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«P.H.REANEY Litt.D., Ph.D., F.S.A. Third edition with corrections and additions by R.M.WILSON M.A. LONDON AND NEW YORK First published as A Dictionary ...»

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Robert Curson alias Betele 1410 AD iv (Lo) Nichol Wigh oþerwise callyd Nicholas Ketringham oþerwise callyd John Segrave otherwise callyd Nicholl’ Pecche 1418 LondEng Henry Lordessone alias Henry de la Heus 1460 AD iv (Nth) John Morys alias Rede alias Sclattere 1474 Oseney Roger Harflete otherwise called Roger Cheker son and one of the heirs of Christopher Harflete otherwise called Christopher Atcheker…Raymond Harflete also called R.Atcheker 1508 ArchC 40 Richard Bishop alias Hewson of London 1671 EA (NS) iv This variation may be merely scribal. In Domesday Book ‘Robertus blundus is also called albus, flauus, blancard, all meaning ‘fair’. The tenants of Woolfin (Devon) were Gregory Lupus (1222), Richard le Low (1303) and Walter (le) Wolf (1359 PN D 368). Here the real surname was Wolf, translated by the earlier scribes into Latin and French. Allard Smyth is identical with Alaerd le Fevre (1382 LoPleas).

There is, however, evidence that the surname in the document is not always that used

by the man himself:

Robert le Botiler of Hertford. Seal: Robertus filius Willelmi (1275 AD iv) Agnes daughter of Rogerus piscator of Coventre. Seal: Agnes filia Petronille (1299 AD v) Thomas le Diakne of Ikelyntone. Seal: Thomas filius Ricardi de Fonte (1300 ib.) Ralph de Westred. Seal: Radulfus filius Willelmi (13th AD iv) Agnes de Humet. Seal: Agnes de Bellomonte (ib.) Seuual de Walcfare. Seal: Sawale filius Petri (13th AD v) Angerus called Humfrey of Lapworth. Seal: Aungerus de Bispwod (1319 ib.) Katharine daughter of John le Jay, wife of Roger Prodhome. Seal: Katerina Franceis (14th ib.)


In London, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, it was quite usual for the surname of an apprentice to be replaced, either temporarily or definitely, by that of his master.3 In most cases where sufficient material is available, the new surname displaced the old one altogether, a matter of some importance for genealogists.

Sewald, son of Sewald de Springefeld (1311 LLB B), is identical with Sewal, son of Sewal de Sprengewell, apprentice of Richard de Godesname, paternostrer (1311 LLB D) and with Sewallus de Godesname (1319 SRLo). Robert Podifat (1288 LLB A) was an apprentice of Roger le Fuyster (1312 LLB D), who is also called Roger Podifat (1320 LLB E). Robert, therefore, assumed his master’s nickname as his surname. Thomas de Cavendisshe, son of William atte Watre de Ewelle, late apprentice of Walter de Cavendisshe, mercer, was admitted a freeman of the city in 1311–12 (LLB D). His original surname would have been atte Watre or de Ewelle. From 1319 to 1349 he is regularly called de Cavendish and, in the enrolment of his will, Thomas de Cavendych, mercer or draper.

The same custom seems to have existed also at York, though less well evidenced:

William Payne serviens John Payne (1323 FrY); Roger Storre, servant of Johan Storre (1379 PTY); Richard Redhode, draper, serviens Willelmi Redhode (1386 FrY); Thomas Gauke, cocus, filius Roberti Nyd servientis Simonis Gauke (1424 FrY). Here, Thomas bore the surname of his father’s master which had probably been assumed earlier by his father.


Surnames may be divided into four groups:

1. Local Surnames

2. Surnames of Relationship

3. Surnames of Occupation or Office

4. Nicknames Within these groups there is considerable overlapping and a full and accurate classification is impossible. In dealing with names, we are concerned with an intimate possession and with the thoughts and idiosyncrasies of those who bestowed or adopted the names. They were not concerned with rules but with satisfying an immediate need.

Nicknames, in particular, were often the result of a spontaneous reaction to a particular occasion.

Local surnames may be occupational. The Panter worked atte panetrie. John atte Gate may have lived near the town-gate, or he may have been a gate-keeper or porter.

Surnames of office, such as Abbot, Bishop, Cardinal and King, are often nicknames.

