and Scandinavians, all originally had a single name for each
individual, so too had the Normans who were ultimately of Danish
descent. The strongest influence in the establishment of
surnames came with the invasion by William the conqueror in 1066,
opening the country to close settlement by his Norman supporters and
the granting of lands as reward from the new king. The Norman
'fashion' of more definite identification by use of a second
name quickly spread throughout Ancient England and its provinces.
In general, surnames were divided into four major groups -
(or Locational Names) are the largest group and covers all those
names applied to people who lived in or nearby a particular place,
for instance - GROVE, WOOD, FIELD, MEADOW, STREET, etc. this
was further influenced in the initial instance by the conjunctive
use of the Norman (French) prefixes, de, atte, by, in, which
in description could have applied to "John" who lived "atte Wood",
(i.e. at or by the wood). By absorption of the prefix into the
name, a shorter description of this person could have generated to
"John atteWood", giving the surname AT(T)WOOD, a commonly accepted
nomenclature in our times.
Last names were also
taken from specifically known places of from obscure villages or
hamlets which no longer exist (making research confusing).
Instances of this are most usually where a particular surname is the
same as a still existing town, district or region. To further
confuse the situation, in many instances a family name could have
established the actual locational name, as, following the 1066
Conquest, many of William's supporters were granted lands in
England, such locations being known as belonging to the personage of
that particular Norman family. With the building of structures
such as castles and fortified housed on these newly acquired lands,
soon a centre of population would evolve, the identity of which was
most usually named after the original land grantee. It then
follows that people from that specific location, although in no was
connected to the original "master" were known by the same family
name - but applicable to the location and not the blood line.
These cover nearly all trades which existed in the Middle
ages. They are numerous and include SMITH, CARTER, BAKER,
WHEELRIGHT, COOK etc. etc. Many names also perpetuate
occupations which no longer exist. It does not necessarily
follow that such names as KING, DUKE, EARL and so on, mean your
ancestors were of Noble Blood. It is much more likely that
such named people worked for the person referred to.
This is a smaller group but in many ways more interesting.
they usually originated as a by-name for someone by describing their
appearance, personal disposition or character, which became handed
down through the ages but did not necessarily apply to their
descendants. For instance the name BLACK could have denoted a
dark-skinned man; LITTLE, someone tall, or ambiguously someone very
tall; FROST, someone with a cold or frosty disposition etc.
This group covers all names which derive immediately from the
owner's father. Many Christian names which are also surnames
have, over the years, lost the possessive form but the origin is
still the same. examples of this could be PETER, THOMAS, HENRY
- all names which became both Christian and surnames over the years.
Further instances in this classification is the use of the suffix
~son, which in the north of England has been commonly
attributed to the Scandinavian influence. As this suffix
implies - PETERSON would have originally come from "son of
Peter", and likewise JOHNSON, WILLIAMSON, ROBERSON etc. as sons of
their respective fathers.
beforementioned groupings are the most commonly occurring, other
lesser classifications exist such as
The Norman Conquest
revolutionised our personal nomenclature. The Old English name
system was gradually broken up. Old English names became less
and less common and were gradually replaced by new names from the
continent, a limited number which became more and more popular.
Most of the early documents deal with the upper classes. Names
of peasants are less common, rarely occurring in large numbers and
have largely been ignored. Although much reliance is placed on
early manuscript records and rolls from various
districts, the most comprehensive document of its time is "The
Doomsday Book" generated in 1086 (20 years after the Invasion), by
William the Conqueror (King William I). Although this document
was primarily for the recording of persons and estates throughout
England for the purpose of taxation, its contents shed a direct
light onto those therein recorded and therefore a wonderful record
of history of the time.