Etymology of Wetherbee
My friend Win Corduan at Taylor University created the rebus on the left. It is suppose to read as "Wetherbee at Wingate." . It's clever, don't you think? Too bad that really has nothing to do with the surname. Folks should be forgiven, about this. As best as I can tell, the oldest form of the name (and there are a number of variants) is Wetherby, but there are various spellings, some of which (such as Weatherbee and Weatherby) would lead one to make the association with meteorology. It doesn't help that my family's variation on the surname suggests some sort of insect. Wetherbee is a corruption of Wetherby, a town in the west of Yorkshire. Oddly enough, the proper surname for people of the area is Weathersby--perhaps there is an implied apostrophe between the "t" and the "s." Odder still--though perhaps it makes sense--there at least was a Lord Wetherby (quite apart from those created by P.G. Wodehouse and Agatha Christie). These particular Wetherby's have their own coat-of-arms with three wethers on a green field, segregated by a chevron. As I understand it (but cannot confirm) the motto "tenax et fides" (roughly "firm and faithful") was granted by Queen Elizabeth I. Apparently one the Lords Wetherby was imprisoned and slated for execution by Queen Mary and was saved from that fate by her demise. Mind you, I am quite sure that I am no relation to those Wetherbys. As best as I can tell, my paternal ancestors were nonconformist (OK, Puritans) who left England for the Massachusetts Bay Colony. At any rate, a wether is a castrated ram (goes back to Old Norse weðer). While English speakers don't generally talk about wethers, one can still find some currency in the German "der Widder." Why one would castrate a ram is beyond my ken, but at least according to the Wikipedia, a bellwether is the sheep that indicates when it safe to move out. A bellwether is generally a wether and yes, he wears a bell. Bellwethers, by the way should not be confused with outliers, who go furthest from the flock. For you purest, the Oxford English Dictionary confirms this definition and "bellwether" is the preferred spelling (although it acknowledges variants such as "bellweather" and "bellwedder").
The second half, "by" (or its corruption "bee"), indicates a place. "By" is an Old English word derived from the Old Norse "byr" or "bœr" and means "farm," "settlement," or "habitation," (you may again consult the Oxford English Dictionary). As such, it is not too distant from German root "bauer." Just as may towns and villages end in "ton" or "ville," so this sheepy place in the north of England ends with "by," and some of the people from that area had their surname associated with the town.