Odom Family History in England
Welcome to the Odom Family Association's History section on our Odom origins in the Mother Country of England. Eventually we hope to have a large section just for our English ancestors.
This Odom family History section is sponsored by the Odom Family Association, a national family club for all descendants of all the Odom-Odam-Odum-Oldham families. If you came directly to this site, be sure and visit the Odom Family Association's HOME page where you can learn more about what we are doing to gather and preserve our family history. You can jump from there to the main Odom Family HISTORY section, the Odom Family QUERIES section, the online Odom Family NEWSLETTER and our other sections. Click on HOME at the bottom of this page to get started.
The Odom (Odam, Odem, Odum, Oden, Oldham) family had their origins in England. The family comes from several different counties scattered across southern and central England. Our ancestors took their name from several sites, some of which were small towns, others which were ancient holy sites. All of these places were named for the ancient Saxon god, Woden, one of the three primary gods of the "Old Religion" or Asatru, the religion of the ancient Germanic folk (in the areas which now include Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, England and parts of other modern nations). Woden, known as Odin in the Scandanavian countries, was the god of wisdom and in later times was considered the primary god of the three greatest gods.
Our Saxon ancestors invaded the island of Breton and conquered what is now England, starting in the 400's. They eliminated most of the existing population, pushing the remainder into Wales and Scotland and the county of Cornwall. They established several different independent kingdoms. Christianity has barely begun in Breton when the Saxons and their cousins the Angles conquered the southern part of the island. They all but wiped out the new religion. The Germanic normally did not build temples or buildings for worship. Instead, they worshipped in sacred forest groves and especially on hilltops. Some were sacred to a particular god or goddess.
Although the Old Religion had many gods and goddesses (the Aesir and the Vanir) the entire Germanic folk recognized three of them as their most important gods -- Woden, who was called Odin or Oden by the Norse in Scandanavia; Thunor, called Thor by the Norse; and Tiu (Tew), called Tyr by the Norse. Among the foremost goddess was Frig (Friga/Freyja). We can still recognize their importance in our modern names for the days of the week: Tiu's dage -- Tuesday; Woden's dage -- Wednesday; Thunor's dage -- Thursday; Frig's dage -- Friday (the "g" in Old and Middle Saxon is pronounced as a "y").
The various tribes of Saxons and Angles set up their own independent kingdoms and fought each other constantly over the centuries for dominance. When one minor king of the Angles sought aid from the Roman pope, he became the first Christian monarch on the island in order to get help from the Romans. He forced his people to submit to the new religion at the point of a sword. Although the Angles were a small minority on the island, from that point on, the entire southern part of the island was called by the Roman popes "Angle Land" or England and the name stuck.
Eventually, many of the Saxon kings also became Christian, although many in name only. They too, forced their subjects to accept the foreign religion in hopes of gaining dominance over the entire island. The followers of the Old Religion were forced to go "underground" with their religion and for generations to come, they practiced their religion in secrecy. The old holy sites were often given "hidden" names to hide their true identity.
When the Norse Vikings invaded England, they brought the spelling "Odin or Oden" with them, for he was one of their primary gods. They conquered much of northeastern England, which became known as the "Dane Law" region, because their law prevailed for a long period.
Until after the Middle Ages, not even the nobles of England had family or surnames. Knights returning from the Crusades began to adopt such names. They had seen the culture and finery in Constantinople and Rome where the Greeks and Romans had "family" names and their admiration of these ancient empires instilled in them an awe for their culture.
It was not until the late 1300's and 1400's though that the common folk of England began adopting family names. One of the main causes for this was the constant taxes imposed by the kings. It was simply impractical to keep tax rolls of an entire nation of folk with only one given name. The main sources of these "family" names came from the man's occupation, where he lived (place names) or a personal characteristic.
Our Odom family name comes from the many place names which were holy to the old god Woden/Oden. The Saxon name for a settlement is "ham / hamme" and for a usually larger site is "ton" or modern "town". Many English and American communities have this suffix on the end of place names, such as Birmingham. "Woden's (Odin's) ham" would be one such place name.
The few British "authorities" which have mentioned an origin for our family name usually say it is a corruption of the name "Adam" and a few say it comes from a town named Oldham. I dispute both of these origins. After studying the origins of family names for several years now, I have discovered that these British "authorities" on the subject spent very little effort studying the origins of common folk. I found that one of these authorities was totally wrong on one particular family I am descended from. He said the family took its name from a small parish which he apparently found on a map but as it turns out, no member of that family had ever lived anywhere close to that small community--nor even in that county.
"The highest deity, by general consent, among the Teutons [Germanic folk, including the Saxons], was Woden, Wodan, or Wuotan, otherwise Odin (the Norse form). The word means all-powerful, all-penetrating; Woden bestows shape and beauty on man and things, gives song, victory in war, the fertility of soil, and the highest blessings."
"The number of place-names in various countries compounded with his name shows the extent over which places were sacred to him or named after him." G. T. Bettany in the Encyclopedia of World Religions (1890).
"The gods of the English still in place-names retain a firm hold on the countryside." Says Brian Branston in The Lost Gods of England. Such names as Wansdyke (Wodnes dic), an ancient earthen wall runs for several miles from Hampshire to Somerset. Nearby are sites once known as Wodnes beorh, 'Woden's barrow', now Adam's Grave; Wodnes denu, 'Woden's valley'. Many earthworks in England are called 'Grimsdyke', since "Grim" was one of the "hidden" names for Woden after Christianity was forced upon the common folk. Grim is also incorporated in many other place names as well. Throughout England, old sites held the names of this god of wisdom: Woodnesborough; Wornshill, Wednesfield ('Woden's field'), Wednesbury , ('Woden's fortress'); and many more.
It appears that far more place names exist in England today that were once holy to the Old Religion than has ever been acknowledged by most British scholars--simply because as Christians, they do not wish to acknowledge their "heathen" heritage. And it also appears that far more common folk took their names from sites once holy to the Old Religion than is commonly recognized.
Over the centuries, the English language has changed drastically. Our English ancestors tended to shorten words and to combine them with other words (as in all of the Germanic languages). Thus we find a place where Woden was worshipped changed from "Woden's hamme" and becoming "Wodenham" or "Odeham". Ham or hamme is the old Germanic word for a settlement or small town and is still used on many place names today, such as Birmingham.
We also have to consider the Danish and Norse Viking influence -- both on the religion and the naming of sites across the country. They began making raids into Breton (as it was known then) in the 700's and this became a major wave of invasion later. The Danish Vikings actually conquered several of the kingdoms of Breton. The region they ruled became known as the "Danelaw" (where their rule of law was in control). This included all of modern England from Scotland down to Essex on the south coast. By the time they began large scale conquest of England, large numbers of the English had adopted Christianity. But the Vikings were still practicing the Old Religion and brought a return of the worship of the god they called Odin. They introduced even more place-names called for him.
Oldham is another story all together. This can be both the obvious "old ham" or ancient town or the same as Odeham. When the English settlers came to America, the vast majority were illiterate and many times, the name was corrupted with an "l" and "d" added because the barely literate clerks writing the public documents were not familiar with Odom and thought it had to be something like "Oldham".
More coming...be patient as we work on the new site.
18 June, 1998