Ralph Vicar was a glassworker, not a clergyman, and is also called Verrer. A single modern name may belong to more than one class. Low may be a French nickname from the wolf, a Scandinavian nickname for a small man, a pet-name from Laurence, or a local surname, from hlāw ‘hill’. Waller may be a nickname, ‘coxcombe, spark’, occupational, ‘a builder of walls’ or ‘a salt-maker’, or local, ‘dweller by a wall’ or ‘by a stream’. Mew may be a patronymic, a nickname from the sea-mew, or occupational, either metonymic for Mewer, ‘keeper of the hawks’, or from a local surname, with the same occupational meaning. It is impossible to fit surnames into a strait-jacket.


Local surnames, by far the largest group, derive from a place-name, indicating where the man held land, or the place from which he had come, or where he actually lived. Richard de Tonebrige (1086 DB) was so called from his castle of Tonbridge, but he was also called Richard de Clara from the Suffolk Clare which became his chief seat and gave the family its definitive surname. Richard de Hadestoke, a London alderman c1240, had left Hadstock (Essex) and settled in London. Thomas atte Forde lived near a ford.

These local surnames derive (with occasional exceptions) from English, Scottish or French places and were originally preceded by a preposition de, at, by, in, etc. A certain number of Old English formations are found before the Conquest: Ælfweard æt Dentune (972), Ælfstan on Lundene (a988), Godcild of Lamburnan (c970), Leofnað in Broðortun (c1050).4 After the Conquest the usual preposition is de, which is used before both English and French place-names. In French names beginning with a vowel, this de has often coalesced with the name: Damerell, Danvers, Daunay, Disney, Doyley, etc., and occasionally with English names, as Dash, Daysh, Delafield, Delamere. Many of the French place-names denote the seat of noble families, but many of the modern surnames merely indicate migration from a French place. There was a constant stream of merchants, workmen and others from the English provinces of France.

The earliest local surnames of French origin are chiefly from Normandy, particularly from the departments of Calvados, Eure, Seine-Inférieure and La Manche.5 Some of the Frenchmen early acquired surnames from English places, e.g. Roger de Berchelai (1086 DB). Philip de Poswyc (c1147) was a son of Richard Basset.6 English local surnames may derive from the manor held (Adam de Cokefeld 1121–48 Bury); from the place of residence (Ralph de Nordstrate 1197 P, Goduy ad Westmere

c1095 Bury), William Attebroc (1199 P); or from the place from which a man had come:

Brihtmarus de Haverhell’ (1158 P), who had moved from Suffolk to London, where his son became alderman and sheriff.7 Occasionally we have a surname from a sign (atte Lamb, atte Raven), but these are usually late and less common than has been supposed.

Some of the ‘signs’ really refer to topographical features (Ball, Cock).

The local surname, even when changes in form or pronunciation have occurred in the modern place-name, is usually straightforward enough. It is more difficult to trace the minor names. A general meaning can usually be assigned to them, but whether, for example, Richard del Helde 1246 AssLa lived near a nameless slope, or whether at a place called Heald, is not always easy to discover. The counties surveyed by the English Place-name Society contain fairly complete lists of minor names, and there are similar comprehensive works for Lancs, Kent, and the Isle of Wight. But for other counties, it is not always possible to trace such minor names. As yet there are no historical surveys of the place-names of Cornwall, Hants, Norfolk, Suffolk, Lincs, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Leicestershire, or of the Welsh counties. It is probable that as these counties are surveyed, it will be possible to assign to a particular place more of the local surnames for which, as yet, a general interpretation is all that is possible. A historical survey is necessary since we must know that the place in question was in existence at the time when surnames were coming into use, and also that the medieval forms of the place-name are similar to those for the surname. For example, Barnacle is often derived from Barnacle (Wa). But the place-name was Bernhangre in medieval times, and does not appear as Barnacle before 1547, long after the period when a surname from this form could have developed.

Similarly, Brighton is unlikely to derive from the Sussex town, which is usually Brightelmeston in medieval sources. It first appears as Brighton in the reign of Charles I, but this form of the name did not come into common use before the early nineteenth century. The surname must derive from Breighton (ERY), appearing as Bryghton from 1298 to 1567. Again, Bristol must usually come from Burstal (ERY), or Birstal (WRY), since the normal medieval vernacular form for Bristol (Gl) is Bristow, and Bristol does not become regular before the sixteenth century.

Ash, Nash, Rash; Oakes, Rook

A very large number of English local surnames derive from small places, or denote residence by a wood, in the marsh, by oaks, elms, ash, etc. These occur as atte wode, atte ƒenne, etc., and the preposition is usually lost later but is preserved in such names as Attlee, Byfield, Uphill, Underdown, etc. The names are from OE æt āce, æt æsce, etc., which became ME atten ake, oke, atten ash; atte oke, atte ash. The latter became Oak, Ash, etc.; the former became atte noke, atte nash, the preposition was dropped and the surnames became Noke, Nash. Rook, Rash, etc., derive from OE æt āce, æt æsce, which became ME atter oke, atter ash; atte roke, atte rash. In Tash, Tesh, ME atte ashe, eshe became at tash, at tesh.

