My lovely wife sent me a NY Times story about a legally blind musher named Rachael Scdoris who finished the 1,100-mile Iditarod race early Saturday, asking the simple but deadly question “Whence the name Scdoris?” Damned if I know. I’ve scoured the internet and found others with that name (there were several of them in Nebraska in 1920), but nothing at all on the history of the name and family. Come on, this isn’t Smith or Jones; how come none of the news stories address this issue? I haven’t even got a clue as to what language it might be adapted from. But surely one of my far-flung readers will know. My thanks in advance for relieving my mind of this pressing concern.

Addendum. Ben of Positive Anymore (“American Dialects, Yiddish, New Yorker Cartoons, Pop Music – they all go together, right?”) has done yeoman work on this and discovered that Scdoris is a deformation of Sedoris (c is an easy mistake for e, but how did it stick?), and the latter is a transmogrification of the German surname Sartorius! This makes me very happy, both because I don’t have to lose sleep worrying about the origin of the strange-looking name and because it’s such an interesting derivation. Sartorius! Whoda thunkit? (Sartorius, incidentally, is Latin for ‘tailor,’ and I presume it was originally a fancified version of Schneider. It’s also the origin of the Faulknerian surname Sartoris.)


  1. I’ve turned up a couple things:
    1. According to several websites, the name is pronounced “Sedoris.”
    2. Th Nebraska Scdorises all seem to descend from Alfred Scdoris, born in Ohio in 1845, and died in Nebraska in 1911. This Alfred was the child of Frederick Sedoris, and all of his male siblings seem to have kept this spelling of the name. Frederick in turn was the son of William Sadorus, born around 1787 in “Pennsylvania or Ohio.”
    The name Frederick, plus the origin in Pennsylvania, suggests German ancestry to me, though the name seems more Baltic than German – who knows? But what I’m pretty sure of is that the “Scd” originated as a misspelling – interesting, then, that the pronunciation stayed the same.

  2. I posted that a second too soon. William Sadorus’s father was William Sartorius, born in 1750 in Alsace.

  3. Yeah, “Sedoris” would make more sence. SCD simply isn’t a cluster we use in English. I would be interested to hear the pronunciation in the original tongue.

  4. Ah, Sartorius! A fine old German name (there was a Baron August Sartorius von Waltershausen, an economist, and his equally baronial son Hermann Wolfgang, a musician), fated to undergo one of the stranger transformations I’ve seen. Thanks very much indeed for that illuminating research; I’ll be able to sleep tonight.

  5. And you’re right, it must have started as a misreading/misspelling of Sedoris, with c for e (an easy error), but why on earth wasn’t it corrected? Someone must have liked the unique unpronounceability of it and decided to keep it.

  6. What about Sedaris? Close enough…Then the origin would be Greek, not German.

  7. Different name, but strikingly similar, yes.

  8. And a great accomplishment for Scdoris herself. She’s only twenty-one years old and this is her second Itarod (last year she had to withdraw because her dogs fell ill). I realize this is off-topic material in this particular thread, but I saw the story too and was very impressed with her feat.

  9. We love off-topic material here at Languagehat!

  10. With regard to the question of why the mis=spelling Scdoris wasn’t corrected, two possibilities occur to me. One is that perhaps the person whose name was originally spelled this way wasn’t literate. If, e.g., an immigration official mis-spelled the name, an illiterate person wouldn’t notice. The other is that the mis-spelling might have been on documents that the person didn’t see for quite some time, by which time it would be too much trouble to change.

  11. It’s something like the surname “ffolkes” arising from a misreading of a fancy “F” as “ff”.

  12. Rachael is my daughter, from the looks of things she might be the greatest SCDORIS in history. Since apparently there is no other history. Thanks for the lesson.

  13. Hey, Jerry, I’m glad you found the thread and learned something about the family name. Heartfelt congratulations to your very accomplished daughter!

  14. Sam Sedoris says:

    Bill Poser is correct; from the family research I have conducted on the last name. It is because of literacy or the lack thereof the name was spelled incorrectly. From the Scdoris descendants I was told the brothers would fight over the spelling of the name Sedoris or Scdoris. I was always told the name is German but many say it’s Greek since it ends in ‘is’

  15. Sedaris is Greek, Sedoris is German.

  16. Shilo Scdoris O'Connor says:

    My maiden name is Scdoris. My grandfather was Bobby Scdoris. He has since passed. I did not grow up knowing the Scdoris side of the family, but I met with my grandfather about 10 years ago in Portland OR. I was hoping he would have answers on our ancestory however he did not know the origin of the name either, and I too have had no luck looking on line. I believe that Rachel is a distant cousin of mine. I had been told that the name Scdoris may have originated from Hungary. Any input on that?

  17. There were historically a lot of Germans in Hungary (most cities in Eastern Europe were primarily German for centuries), so an ancestor of yours could certainly have lived in Hungary. The name is German, however.

  18. vicki sedoris says:

    I have always been very proud of my surname since it is not often heard. I was also told by my mother that this is a greek name. could somebody please help me with this one?

  19. Vicky, as I said above, Sedoris is German (from Sartorius, probably a Latinized form of Schneider), Sedaris (with an -a-) is Greek. There may also be a Greek form Sedoris, but I haven’t seen it.

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