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What’s in a Surname? Everything

I’m very interested in Surnames.  As the countries populace grew it became necessary to expand names for everyone.  You could easily have up to eight Richards in your village and there is only so many distillations of Rich, Dick and Richey to go around.  Therefore, Nicknames were a useful but informal tool to distinguish people. Most first names either had a biblical theme or were based on past monarchs. Surnames became a way of formally identifying people. Changing names is important for example Alex Clark Glos now part of TGRES shows that a name change does not mean a lack of quality for Gloucester Sales and Lettings.

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Originally it was nicknames that defined you.  As a community that was an important factor in establishing who you were and where you came from, it was useful for identifying people.  In Roman times the use of the Sunday became the norm is the ancient families from Rome needed a sign or status and privilege lost it confirmed your heritage. It was also a way of distinguishing the classes in the Empire. It was also a practical need as the Empire grew beyond Rome and Italy. Many of the autochthonous races that embraced Roman culture and added Romanised names to show their loyalty and acceptance. So Vercingetrix becomes Victaruis Aetius for example. This only applied to the upper class of course, the rest of us had to make do with nicknames

Surnames fell out of use after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and the desertion of the legions back to Rome taking the benefits public health away with them. Once that was gone the population began to decline.  The murky Dark Ages, lack of cohesive structure in society, pestilence and plague contributed. This meant that the need for surnames was reserved only for the upper classes.

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As the populace grew again it became essential for the administration of the land that people be distinguish into their family groups. The easiest solution was to sue the regional town or village that you were form or the profession that you did or were associated with. There are many common names that easily show where the link comes from.

Smith – commonly a Blacksmith. However, you can get Silver and Goldsmiths. It indicates a skill or some job that required some difficulty.

Wright – Again a skill like a wheelwright to cartwright. Your ancestors were working in a skill trade,

Fletcher – this was very important during medieval times as the hundred years war was raging, and England need its longbows and flights maintained.

It doesn’t always follow that this all ways the case. Scribes and made mistakes. And many surnames are simply just misspellings or where record officers have incorrectly written them.

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