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What's in a name?

Deciphering the origins of surnames is all part of family history researchEver wondered about the origins of a surname?

European surnames first occurred between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries. Prior to this time period, particularly during the "Dark Ages" between the fifth and eleventh centuries, people were largely illiterate, lived in rural areas or small villages, and had little need of distinction beyond their given names.

During Biblical times people were often referred to by their given names and the locality in which they resided such as "Jesus of Nazareth." However, as populations grew, the need to identify individuals by surnames became a necessity. The acquisition of surnames during the past eight hundred years has been affected by many factors, including social class and social structure, cultural tradition, and naming practices in neighboring cultures.

Here are few to set you going:-

Agutter - a name synonamous with Actress Jenny Agutter. Her ancestors lived by a gutter or stream.

Arkwright - a maker of wooden chest or boxes - which wer also called 'arks'.

Barclay - someone who lived in a birch wood. Scottish Barclays are descended from an englishman named Barclay who moved to Scotland around 1140 AD.

Beal or Beale - descendents of a "beautiful" person - the word comes from the French for beauty.

Bellamy - handsome friend, from the French bel ami.

Beverley - someone who lived by a beaver stream. Beavers still survived in England in the Middle Ages when surnames were being fixed.

Beveridge - a drink used to seal a bargain or given as a tip.

Campbell - the Scottish Campbell clan took their name from the Gaelic for crooked mouth.

Coleman - a surname mainly used in Kent, named after a man who burns wood to make charcoal. Collier is similar.

Diamond - descendents of dayman or dairyman - those who worked with milk and butter.

Doolittle - a lazybones or an idler.

Everton - a place where wild boars roam. An ever is a boar.

Finch - named after a swindler - the phrase to "pull a finch" menat to decieve a simpleton.

Firth - from an old English word that means wood - the original Firths lived in Woodland.

Gifford - someone with bloated or puffy cheeks. William the Conqueror gave the Gifford family more than 100 manor house estates in England - so the name spread.

Gossard - these descendents originally looked after geese - Goose-Herds.

Halliwell - ancestors lived by a sacred spring or a holy well.

Horrocks - this name means someone who lived beside a heap of rubbish or stones.

Hurley - forbears came from a wood that was in a curve, a bend or a corner - which is what hurn or hearn means.

Jury - the Jury lived in the Jewrys, the Jewish quarter of medieval towns.

Kellogg - the cornflake makers were originally pork-butchers or slaughtermen - Kill-hogs.

Kennedy - means ugly head in irish and Scots Gaelic.

Lovelace - either from someone who is loveless - who hasn't found a lover yet - or the reverse, a man who loves the lasses.

Lumley - these forebears lived in a clearing - ley - by a pool or lum.

Madeley - maidens clearing - a place in the wood where girls met each other or boys.

Mansell - someone who originally came from Le Mans in France.

Needham - someone whose farm was a very poor or needy.

Puddifoot - in the old English Puddifoot means bulgy barrel - a man with a fat stomach.

Quant - a name that means clever, smart or crafty.

Ramsbottom - a name that means a valley where wild garlic grew.

Rossiter - a name developed from a misspelling and a mispronunciation of the town Rochester, in Kent.

Samways - a Dorset name that means stupid - semi wise.

Travers or Travis - a man who collected the money at a tollgate or toll bridge.

Ullman - oil makers or oil sellers - oilmen.

Vaughan - a little person or a short man; from the Welsh.

Adapted from The Penguin Dictionary of Surnames - Basil Cottle

 
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