How Bacons (as in People Named Bacon) Have Helped Shape Western Culture


When playing a word association game with bacon, after eggs and a few sensory adjectives like crispy, the name Kevin would likely come up pretty quickly. But Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon notwithstanding, the surname Bacon has been around since well before Footloose.

People called Bacon have links to everything from French Impressionism (via Lucy Bacon, the only known Californian to have studied under any of the great Impressionists in Paris); to burlesque (American Faith Bacon is credited with inventing the genre-changing fan dance); to linguistic philosophy (through 13th-century Franciscan friar and scholar Roger Bacon, whose idea that all languages display universal grammar preceded Noam Chomsky by centuries). Throughout history, Bacons have been architects, artists, actors, athletes, musicians, politicians, preachers, and soldiers.

Artist Lucy Bacon’s Garden Landscape, 1894–1896. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Nowadays, the most well-known Bacon (after Kevin, obviously), is probably Sir Francis Bacon—the philosopher, scientist, and statesman (not to be confused with Francis Bacon the artist, or the cricketer, or Sir Francis’s relative Francis Thomas Bacon, the 20th-century engineer and inventor of the hydrogen-oxygen fuel cell, a development which powered the space shuttle). The original Francis Bacon was a 17th-century Englishman who is known for modernizing empirical methods. Before him, science was largely based on ideas people made up, saw as religious visions, or deduced by logic. Bacon came up with the idea that scientific knowledge should be based only on what we can see and measure. He died on April 9, 1626, supposedly of bronchitis, while investigating the effects of ice in preserving meat (though it was chicken, not bacon, that he was testing).

But despite what seems like an obvious etymology, the surname Bacon doesn’t necessarily have any connection to cured meat at all. One possible root is the Germanic Bac(c)o or Bahho, possibly from a root meaning “to fight,” which appeared in Old French as Bacus and then came to England with the Normans in 1066 and became Bacun or Bacon. Another possibility, also from the Normans, was the French name Bascon or Bascoun. Almost a century after the Norman conquest of Britain, the first recorded spelling of the family name, that of William Bacun, appeared around 1150 in the county of Staffordshire. However, early etymologists studying the English family name suggest it may…

Sasha Harriet

Sasha Harriet

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Sasha Harriet

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