourner ventured through the gloom of night toward the light of dawn — a trek merchants headed from one town to another to peddle their wares would certainly be well-acquainted with.

Like I said: that’s one possible origin — a variation of one of many possible origins, actually — for the -bat part of Dunebat. It’s a mite fanciful, I admit, but my mind tends toward the fantastic.

Audio version below, as recorded by Dunebat himself.

  1. Members of this British family — who have historically used the names “Batt”, “Batte”, or “Batts” — might have been found in France and Ireland as well. The French word batté — which has been used as a surname as either Batté or Batteé — literally means “batter”, as in “someone who hits something with a beating stick”. Additionally, Batt exists as a surname in Ireland as well as in England.[]
  2. Many other variations of the surname in question exist, including the name “Bates”. Even cursory genealogical research reveals the interconnected nature of the Batt, Batte, Batts, Batté/Batteé, and Bates families: Captain Henry Batte — a Yorkshire boy who immigrated to Virginia with his father, Captain John Batte — was also known as “Henry Batt” and “Henry Batts”, and his father John was also called “John Bates”. Of course, there are other variant forms as well, such as “La Batte” or “De La Batte“[]
  3. Of course, it’s just as likely someone took the name for some other reason — maybe because they were a landowner and the names “Batt”, “Batte”, and “Batts” were pet names for “Bartholemew”, the meaning of which implies that one is a “farmer” or “landowner”; maybe they lived out in the fields, as the Olde English bata meant “pasture”; or maybe the name was given to the family because their members were thin like a cudgel or had surly or hostile attitudes, people more liable to hit you with a bat than talk to you — but I’m trying to be poetic here.[]
  4. Naturally, the bat is a common theme on Batt/Batte/Batts family coats of arms, or on crests of related families like the Batt clan. Of course, many of these supposed family crests seem a little generic in their design and may be little more than trinkets designed by enterprising purveyors of otherwise meaningless tchotchkes taking advantage of someone’s interest in genealogy. To further confuse matters, anyone is legally allowed to design and register their own coat of arms in the United States due to the traditional American disdain for actual nobles. If you’re interested in finding your family’s historic coat of arms, consult with a certified professional genealogist — like the Association of Professional Genealogists or the Board for Certification of Genealogists — or an official heraldic authority, like England’s College of Arms or any of the other heraldic authorities worldwide.[]
  5. In the olden days, bats were often considered “birds” regardless of their actual status as mammals. This is because people back then were very dumb.[]
  6. This was before its association with Bram Stoker’s famed vampire, as the vampire bat was native to the New World and wouldn’t be discovered until 1810. Quite the pop cultural coup for such a diminutive critter, given that most bats ate only bugs and fruits.[]

About Dunebat

Sole specimen: Desmodus desertus. Judeo-Christian anchorite/scribe/scribbler. Lover of nerds, Goths, creatives, & outcasts.

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