I’m grateful for this contribution from Emma Blackburn – a student of the Norse language.
Fær – and fé in old norse – relate to sheep, as indeed you have with the Faeroe Islands and Fair Isle. And by cognisance – these also in turn refer to wealth – as in those days one would count one’s wealth in the Nordic countries of pre-viking age – and of those non-vikings of that period – in sheep. So to begin with we can assume the one and the other – fær and fé.
We must also say that vowels change a lot from dialect to dialect. On Orkney today, where of course a form of Norse was spoken until perhaps the 18th century – this was known there as the Orkney Norn – you can still tell if someone comes from the mainland or the south isles or the north isles – if they are natives You used to be able to tell if they came from regions just 5 miles apart but with the centralisation in Kirkwall a standardisation has occurred which is not unexpected.
So fær or fé – to Fair – is not a huge jump.
Then we have “weather” – which is “veður” in old norse – and – meaning “weather”
The character “ð” was also used in anglo saxon in the same way as in norse and in pronunciation in both languages was represented by the TH sound that you get in the sounds THE THIS THAT THOUGH – the character was called – and still is – in Icelandic ETH – with the TH pronounced as in English THE (feather)
By contrast – both Norse and Anglo Saxon used the character “þ” – called THORN – but pronounced in modern day Icelandic as “THOTN” – to represent the sound that we use when we say THROUGH or THORN or THREAD
As Britain was a melting pot of cultures – (the celts largely pushed aside) – the convergence of the norse and the saxon formed a form of “pidgin” which ultimately developed into what we have now as English.
So the cultures merged – and Scots (as a form of Anglic/English) emerged – with a people having forgotten the root language – and so the ð looked like a “d” and was transcribed as such when it was only seen written – hence WEDDER in some cases – and indeed in WEDDERBURN – and in others where it was heard and so transcribed as the new WEATHER – because of the difference in representation of the sound – but to all intents and purposes they are the same.
So what does FAIRWEATHER mean?
Well – there is a third option – VEIĐA – which just just veiða in capitals – also means “to catch” from the old norse. I suppose your ancestors could have been “sheep-catchers” – or “shepherds” – effectively.
Although Fe means sheep in old norse it also means riches – I suppose because the value of wealth in sheep – but equally when applied by the norse in Scotland it could equally have meant cattle as some parts of Scotland are more given over to cattle whilst others are to sheep. Furthermore – I am reading Stuart McHardy’s “pagan symbols of the picts”and he relates a tale I have come across quite a bit lately – which is that the picts were great runners and the men trained themselves in endurance by running considerable distances to “snatch” the cattle and or sheep of neighbouring tribes and the object was to make off with them without being caught. So although the words are Norse – the tradition it seems is Pictish. Of course, just because language changes in a particular place – this does not mean that the people are changed out. So perhaps your family are inherently indigenous but just bearers of a Nordic name because the language shifted with the arrival of a good many norse at a given period. So fe-veida may have more to do with animal-napping (stealing) than with sheep-hearding!
I am sure you are all very sunny-dispositioned people too – but I think that is rather more modern than your practical history – particularly as norse (sur)names were geographically given – patronymics – occupations – or nicknames – such as LANGBEN (long-legs). I am sure Fairweather’s were all jolly souls for not being impoverished but being wealthy due to their fine flocks of sheep – and long may the good times come!