by Sam McBride

In the 70 years since his death in Plymouth Sound, the spelling of the name of my greatuncle “Frederic Thornton Peters” has morphed into “Frederick Thornton Peters” in common parlance.

When I do Google searches using the “Frederic” spelling,  it is quite annoying to see the advisory “Don`t you mean Frederick Thornton Peters?” – as if I have made a mistake!  I have written to Canada`s department of Veterans Affairs and they were interested in my information, but it is too much trouble for them to change their documents, publications etc. with the correct spelling.  I may have better luck, over time, in getting Wikipedia to change their listing of his name to Frederic.  It is very difficult to counteract the bureaucratic momentum of anonymous officials of yesteryear who incorrectly assumed the correct spelling of his first name has a “k”.

On the surface it is a trivial matter.  Most would say “What difference does it make?”.  I would normally take that position too, especially as he was always referred to in the family by the nickname “Fritz” rather than his official name anyway.

Is there proof that his name was Frederic rather than Frederick?  Quite a lot, actually.  First of all, his baptismal certificate shows he was named “Frederic Thornton Peters” at his baptism at six weeks of age on October 27, 1889.  This link goes to the Prince Edward Island online register

Baby photo of Capt. Frederic Thornton "Fritz" Peters (1889-1942). McBride Collection.

Secondly, the “k” that was in his first name in his Royal Navy service file is intentionally stroked out.  The words “passed out” are beside the change, so it looks like the change may have been made when he became an officer.  Perhaps he was given an opportunity to review his record, and corrected the spelling of the name.

FTP navy service file showing the correction

Thirdly, Fritz makes clear how he wished his name to be spelled in letters home in 1917 when he was in command of the destroyer HMS Christopher.  Below are scans of the letters and transcription of the text referring to the spelling of Frederic.  The issue arose when his sister Helen Dewdney gave birth to her first, and only, son on May 2, 1917 and said she wanted Fritz to serve as Godfather and to name the boy with Fritz`s official first name of Frederic.  The boy was named Frederic Hamilton Bruce Dewdney, and he would serve as a lieutenant with the Royal Canadian Navy in the Second World War on Fairmile motor launches in anti-U-Boat patrols off the east coast of Canada.  After the war he worked as a lawyer with Cominco Ltd. in Trail, B.C., retiring in 1982.  He died in Trail Nov. 28, 2008 at age 91.  Ironically, he used the “Frederic” name even less than his uncle Fritz did.  From an early age, the boy was known by his nickname Peter.  As an adult, he had his name legally changed to Frederic Hamilton Peter Dewdney.

Transcription — June 2, 1917 letter from Fritz Peters to his mother Bertha:  Dear Mother, Many thanks for your letter of May 4th which I have just received. I am delighted to hear this news of Helen and of course I should be equally delighted to be his Godfather. Be careful to spell his name without the “k” — Frederic — saves ink — war economy. Anyhow it’s how I spell mine…

June 2, 1917 letter re Frederic spelling (he mistakenly lists the date as 1916, but it has to be 1917 because it refers to the boy`s birth in May 1917)

2. Transcription — August 3, 1917 letter from Lieut. Fritz Peters to his mother: My Dear Mother, Very glad to get your letter and to hear that the young chee-ild has been christened Frederic without a “k” — a most important point and one which will doubtless have heavy bearing on the distinguished future that lies before him.

August 3, 1917 letter from Fritz to his mother