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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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These two suffixes are used to form diminutives of the more common names and are very frequently used as personal names, sometimes to distinguish son from father, sometimes as pet-names. John and Jankin, William and Wilkin, are both used as names of the same man. Compounds of -cock are less common and later than those of -kin, which are found already in the twelfth century: Potechin 1166, Hardekin 1175, Lambekyn 1178, Wilekin 1180, Adekin 1191; Hellecoc 1202, Alecoc 1204, Adecok, Wilcok 1246. Occasionally they are compounded with women’s names: Edekin 1279, Malkyn 1297, Marekyn 1390;

Becok, Geuecok 1332.

Such names become more common from the middle of the thirteenth century and are very frequent in the fourteenth, particularly among the lower classes. The earliest examples of -kin are names of Flemings: Derechin (1158, Essex). Wilechin (1166, Newcastle) was the son of a moneyer who may have been a foreigner. This supports the common view that the suffix was brought from the Netherlands but there seems to be no concentration in the east, whilst -kin names were common in Cheshire at the end of the thirteenth century.

Classical Names

In addition to the usual sources, Old English, Old French, Old German and Old Norse, of the personal names, a few classical names appear: Eneas de Baddeby 1383–4 FFWa;

Aristotile 1196 P (Hu); Ciprianus 1182–1211 BuryS; Eusebius Ailbrit 1279 RH (Hu);

Hercules Loveden 1592 AD v (Berks); Oratius presbiter 1193 P (Ess); Ignatius filius Athelwaldi 1207 Cur (Nf); Juvenalis 1208 Cur; Lucianus de Scille 1212 Cur (Db);

Menelaus 1202 AssNth; Omerus 1196 P (Ha); Uirgilius 1177–93 CartNat. Many of the saints’ names were also of Greek or Latin origin, and probably owe their use in medieval times to this fact. In addition, the popularity of Alexander is probably due to the medieval romances dealing with the hero, and the appearance of Achilles de la Bech’ 1221 AssSa, and Hector de Hilleg’ 1222 Cur (Sf) to the romances on the Troy legend. Other names which probably owe their use to medieval romance include Charlemayn 1230 P (Wo);

Rauf Lancelot 1506 TestEbor; Eglamore Muston 1476 IpmNt, and perhaps Diggory Watur 1461 SaAS 2/xi; Digorie Maker 1600 AD v (Co, D) to Sir Degarre.

Three names are of particular interest. In Old English the name Beowulf is known only from the Old English epic of which he is the hero. Since there are no other medieval references to the poem, it is impossible to know whether it or the name of its hero were at all widely known during the Old English period. But the name of Beowulf certainly survived until at least the end of the thirteenth century: Bowulf 1195 PN D 604; Bowulf de Rugeberge 1196 P (D); William Bewlf 1264–5 FFSx; William Bewolf 1296 SRSx;

William Beowoulf 1297 MinAcctCo. This would suggest either that a knowledge of the poem and of its hero long survived the Conquest, or that Beowulf was a normal Old English name, and not simply an invention by the author of the poem. In the romance of Havelok the Dane, written towards the end of the thirteenth century, one of the minor characters is a certain King Birkebayn. The name is usually taken to be derived from ON Birkibeinar, the name given to the followers of King Sverrir who fought his way to the throne of Norway in 1184. But it is found as a surname in England as early as the end of the twelfth century: William Birkebein 1199 Pleas (Nf); Rener Birkebayn 1232 Pat (L);

Isabella Birkebayn 1297 SRY; John Birkebayn 1379 PTY. These would seem to indicate that it was probably an Old Norse nickname of a not uncommon type with -beinn as a second element, and not necessarily connected in any way with the Birkibeinar of Sverrlssaga. The Geste of Robin Hood is usually thought to have originated in the North or Midlands, and to be especially connected with Sherwood Forest. Yet the only examples of the use of the name as a surname come from the south: Gilbert Robynhod 1296 SRSx; Katherine Robynhod 1325 CorLo; Robert Robynhoud 1332 SRSx. It would seem probable that these surnames must be connected with the famous outlaw, but no explanation for their presence in the south at this date can be offered.

On the whole medieval feminine personal names were rather more varied than the masculine ones. Most of the latter had feminine equivalents, and whilst today a distinction is usually made between the two, e.g. Denis but Denise, Nicholas but Nichola, this was not the case in medieval England. In the records women’s names are normally given a final -a, but in the vernacular the pronunciation of the names was usually much the same. Hence such names as Paulina, Eustacia, Andrea, Jurdana, Dionisia, were indistinguishable from the masculine forms, and have probably contributed to the resulting surnames.

