10:00 am - 11/09/2012

What does Cumberbatch mean?

Benedict Cumberbatch gave us a very personal case, which we think we've solved...

It's one of the most famous names in showbiz, and not just because of its owner's massive success as an actor: Benedict Cumberbatch is one of those appellations that seems to enjoy tripping off the tongue. Benedict Cumberbatch. Benedict. Cumberbatch. BENEDICTCUMBERBATCH. Ahem.

It's been corrupted every which way, from his fans the "Cumberbitches" to the old joke about him starring in a TV drama about a man working on an allotment, during which the director shouts: "Cue Cumberbatch!" One famous article in the normally august Washington Post even repeatedly referred to him as Bandersnatch Cummerbund, for a laugh. Other nicknames for the actor are, sadly, unprintable. (OP: Oh, ONTD...)

All this being the case, you'd think Cumberbatch himself would be intimately familiar with the origins of his surname. So when RadioTimes.com met him recently (yes, that happened – get over it), we checked – and found he doesn't have any idea.

"I don't know," Cumberbatch said. "I genuinely don't. Nobody does. There are theories: an 11-year-old girl I was acting with in Creation, a film I did with Paul Bettany, came up to me and said, 'I know what your name means!' I said, great, tell me! I've been trying to find out all my life. She said, 'It means small valley dweller.' I said, I'm going to pretend you didn't tell me that."

Someone who dwells in a small valley, or a small person who dwells in a valley?

"I think a very big person in a small valley! But I immediately got images of dank stone cottages. Kind of romantic, but a bit depressing."

There is indeed a Welsh village called Cwmbach: "small valley". So that could be the answer. Any other possibilities?

"The other genealogy of it could be that it came over with the Norman conquest, but that's like saying everyone's related to the Queen Mum. [I think it's] probably [from] Germany."

Well, this just wasn't good enough. We wanted to know and we suspected you would too, so we thought: who do we know who'll know? Easy: Susie Dent, resident of Countdown's dictionary corner and, indeed, the puzzles page in Radio Times magazine.

After a bit of digging, Susie came back to us and said she reckons that 11-year-old girl was almost right, but not quite spot-on: "In a book of place names that existed before the Norman Conquest, 'comberbach' is listed as a stream in the Weaver valley of north Cheshire. The two parts of 'Cumberbatch' are 'cumbra', originally a byword for a Cumbrian and later an Anglo-Saxon personal name popular in North West England, and 'bach', meaning a 'beck', or stream in a valley.

"Together they make 'Cumbra's beck'. So 'Cumberbatch' is a surname based on a very specific place - Benedict's ancestors will have lived in that very valley in north Cheshire that is still there today."

Put the kettle on, Mrs Hudson - we've cracked the case! Or have we? Do you know better? Is your hero of German stock?


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shh_im_a_ninja 9th-Nov-2012 03:20 pm (UTC)
brucelynn 9th-Nov-2012 03:55 pm (UTC)
shining_starsxx 9th-Nov-2012 04:31 pm (UTC)
Oh shit LOL IRL.
go3x 9th-Nov-2012 10:32 pm (UTC)
superdogbiter 9th-Nov-2012 03:14 pm (UTC)
oh hi op
sherlockholmes 9th-Nov-2012 03:16 pm (UTC)
hey! what was ur halloween costume?
superdogbiter 9th-Nov-2012 03:22 pm (UTC)
wait for that costume post that brenden said would be posted yesterday
comalies 9th-Nov-2012 03:15 pm (UTC)
Posh twat with a face not even a mother could love I'm assuming.
pervert_bitch 9th-Nov-2012 03:39 pm (UTC)
HDU his mum loves him very much!
comalies 9th-Nov-2012 04:21 pm (UTC)
I'm sure she does, just not his face.
dovecage 9th-Nov-2012 03:18 pm (UTC)
This douche...
skeet_skeet 9th-Nov-2012 03:19 pm (UTC)
therearewords 9th-Nov-2012 03:28 pm (UTC)
When researching my last name I discovered it was th name of a Mongolian onk in six b.C. I love such histories.

Edited at 2012-11-09 03:28 pm (UTC)
soramai 9th-Nov-2012 03:54 pm (UTC)
me too
shadowfax 9th-Nov-2012 04:09 pm (UTC)
Yes! And not just surnames but history behind any names really.
londonshowers 9th-Nov-2012 04:28 pm (UTC)
After years of searching, I learned that my given surname (not family name) means 'one who was born outside the fence'
I was like 'wth kinda name is this, Mom?!'
sherlockholmes 9th-Nov-2012 05:56 pm (UTC)
It really is fun!

