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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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Names of animals may be nicknames, descriptive of appearance or disposition. Lamb may denote meekness, Bull strength or a headstrong nature, Colt a lively, frisky individual, but they may often be used of a keeper of these animals. Bird names are not always easy to interpret: Raven ‘black’, Heron, Stork ‘long legs’, Nightingale and Thrush ‘songsters’, Kite ‘ravenous’. Plant names may refer to a grower or seller, but may be nicknames: Cardon ‘thistle’, obstinate, stubborn, Pinnell ‘tall and upright as a young pine’.

Names derived from dress and equipment are often occupational: Cottle ‘cutler’, Hood, Capp, Mantell, probably makers of these, but some are nicknames from a partiality for a particular type of dress: Greenhead ‘green hood’, Hussey ‘booted’, Gildersleeve ‘golden sleeves’, Shorthouse or Shorthose ‘short boot’.

Many names, originally nicknames, were undoubtedly used as occupation names:

Besant ‘banker’, Blampin ‘white-bread’, a baker, Collop ‘ham and eggs’, a cook-house keeper, Drinkwater, sometimes a taverner, Goodale ‘beer-seller’.

Particularly interesting are what have been called ‘phrase names’, a term not entirely satisfactory, as there are two distinct types, the first consisting chiefly, but not entirely, of oath names, the second of ‘imperative names’, again an unsatisfactory term, as the verb may be merely the verbal stem. Oath names are chiefly French: Debney ‘God bless you’,

Dugard ‘God protect you’, Pardew, Purday, Purefoy, Pepperday. Of English origin are:

Godbehere, Godsave ‘for God’s sake’, and, sometimes, Mothersole. From habitual expressions: Goodday, Goodenday, Goodyear, Drinkale, Bonnally, and the French Bonger ‘bon jour’.

‘Imperative names’ consist of a verb plus a noun or an adverb. A few examples are found in Domesday Book but they are not common until the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Most are of French origin but the majority of those surviving are English, with some translations of the French: Crakebone (Brisbane), Cutbush (Tallboys), and a few hybrids: Bindloss, Pritlove, Shakesby ‘draw sword’. Many of these nicknames are more or less derogatory occupation names: Bendbow (archer), Copestake (wood-cutter), Waghorn (trumpeter), Wagstaff (beadle), Catchpole (constable), Fettiplace (usher). There are various such names for ‘butcher’: Knatchbull ‘fell bull’, Killebolle, Hackbon ‘hack bones’, Fleshacker, Hoggsflesh. Others denote a fishmonger, Rottenherring, Oldherring, Freshfish, while a wolf-hunter appears as Findlow, Catchlove, Prichlove, Bindloes, all with Old French louve ‘wolf’ as the second element. Crawlboys ‘fell wood’, Tallboys ‘cut wood’, Warboys ‘guard wood’, and Hackwood, are all nicknames for a forester, Whitepayn and Blampin ‘white bread’, Havercake ‘oat bread’, and Buntflower ‘sieve flour’ for a baker. In addition, we find Wendout and Startout for a messenger, Shakelance and Lanceleaf for a soldier, Packstaff for a pedlar, Treadwater and Trenchemer ‘cut the sea’ for a sailor, Treacle for an apothecary, and Wagpole for a minor official. Others indicate some quality or characteristic: Scattergood (spendthrift), Sherwin (speed), Makepeace, Turnbull (strength or bravery), Bevin (drinker), Crawcour (break-heart), Dolittle, Hakluyt (lazy), Parlabean (good-speaker), Standfast, Standalone, etc.50 The main difficulty with nicknames lies in the interpretation of them. There may be more than one possible meaning, e.g. Quant, from ME quoint, queynte, had various meanings in medieval England, ‘strange, curious, ingenious, clever, crafty’, and we can rarely tell which sense is intended in any particular case. Similarly Hare may mean a fast runner, or a timid person. Sometimes the nickname means the opposite of what it says, so that Little John may refer to a giant, and this could often be the case with other nicknames.

Certainly the actual meanings of many nicknames are unknown. It is usually possible to give a literal meaning to the name, but exactly what it meant when attached to a particular individual it is impossible to say. So, for example, with those nicknames which have -rose as a second element, Pluckrose, Portrose, Ringrose, Spurnrose, Woodrose.