Some classical feminine names were in use, though they have rarely given rise to surnames: Camilla 1208 Cur (Ess); Caesaria 12th Rams (Hu); Cassandra de Bosco 1283 SRSf; Diana 1256 AssNb; Felicia de Winterburn’ 1208 P (W); Olimpias 1207 Cur (Gl);

Philomena 1202 FFY; Prudencia de Pavely 1210 Cur (Nf). In addition, some classical names were also the names of saints, and probably owe their use in medieval times to this fact: Agatha, Anastasia, Helen, Juliana, Katherine, Margaret, Euphemia, etc.

In the Middle Ages there was a fashion for fanciful feminine names, few of which have survived, or given rise to surnames: Admiranda 1231–2 FFK; Amicabilis 1232–3 FFWa;

Argentina 1204 FFO; Bonajoia 1319 LLB E; Clariandra 1248 AssBerks; Damisona a1290 CartNat;Desiderata 1385 AD iv; Diamanda 1221 Cur (Mx); Eglentina 1213 Cur (Sx); Epicelena 1208 Cur; Estrangia 1202–3 FFK; Finepopla 1203 Cur (Sf); Fousafia 1218 AssL; Imagantia 1219 Cur (Sf); Ynstauncia Lyoun 1327 SRY; Joya 1195 FFEss;

Jolicia 1219 Cur (K); Melodia 1212 Cur (Sf); Modesty 1269 FFY; Orabilia 1221 Cur (K);

Plesantia West 1274 RH (Nf); Popelina 1212 Cur (L); Preciosa 1203 Cur (Herts);

Primaveira 1226 FFWa; Splendora 1213 Cur (D); Topacia 1243 Glast (So).


In early post-Conquest documents, the innumerable surnames of this type—almost

invariably in Latin—refer to actual holders of the office, whether of church or of state:

Abbot, Prior, Chancellor, Chamberlain, Steward (dapifer), or to ecclesiastical or manorial status: Monk, Dean, Reeve, Sergeant. Among the Normans some offices of state such as steward, constable, marshal, etc., became hereditary and gave rise to hereditary surnames, but the terms were also commonly used of lesser offices, whilst marshal was a common term for a farrier and such names frequently denoted the actual occupation. Abbots, priors, monks and nuns were bound by vows of celibacy and thus could not found families. As medieval surnames, these must be nicknames, ‘lordly as an abbot’, ‘meek as a nun’, often, too, bestowed on one of most unpriestly habits. Only occasionally do.we find in the sources some indication that this is the case, e.g. Geoffrey le Moyne was constable of Newcastle in 1219 AssY, and so is unlikely to have been a monk. Similarly, cf. John le prest le chaucer c1250 Clerkenwell; William Priour, cossun 1283 LLB B;

William called le Clerk, butcher 1336 Husting; Richard Priur lindraper 1300, Roger le Mounk, baker 1318 NorwDeeds.

Occupational surnames originally denoted the actual occupation followed by the individual. At what period they became hereditary is a difficult problem. In addition, such names as Pope, Cardinal, Legate, can never have been surnames of office in England, and must have been originally pageant-names. It has often been held that the absence of the article points to a hereditary surname, a supposition which cannot be upheld for early in the twelfth century the article is frequently omitted and the same man is called both Richard turnur and le turnur (12th DC). It is unlikely that, as Fransson suggests, tradenames were used as nicknames and that a man might be called ‘the shoemaker’ because he mended his own boots. But it is difficult to account satisfactorily for names like Mower, Ripper (reaper), Sawer (sower), which must have been only seasonal occupations.

A marked feature is the surprising variety and specialized nature of medieval occupations, particularly in the cloth industry where Fransson (p. 30) has noted 165 different surnames, whilst the metal trades provide 108, and provision dealers 107 different names. Many of these were clumsy and have disappeared but other surnames still recall occupations or occupational terms long decayed: Arkwright, Ashburner, Barker (tanner), Billeter (bell-founder), Chaucer (shoe-maker), Cheesewright (cheesemaker), Deathridge (tinder-maker), Harbisher (maker of hauberks), Lister (dyer), Slaymaker (shuttle-maker), Thrower (silk-winder), Whittier (white leather-dresser).

Many of the occupation names were descriptive and could be varied. A worker in metal could be called both Seintier or Bellyeter from the bells he cast, or simply Sporoner from the spurs he made, or ‘moneyer’ if he made coins. William le Pinour ‘maker of combs’ was also called le Horner from the horn he used. Adam le Marbrer who paved part of St Paul’s and Peter the Pavier who paved St Stephen’s Chapel, Westminster, both followed the same occupation. William Founder cast both bells and cannon.

