When the Normans arrived in 1066 people in England only had a single personal name. The Normans introduced new Christian names such as William, Richard, Henry, Gilbert and Roger. These names became very popular and as the size of communities grew, identifying people by a single name became more difficult.
In the 12th century the Norman rulers began encouraging people to adopt surnames. These names fell into six main categories:
Paternal Names: A large number of people were known by the name of their father. For example, John son of Richard.
Place Names: Some people adopted the name of the place where they originally came from. For example, John of Edenbridge.
Topographical Names: In some cases the name referred to the land where the person lived. For example, Thomas atte Ford.
Occupation Names: Some people were known by their occupation or trade. For example, Hugo the Carpenter.
Office Names: Some people were known by the official duties they performed. For example, Osbert the Reeve.
Nicknames: These names referred to the appearance and character of a person. For example, Alan the Bold.
This system of naming people continued to cause problems in the 13th century. There are several reasons for this. One was the growth of towns. In a small village everybody knew everybody else. It was not necessary to have a standardised system of naming people. However, people living in towns found it very confusing.
Another problem was the popularity of certain names. Most people were known by their father's name. In the 13th Century, certain names like Thomas became very popular. Many men were confusingly called Thomas son of Thomas.
Finally, names did not always stay the same. Hugo the Carpenter, for example, might change his occupation and would then be called something else. Edward Brown may have been named after the colour of his hair. When he grew older and lost his hair, he might become known as Edward Ball (ball being a bare patch).
Eventually it became the custom for people to take the surname of their father. Names were also simplified. John, son of Richard became either John Richards or John Richardson. Thomas atte Ford now became Thomas Ford.
Ashdown: Old English "dweller on ash-tree hill" (1327: John de Asshdoune)
Baker: Old English "maker of bread" (1177: William Ie Bakere)
Barfoot: Old English "without shoes" (1160: Robert Barefoot)
Bennett: Latin "blessed" (1193: Benedictus)
Bigge: Old English "big, strong" (1177: Henry Bigge)
Brattle: Old English "dweller by new farm" (1195 William Brattle)
Brickenden: Flemish "maker of bricks" (1201: Hereward Brick)
Brooker: Old English "dweller by the brook" (1296: William Brokere)
Browne: Norman French "brown haired or skinned" (1111: Richard Ie Brun)
Carpenter: Norman French "maker of wooden objects" (1121: Godwin Carpentar)
Cheeseman: Old English "cheese maker" (1260: Henry Ie Cheeseman)
Chowring: Old English "dweller in a clearing" (1297: Thomas Chowing)
Clarke: Latin "cleric, scholar, secretary" (1272: John Ie Clerk)
Cooper: Saxon "wooden bucket-maker" (1176: Robert Ie Cupere)
Dunn: Old English "dark and swarthy" (1180: William Dun)
Fleete: Old English "lives by creek" (1158: Richard Ie Fleet)
Fletcher: Old English "arrow-maker" (1203: Robert Ie Flecher)
Foreman: Old English "looks after pigs" (1296: Christina Foreman)
Furner: Norman French "dweller by marshland" (1208: William Ie Furner)
Giffard: Norman French "chubby cheeked" (1200: Johannes Giffard)
Godfrey: Saxon "god-peace" (1086 Godefridus)
Golding: Old English "son of Gold" (1224: Aldred Golding)
Gregory: Greek "watchful' (1143 Willelmus Gregorii)
Hale: Old English "dweller on the hill" (1180: Morus de la Hale)
Herenden: Old English "dweller on high hill" (1334: Walter Herenden)
Hughes: Saxon "son of Hugh" (1066: Hugh)
Kynton: Old English "lives on the king's manor" (1295: Walter de Kynton)
Mannering: Old English "manly" (1260: Thomas de Mainnering)
Minchen: Old English "nun" (1190: Peter Minchun)
Nash: Old English "dweller by the ash tree" (1296: William atte Nasche)
Payne: Norman French "pagan" (1190: Edmund the Pane)
Rolfe: Old English "peasant" (1242: Martin Rof)
Seamark: Old English "seaman" (1324: Henry Seamarke)
Singyard: Old English "singer" (1164: Walter Sinyard)
Taylor: Norman French "maker of clothes" (1180 Walter Taylur)
Walter: Old English "dweller by water" (1296': Geoffrey atte Walter)
Ward: Old English "guard or watchman" (1194: John Warde)
Webb: Old English "weaver" (1100: Alger Webba)
Wood: Old English "dweller by the wood" (1242: Water de la Wode)
1. Write down in section 12 of Family Information Chart the meaning of your name.
2. Count the number of names that are based on (a) paternal names; (b) nicknames; (c) topographical names; (d) occupation names.
3. In brackets is the date of when the surname was first recorded in England. Can you explain why so many of the names are spelt differently today?