In about the middle of the run of this classic comedy TV show, I married Ms. Tidball -- not Tudball, but close. The hilarious Mr. Tudball skits were aired sometime between 1975 and 1978. We watched the show every week, so you would think that the similarity of the two names would have struck me or her. As best as we can remember, we never thought anything of it. But, you see, this was nearly 15 years before I knew genealogy even existed.
We (my wife and I) knew the Tidball family came from England in the 1880s, but not much more. Back in those days (a distant past known as the 1990s), one of the best sources for genealogy research was the International Genealogical Index -- on microfiche. There, in the IGI, was the name Tidball, predominately in Somerset in Southwest England. As I followed these leads, I soon discovered the Tudball name in some of the same parishes. Fairly obviously, Tidball and Tudball are variants of the same name. A modern topographic map shows Tudball’s Splats, a set of enclosed fields about 2 miles southwest of Withypool in what is now Exmoor National Park. No one knows how long this place has carried the Tudball name, but the Tudball spelling probably dates from the 1500s or 1600s.
My father-in-law's family history notes suggested the family came from Wales and vaguely suggested that the name Tidball referred to the keeper of something called the tide ball. Such a thing does, or did, exist. It was a ball that was raised to tell ship captains when the tide was high enough for a ship to safely enter a harbor. Presumably, harbors did have tide ball-keepers. The Somerset Tidballs lived within 25 miles of the sea, and at least one Tidball family settled on the Welsh coast, but no evidence has been found to suggest the family name has anything to do with tide balls.
As future posts will explain, my wife's Tidball family traces back to a Thomas Tidboald -- another variation of the name. Other names, including Tidbald, Tedball, Tudbold, and Tudboll are likely also variants of the same name. Several surname dictionaries state that these names derived from the Germanic name Theobald, possibly arriving from northeastern France after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066.One source says the name Tidball is of early medieval French origin, commonly occurring as Tebald or Tibalt (old French Teoband and Tibaut), all deriving from Theobald – derived from Germanic roots -- “theudo” meaning “people,” and “bald,” meaning bold or brave.
According to a Wikipedia article, Tim Conway's Mr. Tudball character was widely thought to be Swedish, but Conway said he used his mother's Romanian accent. Obviously, the comedy writers thought the name might be good for a few laughs, and they might even have thought they had come up with a nonsense name that could not possibly offend anyone. Now, we can set the record straight: Tudball (and the variant Tidball) is a perfectly good English name -- and, I doubt anyone was seriously offended.