My surname is Irish as all fuck.
mingemonster 9th-Nov-2012 07:19 pm (UTC)
I'm jealous of people with cool last names. Swedish names are so standard, and mine is two random words my great-grandfather put together lol
shh_im_a_ninja 9th-Nov-2012 03:22 pm (UTC)
Butterface Cummerbund
honey_child 9th-Nov-2012 03:22 pm (UTC)
Cumberbitches has to be the worst fan community name ever. Even Bendable Cumberstiltskin hates it.
sherlockholmes 9th-Nov-2012 03:24 pm (UTC)
That's why I'm a Gravesdigger.
wingslapped 9th-Nov-2012 04:09 pm (UTC)
Flawless name for a flawless man.
xel_squirgle_ox 9th-Nov-2012 08:27 pm (UTC)
That is such an amazing name.
ahkna 9th-Nov-2012 03:40 pm (UTC)
The Once Upon a Time fandom for Captain Hook calls themselves HOOKERS.
sleevesofsatin 9th-Nov-2012 03:23 pm (UTC)
I love him and his odd face and stupid posh name and excellent talent.

Edited at 2012-11-09 03:23 pm (UTC)
sherlockholmes 9th-Nov-2012 03:28 pm (UTC)
sleevesofsatin 9th-Nov-2012 03:32 pm (UTC)
awww Basil!
mhfromnh 9th-Nov-2012 05:35 pm (UTC)
it's Flavisham, not Flangerhanger.
pervert_bitch 9th-Nov-2012 03:40 pm (UTC)
winegums 9th-Nov-2012 04:08 pm (UTC)
same here, even tho I don't love the shit he says sometimes.
wingslapped 9th-Nov-2012 04:10 pm (UTC)
icon <3
sauron 10th-Nov-2012 03:57 am (UTC)
omg icon
rewrittentime 9th-Nov-2012 03:23 pm (UTC)
snuffyqui45 9th-Nov-2012 03:24 pm (UTC)
lol this post.
therearewords 9th-Nov-2012 03:25 pm (UTC)
Batch of cucumbers, cu dropped off. TADAAH.
ahkna 9th-Nov-2012 03:40 pm (UTC)
lol comment twins
therearewords 9th-Nov-2012 03:48 pm (UTC)
x_rose_tyler_x 9th-Nov-2012 03:50 pm (UTC)
When I got into Sherlock which is when I found out about his existence, that's how I learned to remember his last name. For a time I said "Cucumberbatch".
bienenkiste oblig9th-Nov-2012 03:25 pm (UTC)

but aww @ that little girl
kinkpink Re: oblig9th-Nov-2012 03:33 pm (UTC)
lol they didn't even try
fabouluz Re: oblig9th-Nov-2012 03:41 pm (UTC)
fusilli_head Re: oblig9th-Nov-2012 03:46 pm (UTC)
This will never stop being funny.
soramai Re: oblig9th-Nov-2012 03:55 pm (UTC)
winegums Re: oblig9th-Nov-2012 04:05 pm (UTC)
legit wheezing and choking irl (that'll teach me to eat while reading Cumberposts)
wingslapped Re: oblig9th-Nov-2012 04:11 pm (UTC)
pilotesse Re: oblig9th-Nov-2012 04:40 pm (UTC)
lol this kills me every time
jeterluva Re: oblig9th-Nov-2012 05:09 pm (UTC)
xel_squirgle_ox Re: oblig9th-Nov-2012 08:56 pm (UTC)
mjspice Re: oblig9th-Nov-2012 09:09 pm (UTC)
sauron Re: oblig10th-Nov-2012 03:58 am (UTC)
i can't stop laughing. omg.
prophecypro 9th-Nov-2012 03:26 pm (UTC)
Beenadick Cumherpatch?
kaiserschmarrn 9th-Nov-2012 03:29 pm (UTC)
Is your hero of German stock?

Well the Germanic roots are clear in the explanation this Susie Dent woman gives. 'Bach' is still the German word for 'beck' nowadays, it's easy to see how Cumberbatch evolved from it. Wasn't there also a county named Cumberland in the North West of England during the Middle Ages? Yeah, his surname refers to someone from a specific region.
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