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:
Names: A large number of people were known by the
name of their father. For example, John son of Richard.
Names: Some people adopted the name of the place
where they originally came from. For example, John of Edenbridge.
Names: In some cases the name referred to the land
where the person lived. For example, Thomas atte Ford.
Names: Some people were known by their occupation
or trade. For example, Hugo the Carpenter.
Names: Some people were known by the official duties
they performed. For example, Osbert the Reeve.
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.
Old English "dweller on ash-tree hill"
(1327: John de Asshdoune)
Old English "maker of bread" (1177: William
Old English "without shoes" (1160: Robert Barefoot)
Latin "blessed" (1193: Benedictus)
Old English "big, strong" (1177: Henry
Old English "dweller by new farm" (1195 William
Flemish "maker of bricks" (1201: Hereward Brick)
Old English "dweller by the brook" (1296: William
Norman French "brown haired or skinned" (1111: Richard
Norman French "maker of wooden objects" (1121: Godwin
Old English "cheese maker" (1260: Henry Ie Cheeseman)
Old English "dweller in a clearing" (1297: Thomas
Latin "cleric, scholar, secretary" (1272: John Ie
Saxon "wooden bucket-maker" (1176: Robert Ie Cupere)
Old English "dark and swarthy" (1180: William Dun)
Old English "lives by creek" (1158: Richard Ie Fleet)
Old English "arrow-maker" (1203: Robert Ie Flecher)
Old English "looks after pigs" (1296: Christina
Norman French "dweller by marshland" (1208: William
Norman French "chubby cheeked" (1200: Johannes Giffard)
Saxon "god-peace" (1086 Godefridus)
Old English "son of Gold" (1224: Aldred Golding)
Greek "watchful' (1143 Willelmus Gregorii)
Old English "dweller on the hill" (1180: Morus de
Old English "dweller on high hill" (1334: Walter
Saxon "son of Hugh" (1066: Hugh)
Old English "lives on the king's manor"
(1295: Walter de Kynton)
Old English "manly" (1260: Thomas de Mainnering)
Old English "nun" (1190: Peter Minchun)
Old English "dweller by the ash tree" (1296: William
Norman French "pagan" (1190: Edmund the Pane)
Old English "peasant" (1242: Martin Rof)
Old English "seaman" (1324: Henry Seamarke)
Old English "singer" (1164: Walter Sinyard)
Norman French "maker of clothes" (1180 Walter Taylur)
Old English "dweller by water" (1296': Geoffrey
Old English "guard or watchman" (1194: John Warde)
Old English "weaver" (1100: Alger Webba)
Old English "dweller by the wood" (1242: Water de