Loss of the Preposition The absence of the preposition in early forms of local surnames (and of the article before occupational names) has been regarded as a sign that the surname had become hereditary.

Such a supposition cannot be upheld. The preposition began to disappear much earlier than has been thought and examples are too numerous to be regarded as scribal errors.

Ekwall remarks that the preposition begins to be dropped shortly after 1300, is mostly preserved through the fourteenth century, but after 1400 is usually absent. His earliest example is 1318.8 Fransson states that in York, de disappears in the early fifteenth century; in Lancashire it sometimes occurs c1450; whilst in the south it is regularly dropped at the end of the fourteenth century.9 Tengvik has noted in 1066 in Domesday Book 163 examples of local surnames

consisting of a simple place-name without a preposition.10 There are a few also in 1086:

Rogerus Blaneford (Blandford), Rogerus Povrestoch (Powerstock), Rogerus Povertone (Poorton), all in Dorset, William Tochingeuuiche (Tingewick, Bucks). A further 100 have been noted in twelfth-century documents from both English and French places, 28 in the Curia Regis Rolls (1201–21), mostly English, Alan Cheles 1219 AssL (Keal, Lincs), Richard Sulee 1221 AssWo (Sudley, Glos), and others.

In the London Subsidy Rolls for 1292 and 1319, where about half those assessed have local surnames, the preposition is always retained. In 1332 there are 23 without a preposition. In those for Sussex, local surnames without a preposition (mostly English) increase from 119 in 1296 to 319 in 1327 and 418 in 1332. In the 1327 Somerset Subsidy Roll about one-third of the surnames are local and of these 7 per cent have no preposition, a proportion very similar to that in Suffolk for the same year (6 per cent). In 1332 in Surrey about 20 per cent of the local surnames have no preposition, whilst in Lancashire in 1332 all the 1255 local surnames except 28 retain the preposition. It seems clear, therefore, that there was a definite tendency to drop the preposition from 1066; by the end of the thirteenth century the tendency was marked in Sussex and steadily increasing. In the first quarter of the fourteenth century Surrey shared this tendency, but it had not reached London. The process had begun in Suffolk and Somerset, was almost completely absent in Lancashire and non-existent in Yorkshire. ‘The de before the surname is in constant use well into the reign of Henry IV.’11


A common form of local surname of which many examples survive consists of an adjective or noun denoting nationality or the country, province, county, town or district from which the individual came: English, Scott, Breton, Fleming, Angwin, Loring, Poidevin, all of which are found in Domesday Book. Later surnames are Irish, Welsh, Wallas, Gall, Norman, Brabazon, Cornish, Cornwallis, Devenish, with Norris, Surridge, Sotheran, Western, Westridge. An early example which has not survived is Wluuardus le Doverisshe ‘of Dover’ (1125 ELPN).

Toponymics formed by the addition of -er to some topographical term, e.g. Bridger, Brooker, etc., are particularly common in Sussex at the beginning of the fourteenth century. They are also found in the neighbouring counties of Kent and Surrey, in Essex and Hampshire, but are less common elsewhere. The meaning is ‘dweller by the bridge, brook, etc.’, or, occasionally, at a particular place, Rumbridger, from Rumbridge (Sussex).12 The names, at times, interchange with names in atte and compounds of -man.

In the Sussex Subsidy Rolls, Hugo atte Broke (1296) is identical with Hugo le Broker (1327); John atte Combe (1327) with John le Coumber (1332); John atte Gore (1296) with John Gorman (1332); William atte Gate (1296) and John Gateman (1327) both lived in Goring.

Interesting survivals of Scandinavian formations are the local surnames Sotherby, Westoby, from ON suðr, vestr í bý (the man who lived) ‘south or west in the village’, and the anglicized Dunnaby, Easterby. Similar English formations survive in Astington, Norrington, Sinton, Uppington, Westington.


Surnames of this class are often called patronymics, but a more comprehensive term is needed, partly because many modern surnames are formed from women’s names, partly because in early sources other relationships are expressed: Alwinus Childebroder, Alwin’ pater Cheping’ (1066 Winton), Baldgiua soror Osuuardi, Lefuine frater Toui, Goduin Aluuini nepos, Wluin Brune stepsune, Sibbe Ædesdohter (c1095 Bury), Willelmus gener Arnwi (c1200 DC).

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