In the Foreword to his Swett Genealogy, Everett S. Stackpole wrote:
Some have supposed that the Swett, Sweat, Swete, Sweet families are all of common origin. Swett and Swete, however, seem to have been two distinct and separate families. John de la Swete had a shop in Canterbury, Eng., in 1494. Later he is called simply John Swete. Here the origin of the surname is shown. He was John de la suite, of the retinue of some nobleman or dignitary of the church.Stackpole assumed that Swete was pronounced "sweet" and therefore must have come from the French word suite. He apparently didn't know that swete was an English word at least 200 years before the Norman conquest brought French influence into the English language. It was pronounced two ways and used for both "sweet" (the flavor) and "sweat" (perspiration). And even more confusing, swett was also pronounced two ways and used for both "sweet" and "sweat" as shown by the Oxford English Dictionary:
sweet -- Forms: swoete, suoet, swet, swete, suete, sweyt, swiet, sweete, sweate, swiete, suette, swett, squete, sweyte, zuete, swette, sqwete, suyte, sweitt, sueit, sweet. Old English: swète = Old Frisian: swet.The basic reason why genealogical research cannot rely on the spelling of English surnames is described in an excellent book on the English language:
sweat -- Forms: swet, sweet, swete, svete, swett, swette, swetth, sweate, sweat. Middle English: swet, swete.
Most people throughout much of the history of the English language have seemed remarkably unconcerned about niceties of spelling -- even to the point of spelling one word two ways in the same sentence. People were even casual about their names. More than eighty spellings of Shakespeare's name have been found. Shakespeare himself did not spell the name the same way twice in any of his six known signatures and even spelled it two ways in one document, his will. [Bill Bryan, The Mother Tongue: English And How It Got That Way, New York, William Morrow, 1990, pp. 124-5]In summary: Stackpole's contention that Swett and Swete were necessarily different families based on spelling of the surname is not supported. On the contrary, Swet, Swete, Swett, Sweat, Sweet, and several other variant spellings were often used interchangeably for the same person. To give just one example at this point, the name of Joseph Swett, Jr. (1689-1745) of Marblehead, great-grandson of John Swett of Newbury, is spelled Swett, Sweat, Sweet, and Sweett in church records and other original documents.