A wyvern

This is not a duck.

Infrequently Asked Questions about the Drake Name

Why a Duck?

Fearful... fiery Drakes, and Blazing bearded-light,
Which frights the World.
--Guillim, Heraldry (1660)

The beast shown above is a dragon, or drake, of the particular variety called a wyvern.

drake: a dragon. For etymology, see below.

drake: a male duck, from north and central German dialect, draak, drake, drache; compare Old High German antrahho, antrehho.

By the way, the drakes referred to in the quotation are lightning bolts. Remember the simple rule: Lightning bolts are like fire, so they're named after dragons; stones skipping on the water are skipping on the water, so they're named after ducks.

Are you descended from Sir Francis Drake?

I am so proud,
If I allowed
My family pride to be my guide,
I'd volunteer
To quit this sphere
Instead of you, in a moment or two.
But family pride
Must be denied,
And set aside,
And mortified.
No, nor is anyone. Sad to say, that worthy died without issue. The Elizabethan sea captain from whom some thousands of Drakes in America and elsewhere are descended was Sir Barnard Drake.

Were they related? Probably, though they were not always on the best of terms. It may be inferred that Sir Francis, a nobody with no notable antecedents, was related to Sir Barnard's old county family in some way that no one wanted to make too much noise about. In fact, when Francis wanted to buy a house from a gentleman who was strapped for cash, he had to go through an intermediary to cover up his identity. He may, of course, be said to have had the last laugh. Apart from the small matter of immortal fame, that house which he bought with the profits from plundering the Spanish was a deconsecrated abbey north of Plymouth (now a National Trust property open to the public) that's far more impressive than the old Drake residence near Mount Drake in the other end of Devonshire. (Actually, the latter was reconstructed after being burned down in the Civil War. I give no details on how to find it because the present owner is decidedly publicity-shy.)

Where was your Sir Barnard when the Armada came by?

In his grave, from a sudden and violent fever contracted in the line of duty in 1586.

How to be bullied by a sharp-eyed snake

In the beginning the Greeks observed, or thought that someone had observed, great reptiles with penetrating vision. From a root meaning sharp-eyed, they derived the word drako, which applied to pythons and dragons. The use of Drako or Draco as a name dates back at least to the seventh century BC, when the Athenian statesman Draco codified the laws. The good news is that he believed in law and order, trying to put the punishment for murder in the hands of the government rather than those of vendetta. The bad news is that he prescribed the death penalty for pretty much everything, giving us the word draconian.

The Romans picked up the word draco. Eventually it was Anglicized to drake and gallicized to dragon. (Why did my fingers capitalize one of those verbs and not the other? Must be sheer chauvinism.)

Then somebody invented a firearm that spewed enough flame to earn the name dragon, which became dragoon, which came to be applied to the soldiers who used those arms.

Then Louis XIV (himself known as the Dragon, by the way) used his dragoons to pressure the Huguenots into converting to Catholicism. (Better than massacring them, after all, thus showing the rapid progress of civilization in France.) But anyway, when they had been dragooned into submission, the verb passed into English.

best of terms: When Sir Francis needed a coat of arms, he borrowed that of the Drake family. Naturally, he added some difference to show that he was not the head of the family; but he still had no right to use these armorial bearings, and a heated dispute arose between him and Sir Barnard, resulting in the latter gentleman's boxing of Sir Francis's ears. Good Queen Bess was quite displeased. After suitably reprimanding Sir Barnard, she awarded a fine new coat of arms to Sir Francis. Exercising his prerogative, he added a crest above it, showing a sailing ship with a wyvern hanging by the heels from the rigging. Sir Barnard's comment was simply, "Though Her Majesty could give him a nobler, she could not give him an ancienter coat of arms." Is this a real quintessential snob, or what?

government: Those who are skeptical about this good news will please submit a 20,000-word essay on the high state of civilization attained in Sicily and the Appalachian mountains through the use of vendetta.

Date last modified: May 9, 2001
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