How to keep a surname going?

The poet James Russell Lowell

Reading Scott Steward’s post about surnames being changed to keep another family name going reminded me of two examples we encountered when we wrote The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts together.

The first example is relatively straightforward. This involved the descendants of the poet James Russell Lowell (1819–1891). James had three daughters and one son, but only his daughter Mabel survived childhood. She married Edward Burnett and had three sons – James Russell Lowell Burnett (b. 1873), Joseph Burnett (b. 1874), and Francis Lowell Burnett (b. 1878). In 1890, Mabel’s eldest son James had his name changed to James Burnett Lowell to continue his maternal grandfather’s surname. Lowell chart The middle son Joseph died unmarried, and the Burnett name continued with the youngest brother Francis, although in both cases the number of Lowell’s male descendants bearing the surname Lowell or Burnett is relatively small.

The other case, involving the Russell surname, is more complicated. Judge John Lowell, the focus of our genealogy, was married three times, his final wife being the widow Rebecca (Russell) Tyng, by whom he had his last four children (including Charles, the father of James Russell Lowell). Rebecca was the daughter of Judge James and Katherine (Graves) Russell, wealthy loyalists of Boston. While they never had to flee Massachusetts, a few of their sons did, including their son James, who relocated to England.

In 1820, many of the American Russells were “running out” (although the name continued in England), and a name change occurred. Judge John and Rebecca (Russell) (Tyng) Lowell’s daughter, Elizabeth Cutts Lowell (1783–1864), married Warren Dutton and had three sons – John Lowell Dutton (b. 1807), James Russell Dutton (b. 1810), and Francis Lowell Dutton (b. 1812). On 21 February 1820, the middle son’s names were reversed by an act of the Massachusetts legislature to James Dutton Russell. Elizabeth’s oldest and youngest son both died unmarried. The renamed James Dutton Russell had two daughters and three sons, with one son dying young and the other two during the Civil War, so in this case neither the Russell nor the Dutton surname continued.

While the specifics as to why the name change occurred are unclear, it is interesting to note what was happening in 1820 with the English Russells. Rebecca’s brother James in England was granted a coat of arms on 18 August 1820, and the grant specified the arms could be used by certain American cousins as well (see p. 168). Did this have something to do with why J.R. Dutton’s name was changed to Russell? It would appear so, as these renamed Russells appear in certain heraldic journals as well.

Their family went back to the immigrant Richard Russell of Charlestown, who from genealogical gleanings had family in Bristol, England. After the death of Francis Lowell Dutton Russell in 1864, the last of the American “Russells,” the English Russells were not just the only male line descendants of Judge James Russell (d. 1798), but the Russell family’s representatives all the way back to the immigrant Richard Russell; further, they believed that they were descended from an even more ancient Russell family.

Judge Russell’s grandson Lechmere Coore Graves Russell (1786-1851) had thirteen children, including six sons, three of whom died in childhood. His three remaining sons were Sir Edward Lechmere Graves Russell (1816–1904, who had two daughters), Lieut. Frederick Thomas Lechmere Graves Russell (1817–1890), and Lt.-Col. Lechmere Russell (1837–1915); these last two both unmarried. When Colonel Lechmere Russell died in 1915, his obituary included the following tidbit:Russell for Chris


Without discussing the claimed ancient origins of Richard Russell of Bristol, Gloucestershire, and Charlestown, Massachusetts, the genealogies do indicate that the family name was “revived” (or continued) in America through a name change, which was unsuccessful due to young deaths in the Civil War, and completely ended in 1915, with the last descendants being a Loyalist line in England.

Russell chart, males only, except when tracing the renamed American Russells. Click on the image to expand it.

Christopher C. Child

About Christopher C. Child

Chris Child has worked for various departments at NEHGS since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.View all posts by Christopher C. Child