Nicknames involving money may refer to the value of a holding, e.g. Andrew Tenmark 1279 RH (C), but it is unlikely that this can be the explanation for Thomas Quatresoz 1300 LLB C ‘four sous’. Other names seems to refer to age, but it is difficult to know what to make of William Two yer old 1311 Ronton; Thomas Twowynterold 1327 SREss;

Margaret Tenwynter 1476 SIA xii; Laurence Sixweeks 1570 FrLei, which can hardly refer to the actual ages of the persons concerned. Other difficult names are Robert Cristendom 1429 AssLo, Adam Grenelef 1327 SRSf ‘green leaf’, John Dubbedent 1160 P ‘polish teeth’, John Hurthevene 1288 CtW ‘harm heaven’, Thomas Monelight 1470 RochW, Geoffrey Trailwing’ 1200 P (Y). In order to give some indication of the variety of nicknames in medieval records, a good many are included in the entries below, although they may not have given rise to modern surnames.


The rise of surnames, according to the accepted theory, was due to the Norman Conquest when Old English personal names were rapidly superseded by the new christian names introduced by the Normans. Of these, only a few were really popular and in the twelfth century this scarcity of christian names led to the increasing use of surnames to distinguish the numerous individuals of the same name.51 This is an oversimplification.

Bynames—both English and Scandinavian—are found in England before the Conquest.

Some Normans had hereditary surnames before they came to England. Evidence is accumulating that the Old English personal names lived on longer than has been supposed, a fact confirmed by the large number of modern surnames to which they have given rise and which must have been in living use after the Conquest. The new French personal names, too, were more varied than is commonly believed. A few, William, Robert, Richard and John, certainly became much more popular than the rest, but it was not from these that the earliest patronymic surnames were formed. It is often assumed that men ‘adopted’ their surnames. Some certainly did, but the individual himself had no need for a label to distinguish him from his fellows. The development of the feudal system made it essential that the king should know exactly what service each knight owed. Payments to and by the exchequer required that debtors and creditors should be particularized. The lawyers saw to it that the parties to transfers of land or those concerned in criminal proceedings could be definitely identified. Monasteries drew up surveys and extents with details of tenants of all classes and their services. And later the net was thrown wider in the long lists of those assessed in the subsidy rolls. It was the official who required exact identification of the individual. His early efforts often consisted of long-winded descriptions attached to a personal name. Any description which definitely identified the man was satisfactory—his father’s name, the name of his land, or a nickname known to be his. The upper classes—mostly illiterate—were those with whom the officials were chiefly concerned and among them surnames first became numerous and hereditary. It is noteworthy that in London, with its organized government and elaborate records, surnames became fixed early among the patrician classes.

There is evidence that surnames would have developed in England even had there been no Norman Conquest. Towards the end of the Old English period, a limited number of personal names were becoming particularly popular. In the Suffolk Domesday the names of 217 freemen in the Hundred of Colneis are given, only four having bynames. In nine villages there were two or more men of the same name and the clerk was driven to occasional descriptions such as alter Vluric ‘and a second Wulfric’. In Burgate 4 out of 15 men were named Godric, of whom one had a nickname Godric long. In Burgh, of 16 persons, two were named Almer and three Godric. At Micklegate, Goda, at Trimley, Derstan, each occurs twice in four names. The inevitable result of this state of affairs can be seen from a list of names of Suffolk peasants (c1095).52 Of 660, more than half (359) had a single name only; 104 were described by their father’s name (Ailuuard Goduini filius); 163 had bynames of the various types (Brihtmer Haiuuard, Aluric Godhand, Lemmer Brihtmer, Ulfuine de Laueshel)—a clear indication of the rise of surnames among peasants of English ancestry and name.

The only serious discussion of the heredity of surnames is that of Fransson.53 His material is late and some of it inconclusive. His general conclusions are sound but require some modification: ‘Hereditary surnames existed among the Norman noblemen already in the early 12th century. Among people in general they began to come into use in the following century, and by the end of this they were fairly frequent (especially local surnames and nicknames). This custom increased rapidly in the course of the fourteenth century, and by the end of it practically all people were provided with hereditary surnames.’ His suggestion that one reason for the rise of surnames was that a need was felt to unite the members of a family by means of a common surname is unlikely. It assumes that surnames were adopted and not given and would hardly apply to nicknames. Nor does it explain the varied surnames found in the twelfth century for different members of the same family. Whether local surnames, because of their frequency, had any influence on the fixing of surnames is doubtful. For barons and important land-holders to derive their surnames from their fiefs or manors was natural, but these form only a small proportion of the whole. When surnames like Nash, Wood, etc., became hereditary is a problem for which material is seldom available. In London, local surnames indicated the place from which the man had come, and became hereditary early.

