Do you have one of Suffolk’s oldest surnames?
- Credit: Archant
Surnames are great, aren’t they? Not only are they a way of helping us distinguish ourselves apart from others and who we’re closely related to – but they also let us know our roots and where we come from.
Some go back hundreds, if not thousands of years.
Local historian, author, and cartoonist, Charlie Haylock knows all there is to know about some of Suffolk’s oldest surnames. Here, he explains their origins, and what they mean.
Surnames with pre-Norman conquest origins
“The Anglo-Saxons did not have surnames,” Charlie explains.
“Instead, they had Christian names plus a nickname or a byname that fell into different categories.”
For instance, place names were a common way of distinguishing someone. “Alfred who lives down the lane, or in the wood, may have been called ‘Attwood’, ‘Attewood’, or ‘Underwood’.
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Additionally, if someone moved away from a town or a village to somewhere else, their name may have reflected that. “Herbert from Hadleigh may have had the name ‘Hadley’, or ‘Finbow’ if they were from Finborough, or ‘Debnam’, if they were from Debenham. Names were also very often spelt as they were said,” says Charlie.
Names related to trades were fairly common back in those days, and were fairly self-explanatory. “Albert the Butcher, or the Fletcher, and so on,” he says.
“A lot of surnames derive from nicknames – there are too many to mention but a few examples include ‘Fairchild’, ‘Armstrong’, ‘Goodbody’, ‘Faires’, and all of the colours.”
Think ‘Black’, ‘White’, Greene’, and surnames such as ‘Redhead’ which of course stems from the colour red.
“Anglo-Saxon legends also survive through many nicknames,” adds Charlie.
Surnames such as ‘Aldrich’ and ‘Allward’ come from ‘the elf’ (noble and bold), while the surname William can be traced back to ‘Willelm’, which came from ‘Wulfhelm’, meaning ‘the wolf’ (strong and protective).
And finally, many surnames relate to the male lineage and family roots. “For example, the surname ‘Adkins’ means ‘Adam’s family’. And names with ‘cock’ as a suffix generally mean ‘the son of’ - such as ‘Adcock’ (Adam’s son), or ‘Alcock’ (Allen’s son). This is because ‘cock’ is Old English for ‘tap’. It was important for Anglo-Saxons to have a male heir, so when babies were born, the first thing they looked for was a ‘little tap’ to see if it was a boy. ‘Cock’ was a very normal, everyday word in Anglo-Saxon times – and even became a pet word for ‘son’.”
Surnames with Norman Conquest and Domesday Book origins
“It was the Normans who brought over the idea of hereditary surnames to be handed down to offspring – but it wasn’t a legal requirement. In their hereditary tax system, if you didn’t have a will, then the Crown took most of what you, and only have a little bit back. But if you had a will, most of it would go to your offspring and only a little to the Crown. Very quickly, English people who were allowed to keep some of their land or farm adopted the idea of drawing up a will, and converted their nicknames and bynames into hereditary surnames,” Charlie explains.
“The Domesday Book is the first census in this country in 1086, and it’s when we start seeing surnames being registered for the first time in a very big way. Gradually, through time, surnames became registered through a variety of ways in pipe rolls, Curia Regis rolls, the Hundred rolls, the Assize courts, land transactions, Royal Charters, and more.”
Below are a list of surnames which have all been recorded in Suffolk – and nearly all of them were in the Domesday Book 1086.
“This was first recorded as ‘Æðelrīc’ in the Domesday Book, and is an Old English nickname for ‘elf’ or ‘noble ruler. There are other variations of the name, but ‘Aldredge’ and ‘Aldrich’ are the Suffolk versions. The Elves, (as featured in J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’) were the Anglo-Saxon ruling classes, and a name with an ‘elf’ derivation meant the holder was of noble stock.”
Allward was first recorded in 1086 in the Domesday Book as ‘Ælfuueard’, and is the Anglo-Saxon nickname for ‘elf’ or ‘noble guard’, and means someone is much-revered.
These two surnames were recorded in the Domesday Book, and is a Norman-French surname meaning ‘someone from Angers, France.’
First recorded as ‘Chacepol’, it was a trade name for a catcher of fowl and poultry from people who owed money. Eventually, the job broadened out to refer to someone who was a general debt collector. “It’s worth noting that during the entire history of the Suffolk Regiment (from 1685 to 1959), there has always been at least one soldier or officer with the surname ‘Catchpole’ in the regiment. So much so, that in Moyes Museum in Bury St Edmunds there is a special area in the Suffolk Regiment display dedicated to the Catchpoles,” explains Charlie.
Faires, Faiers, Fayres
First recorded in the Domesday Book as ‘Faira’, this was an Anglo-Saxon nickname for someone who was handsome, fair and beautiful. Other spelling variations tend to be more widespread – but still very East Anglian.
This surname, which was first recorded in Suffolk, simply means someone who is from Finborough - ‘Finbow’ is an old Suffolk dialect pronunciation of Finborough.
“This surname was first recorded in the Domesday Book as ‘Hurant’, and comes the Norman French word ‘hure’, meaning ‘hair’, and ‘ant’ meaning ‘the shaggy haired one’,” explains Charlie.
Originally recorded as ‘Kenricus’ and ‘Chenricus’ in the Domesday Book, this stems from the Old English ‘cyneric’ meaning ‘family ruler’.
“First recorded in Beccles, this is a Norman surname referring to a motte and bailey castle or fortification. The motte was the fortified hill and the bailey was the protected courtyard down below, and ‘Motte’ was someone who lived on or at a fortified hill.”
Are you surprised at your surname’s origins? Or did your surname not make the list, and you want to know where it stems from? Get in touch with email@example.com