The name not surprisingly comes from The Bible in which Moses, the leader of the Israelites, led the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. Previous to that –“and the child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son; and she named him Moses, for she said, because I drew him out of the water” – Exodus 2. v10.
The name has three popular origins, the 1st from the Hebrew root “msh” meaning “to draw”. The 2nd and 3rd are Egyptian from the elements “moshe” meaning “conceived by (a certain god)”, and “moisis” meaning “son of”. In Britain the name first appeared as Moyses in the Doomsday Book of 1086, and Mosse, the normal medieval vernacular form of the name, later emerged. As a Welsh family name it was adopted among Dissenter family’s (including our’s) in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Welsh/Cymraeg form of the name is Moesen, which can be translated as “born/son of” or more usually “saved (from the water)”.
As far as our family are concerned, Moses became our permanent surname sometime between 1802 and 1813 (possibly 1809). Having first appeared (as far as we are aware of) with Thomas Moses in the 1700’s, the surname had taken a short patronymic break before Thomas’s son, Ifan/Evan (ap) Thomas, decided to become Ifan/Evan Moses. We know our ancestor Evan I chose Moses as a permanent family surname for mainly religious reasons, as back then having such a good Old Testament name would have marked the family out as Welsh Dissenters; but the chance to keep alive his late father’s “surname“, meant he was able to kill two bird’s with one stone. Similarly, other Welsh family’s, around this time, chose other Biblical names such as Samuel, Isaac and Abraham. However, once we get to the 20th Century, the surname would re-acquire it’s Jewish connotations. One of our ancestor‘s, Morgan Moses or “Morgan the hawker” (b.1875), actually changed his surname to Williams for business reasons; presumably to avoid being thought of as “A wandering Jew!” – Adolf Hitler did not invent anti-Semitism; indeed it predates Christianity. And talking of Nazi Germany, during WWII a lot of Moses family’s in West Wales, faced with the very real threat of a German invasion, actually changed their surnames en-masse from Moses to some-thing a bit more Welsh sounding!
Interestingly, approximately 10 miles from where our earliest known ancestors used to live in Glamorgan, is Carn Moesen or the Carnedd (hill) of Moses. This prominent (600m) feature, at the head of the Rhondda Valley’s, was described as a place which could be called a druidical temple, which retains in it’s name and other evident marks, evidence of it being a place of Christian worship. Running down from here is Nant Carn Moesen, which after a mile or so, joins another stream to form Afon (river) Rhondda. Finally to end on a lighter note, some years ago when my brother Ian Moses appeared on the popular TV show Bullseye, he jokingly told host Jim Bowen that he was a Welsh Jew! Ironically now in 21st Century Britain, the name Moses apparently conjures up an image of a black Muslim. A few years ago I received an e-mail from my local Conservative MP wishing me and my fellow British Muslims a “Happy Ramadan”!! I dread to think what my Gt.x4 Grandfather Evan Moses would have made of that.