Surnames of various types found in Domesday Book became hereditary at once: Bruce, Glanville, Montgoraery, Percy (from French fiefs), Giffard, Peverell (patronymics), Basset and Gernon (nicknames).54 Robert de Stafford, a brother of Ralph de Toeni (a surname surviving into the fourteenth century), took his surname from the head of his English barony. The fact that father and son bore the same surname is not always, as assumed by Tengvik and Fransson, a proof that the surname was hereditary. Robertus Balistarius held Worstead (Norfolk) in 1086 by serjeanty of performing the duties of arbalistarius. His son, Odo arbalistarius, inherited the office and the lands (c1140 Holme) and owed his surname either to inheritance or to his office. He is also called Odo de Wrthesteda (c1150 Crawford) and his son Richard and his grandson Robert were both called de Worsted (1166, 1210 Holme).

Throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries surnames of the type Johannes filius Hugonis are common, side by side with Johannes Hugo, where the son has his father’s christian name as his surname. Such names indicate the beginning of a hereditary

surname, but proof that it became established is often lacking:

Hugo filius Wisman, Hugo Wisman 1166–7 P (Nf) Walterus filius Abelot, Walter Abelot 1195–6 P (Sa) John le fiz michel 1292 SRLo, John Michel 1301 LoCt Paganus le Cachepol, father of William Payn 1285 Ass (Ess) John Gerveis son of Gervase de Pelsedun 1299 AD vi (K)

Such names as the following are probably already hereditary:

Reginald Ridel son of Hugh Ridel 1156–80 Bury (Nth) Ralph Belet son of William Belet 1176 P (Sr) William Brese son of Roger Brese 1210 P (Nf) Gote Ketel, brother of Peter Ketel; Thomas Ketel son of Peter Ketel c1200, 1218–22 StP (Lo)

Clear evidence of heredity:

A charter of 1153 of Agnes de Sibbeford, wife of Ralph Clement, is witnessed by Hugo Clement and William, son of Ralph Clement, who is later called Willelmus Clemens, with a brother Robertus Clemens (1155 Templars).

Thomas Noel, founder of Ronton Priory, is so called in 1182–5. His father was Robert Noel (ib.), who is called Robertus Noelli filius (c1150 StCh).

Probably hereditary:

William Shepescank, Gilbert his brother, John Sepesank’ 1224 Cur (Nf) John Caritas, Simon Caritas, brothers 1265 FrLeic William Lefthand, Ralph Lefthand 1268 FrLeic Peter Wedercok son of Symon Wedircok 1302 Miller (C)

The twelfth century was also a period of vacillation and change in surnames:

Ralph, son of Robert Puintel de Walsham, had two brothers, William de Criketot and Ralph Cangard (12th Holme). He is also called Ralph de Crichetot (1141–9 ib.), with a son Hubert de Criketot (1163–6 ib.).

Philip de Powyk (1147–54 Holme) was a brother of Geoffrey Ridel (1153–68 ib.), a son of Richard Basset, and is called Philip Basset in 1185 (RotDom).

Stigand the priest (1126–7 Holme) had three sons: Thurbern the dean (1126–7), Simond de Ludham (1153–66) and Robert de Ludham or de Ling (1141–9). Simon’s son and grandson were Thomas and Stephen de Walton (1175–86).

Griffin de Tweyt (1153–68 Holme) had a son Osbern de Thurgerton (1140–53) who married Cecilia, daughter of Roger de Curcun. Their son was Robert de Thweyt (1153–6) or de Curcun or Robert de Curcun de Thweyt (1186–1210). His son was Robert the Clerk.

In London, surnames of all kinds, patronymics, local, occupational and nicknames, became hereditary among the patrician classes in the twelfth century. They steadily increase in number and are frequent by the end of the thirteenth century.55 At the same time, there are many later examples which are not hereditary, especially among the lower


Luke le Ayler father of Walter le Mazerer 1278 LLB A, 1306 LLB B Henry called Cros, son of William le Hornere 1303 LLB C Amiel de Honesdon, late chandler, or Amiel le Chaundeller had two daughters: Johanna Amyel and Cristina la Chaundeller 1349 Husting Bartholomew Guidonis (1357 LLB G) or Castiloun (1369 ib.) was father of John Chaungeour (1384 ib.) Definite information on the development of surnames among the common folk is difficult to find. Their names mostly occur in isolation, with little or no indication of relationship.

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