Surnames of occupation are more common than the modern forms suggest. Many surnames, previously regarded as nicknames difficult to explain, are really occupational.

Apart from mere shortening by which Cofferer and Coverer became Coffer and Cover, the name of the article made or the commodity dealt in was used by metonymy for the maker or dealer. Modern Garlick represents not only medieval Garlek but also Garleker and Garlekmonger. Cheese is found as a surname in the twelfth century but, whilst Cheser has disappeared, both Cheeseman and Cheesewright survive. Of Cheverell, Chevereller and Cheverelmonger, only the metonymic Cheverell still exists. This frequent use of metonymy gives a satisfactory explanation of such names as Death, Meal, Pouch, etc. So, too, the man in charge of the colts or the palfreys was called not only Colter or Coltman, Palfreyer or Palfreyman, but also Colt or Palfrey. Thus, Bull and Lamb (sometimes from a personal name) are not always nicknames. They may be metonymic for bull-herd and lamb-herd.

Brooker and Brook (atte Broke) are undoubtedly local surnames, ‘dweller by the brook’. Bridge, Bridger and Bridgeman may similarly be local, but as the keeper of the bridge, especially where tolls had to be collected, also lived near the bridge, the surnames may be occupational also. But names like Kitchen (atte Kechene), Kitchener, Pantry, Buttery, etc., must be occupational. The man worked in or had charge of the kitchen or the pantry or the buttery, but he certainly did not live in them. Similarly, Hall, Haller, Hallman, probably denote a servant at the hall, where he also may have lived. But the owner—probably the lord of the manor—would have a different surname, one commemorating his possessions or an ancestor.


That many modern surnames were originally nicknames is proved conclusively by the material in the following pages. No full and satisfactory classification can be attempted.

Some are unintelligble; the meaning of many is doubtful. Nicknames arise spontaneously from some fortuitous chance. The schoolboy’s ‘Tiny’ is usually a hefty giant in the first eleven, but ‘Tubby’ is more often an accurate description. In my schooldays, ‘Feet’ was the nickname of a tall, lanky individual, with heavy boots on large feet which caused havoc in the unorthodox football played during breaks. The chemistry master rejoiced in the name of ‘Bublum Squeaks’, a corruption of ‘Bubble and Squeak’. He was excitable, no disciplinarian, with a voice which rose higher and higher to a shrill squeak as he vainly tried to make himself heard above the uproar in the laboratory. But why a colleague of his was known as ‘Joe Plug’ no one ever knew. His christian name was Arthur and his surname Watson. Even when the origin of a nickname is known, it is difficult to see why it should stick. A schoolboy, called on to translate a Latin Unseen about Polyphemus, was thenceforth ‘Polly’ to his friends. Why should one schoolmaster be called ‘Wally’ and another ‘Mike’, names impossible to associate with either christian name or surname? ‘Kip’ had an interesting history. Originally ‘Skipper’—Why, nobody knew—it quickly became ‘Kipper’, later shortened to ‘Kip’. It is not surprising, therefore, if we frequently fail to get behind the mentality of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and cannot interpret their nicknames.

Nicknames are common in medieval records, but comparatively few have given modern surnames. For many of them only a few examples of the nickname occur, and often enough there is only a single instance. This is not surprising; after all a nickname refers essentially to the characteristics, habits, or appearance of a particular individual, and it is only rarely that any peculiarity will be inherited by his children.

Many medieval nicknames—some cruel and indescribably coarse—have disappeared.

Some are simple and obvious, describing physical attributes or peculiarities: Head, Neck, Mouth, Leg, Foot, Shanks, and, with attributes, Broadhead, Redhead, Coxhead, Ramshead, Barefoot, Cruickshanks, Sheepshanks, Goosey, Hawkey, Pauncefote ‘arched belly’, Vidler ‘wolf-face’, Chaffin ‘bald’, Hurren ‘shaggy-haired’, Garnham ‘moustache’, Grelley ‘pock-marked’, etc.

Mental and moral characteristics are often particularized: Good, Moody ‘bold’, Sharp, Wise, Root ‘cheerful’; Daft ‘foolish’, Grim ‘fierce’, Musard ‘stupid’, Sturdy ‘reckless’, Proud, Prowse ‘doughty’, Vaisey ‘playful’, Gulliver ‘glutton’;


nouns, as Comfort, Greed, Lawty ‘loyalty’, Sollas, Verity, Wisdom. Here, too, belong such names as Gutsell ‘good soul’, Thoroughgood, Goodenough, Careless, Pennyfather ‘miser’, Girling ‘lion-heart’, Gaine ‘trickery’, Fairweather, Milsopp.

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