Sunday, 4 August 2013

Family Business

Following on from last week’s examination of some of the most common street names found in England, for the historical novelist it is as important to have names which fit the character as it is to have an address which is suitable for the era. As such here is a selection of surnames which may or may not inspire an idea or two – incidentally if any of these do give the writer an idea I’d be fascinated to hear about it.

Surnames come from four basic areas: place names, forenames, trades, and a smattering of nicknames. This blog covers the subject of place names quite regularly and, if you require a place name for a specific county for a character, there are some twenty books of mine out there which will give many suggestions. Christian names speak for themselves with examples such as Richardson or Robinson. Trades may be less obvious, although there is always the exception to the rule and Smith, the most common of English surnames, referring to a metalworker. Note this does not only mean a blacksmith, although this is the most common source, but also tinsmith, coppersmith, silversmith and goldsmith. The following is a list of trades which have developed into surnames – I have omitted the most obvious such as Miller, Taylor, Carter, Shepherd, etc., and list these in alphabetical order (only so I don’t duplicate any).

Arkwright – a maker of arks, which at the time would refer to large wooden chests

Bailey – a bailiff and an important official

Barker – not a market seller but one who sold bark used in the tanning of leather

Baxter – is a female baker, also Whitbread as one who produced only white bread and thus for the rich

Bond – yes James’ ancestors were serfs or bondsmen

Brewer – is obvious but included as the female version was Brewster

Chambers – one who managed the private chambers of a man of rank

Chapman – sold goods at a market

Cooper – a maker of barrels

Coward – he may or may not not be brave but he was named for being a cow herd

Dempster – a judge

Dyer – worked in cloth

Farmer – not the obvious, which is comparatively modern, but from fermier or tax collector

Fletcher – fairly well known as the man who made arrow shafts and flights for same

Fowler – trapped birds for the table

Frobisher – a polisher of metal, such as the swords and armour of knights

Fuller – like Walker a method of washing cloth

Granger – was the original farmer

Hawker – a market seller

Hooper – produced the hoops which held the wooden panels of the barrels

Lister – simply another name for a dyer

Lorimer – one who made horse-riding equipment, sometimes said to be just stirrups

Mercer – traded in the finest cloth

Napier – had a selection of cloths used to dry those who had just used a fingerbowl

Parsons – servant of a parson or clergyman

Roper – made ropes

Sawyer – produced logs

Spencer – literally dispensed goods from the stores

Stoddard – a corruption of stot herd, a stot being a young ox

Turner – operated a lathe working wood

Vickers – the servant of a clergyman

Walker – trod the cloth to wash out impurities before it was stretched on a frame to dry

Waterman – rowed a boat

Yates – was a gatekeeper

We should also include a selection of nicknames. Although these are not exactly what we would see as nicknames today. These include Strong, Armstrong, Small, Long, etc which speak for themselves.

Abbot – more likely to be a reference to one seen as arrogant rather than a holder of the office

Bishop – again one seen as arrogant more often than a holder of the office

Blunt – one with blonde hair

Bragg – nothing to do with boasting but an old synonym for bold

Crippen – would have been known for his curly hair

Darwin – literally ‘dear one’ a friend

Golightly – the way they walked

King – once more more likely to be a reference to one seen as arrogant than a holder of the office

Lord – and yet another example of an arrogant individual rather than a lord or one who worked for same

Moody – as with Bragg not what is seems but from modig and another word meaning bold

Pollard – a naturally bald man

Prince – and yet another for the arrogant rather than a holder of the office

Russell – one with red hair

Tait – someone who was cheerful

Todd – is an alternative name for a fox and could have described a cunning individual

Unwin – an unfriendly individual

I would welcome any suggestions for themes or subjects, or even specific words to examine the origins, meanings and etymologies. I’d be delighted to hear from you.

No comments:

Post a Comment