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.

  20. San Francisco, Ivan Scdoris, married Ruth Sigfrid (spelling unsure, could be german spelling). Many years ago I asked Ivan where the family came from and he indicated it was scandinavian in origin. However, at the time of his growing up in America being of German ancestory was not necessarly something that many discussed. Ivan and Ruth had 2 sons, Bobby and Richard. Bobby was life time military, had 2 sons and 1 daughter and Richard I believe stayed and lived in San Francisco and I believe had 1 child. I recall conversarons from childhood that the family may have originated in the Urals. The general belief for the last name spelling was that what ever language used by the Scdoris / Sedoris clan had letters in it that English did not and the American name simply excluded those letters.

  21. No, it seems to have been a simple misspelling/typo.

  22. Misspelling/typo probably. However, I have not been able to find a sir name even close in any of the scandinavian countrys, Germany, France, Denmark, or the Russian boarder. The origin of the name is unknown to me. It just kind of shows up in the US.

  23. David Eddyshaw says

    I feel solidarity with all these Scdorides, as the proud bearer of a name which also originated as a spelling mistake (in fact, in the case of my own branch, two spelling mistakes. Spelling is for the bourgeoisie.)

    I wonder if the odd spelling maintained itself with the help of the analogy of all the Irish and Scots McGills and McKinseys and the like?

  24. The origin of the name is unknown to me. It just kind of shows up in the US.

    Did you read the post? Scdoris is a deformation of Sedoris, which is from the German surname Sartorius. Easy-peasy.

  25. marie-lucie says


    Isn’t the Latin for ‘tailor’ (or rough equivalent given the Roman taste in clothes) SARTOR rather than SARTORIUS? There is a work by Thomas Carlyle called SARTOR RESARTUS ‘The tailor retailed’ (I checked with Wiki). There is an old (probably dialectal) French equivalent which you will all recognize: SARTRE !

    The stem SART- still exists in Italian SARTO, SARTA which both refer to a clothes maker. Spanish SASTRE is a version of French SARTRE, which I think also exists in Southern France (in Occitan territory) as a family name.

  26. David L. Gold says

    Frederick SEDORIS (born in 1813 in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania) was the son of William SADORIS (born on 14 February 1772), who was the son of William SARTORIUS

    If on the website Find a Grave ( you search for the family name SCDORIS (fill in the box just for the family name), you will find thirty-two main entries (often with photographs of tombstones, which will reveal more information) and if you click the name of each of the thirty-two, a new page will open, often with still more information about them and with names of relatives, many of which are in turn clickable, and so on and so forth, until you have followed every lead as far as the website will take you.

    Next, do the same with SADORIS, then with SARTORIUS, and other names. This is not work for an hour or so, but it is better than traipsing through cemeteries and paying genealogists, who will first go to Find a Grave and charge you for their time.

    If memory serves, SARTORIUS has, at least in the Netherlands, been a family name borne by Jews. That of course does not exclude its also being a name borne by Christians, which it certainly has been.

    Shilo Scdoris O’Connor and Vicki Sedoris may discover that they are related.

  27. “If on the website Find a Grave ( ”

    Very good find. Thank you.

  28. Speaking of typo-based names, I went to grad school with a guy named VanNieuwenhze, which always seemed like it was missing a few letters. Unlike me, he went on to become a professor.

  29. David L. Gold says

    @marie-lucie.”Isn’t the Latin for ‘tailor’ (or rough equivalent given the Roman taste in clothes) SARTOR rather than SARTORIUS?”

    At least certain Latin agentive nouns ending in -or have adjectives ending in -orius.

    You may have known George Pistorius, who taught French at several universities in the United States. Latin pistor means ‘miller’ or ‘miller-baker’ and the corresponding adjective is pistorius.

    Sartorius and Pistorius may be family names acquired by the sons of tailors, millers, and miller-bakers. I am not sure.

  30. Someone on the internet thinks that the Greek Sedaris comes from σιτάρι ‘wheat’.

  31. PlasticPaddy says

    @dlg, ml
    The form with -ius is a hyper-latinized form and the “ius” could be just “stuck on” to a Latin or Latinised name in the German-speaking area. This was originally a practice of humanists who communicated among each other in Latin. So Andreas Greif called himself Gryphius.

  32. David Eddyshaw says

    I suppose it’s in emulation of Roman gentilicia.

    A sartor is a mere tailor, but a Sartorius is a scion of the great patrician Gens Sartoria, famed in song and story. (Also a muscle in the leg, but we can’t have everything.)

  33. Marie-Lucie: Italian “sarto” derives directly from the Latin nominative “sartor”, but French “sartre” cannot (the final /r/ should not have survived): but it cannot derive directly from the Latin accusative “sartore(m)”, either, because the /o/ was stressed and thus should have been preserved (and yielded a form *serteur” or the like). I have no time to look it up, but my hunch is that a Latin accusative sar’tore(m) was contaminated by the nominative form ‘sartor, yielding a form *’sartore(m)”, which as an etymon from “Sartre” would work nicely.

    (Oh, and Marie-Lucie, I have been trying to e-mail you for the past few days, but I keep getting a message back saying your inbox is full. Would you mind taking care of this?)

  34. “Did you read the post? Scdoris is a deformation of Sedoris, which is from the German surname Sartorius. Easy-peasy.”

    Sorry, I missed this. Yes I did, but I must have missed something else in the thread because what this tells me is that at least one child changed his name to a word that has no meaning in German or English, that the name Sedoris is an arbitary set of letters that changed from a respected sir name to some abstract. Is that what is being said?

  35. “Frederick SEDORIS (born in 1813 in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania) was the son of William SADORIS (born on 14 February 1772), who was the son of William SARTORIUS”

    I find this quite interesting. 3 generations of different spellings. In this evloution you can almost see why the name was changed each time. I noted that Sadorus, Saddoris, do show up with some frequency.

  36. There’s also the version Satorus. People might not have had written records of their names, and were at the mercy of whoever heard their names and wrote them down in official documents.

  37. Even with documented records there is probably a reason names have changed. In my life time I have signed legal documents and in their return the clerk had changed the ‘Scd’ to ‘Sed’ or rearanged the letters, or completely removed the ‘d’. A bit on the annoying side if it causes you to have to get involved with the bureaucracy.

  38. John Cowan says


    Someone has to make up for names like Schillebeeckx.

  39. Trond Engen says

    Sartor occurs as a Danish rendering of the name of the island Sotra outside Bergen (and hence the name of a modern-day shopping mall near the bridgehead). The ON name of the island was Sotr f., so whatever the reason for Sartor, it never reflected actual pronunciation.

  40. David Eddyshaw says

    Someone has to make up for names like Schillebeeckx

    “Nietzsche” has always struck me as a good contender in the paid-by-the-letter stakes. (I can never write the name without secretly wondering if I’ve included enough z’s.)

  41. Trond Engen says

    I meant to add that this Sartor might hypothetically be the source of a latinate surname Sartorius “of/from Sotra”, but I think not. The name is historically very rare in Norway and has no particular connection to priestly families in the bishopric of Bergen. The few known examples are much more likely to be latinized Schröders or the like from Denmark or Germany.

  42. Stu Clayton says

    (I can never write the name without secretly wondering if I’ve included enough z’s.)

    A useful crib is

    Nietzsche = Nietz + sche
    Porsche = Por + sche

    Just think of Janis Joplin.

  43. Trond Engen says

    Me: bishopric of Bergen

    ‘Diocese’ was the word I was looking for.

  44. Bishopric is a fine old word, and in this case has the advantage of alliteration.

  45. John Cowan says

    Yes, but it’s ambiguous between ‘bishop’s sphere of authority’ and ‘bishop’s office’, whereas diocese is unambiguously the first. I would say that a bishop has a bishopric and controls a diocese.

  46. @John Cowan: I think the scope of diocese is actually a lot less clear than that—maybe not historically, but today, because of the way bishoprics interact with the government. This became evident when there started to be large numbers of lawsuits against the Catholic church over sexual abuse by priests. It turns out that the “Catholic Archdiocese of Boston” is a registered religious institution, with substantial assets. However, legally it has no relationship to many of the various parishes, charities, etc. that are part of the archbishop’s episcopal see. This had the unexpected and frustrated effect of allowing the church hierarchy to hide a substantial portion of their assets from the courts.

  47. Lars Mathiesen says

    “Mercedes Benz” is now age-restricted on YouTube. Stop the world, I want to get off.

  48. David Eddyshaw says

    Just think of Janis Joplin.

    I do, I do. It eases the pain sometimes.

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