Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Medieval names

As I work through the Wolverton manor documents I note perhaps the obvious - that most of the land transactions involve Norman names. There is a Hubert and an Osbert, but these names could equally be derived from Norman/Viking stock so that may mean nothing. It looks as if the Norman control was complete by 1250, when most of these documents were written. All members of the intermediate knightly class were at least in part of Norman descent and the old english names had disappeared. English ( i.e. Anglo Saxon) names made a slight comeback when Henry III, a great admirer of Edward the Confessor, named his son Edward, but the rest had to wait for the 19th century when the Victorians rescued such names as Harold, Edwin, Edgar, Herbert, Hubert, Alfred, Ethel and Edith.

These names are entirely absent for the Wolverton documents, whereas they are crowded with Alan, Bartholemew, Geoffrey, Hamo, Henry, Hugh, John, Nicholas, Peter, Ralph, Richard, Robert, Simon, Thomas, Walter and William. Most of these male names have retained some currency today after 1,000 years, but a few have disappeared. Hamo, or Hamon, fell into disuse after the 13th century and the first baron's name, Mainou, lasted no more than three generations. Similarly with Meinfelin.
Women's names occur less often, but some are still around today - Margaret, Sybil, Annabel, Emma, Matilda. Others, like Hawise and Ozanna appear to be extinct. Helewisia probably morphed into Eloise or Louisa.

Surnames are a bit more difficult because they were not common until the 14th century. Even the more important people were not terribly fussy about surnames. the first baron of Wolverton was simply Mainou le Breton - which told us his regional origins and nothing more. His descendants waited about four generations before they took the name "de Wolverton". Many people in these documents start to carry a place name after their first name - Hugh de Stratford, Peter de Bradwell, Geoffrey de Loughton, Simon de Haversham, John de Hanslope and so on. There are a few who brought names from France - William Vis de Lu, William Mauduit, Geoffrey Conterral. Some acquired names from their appearance - Stephen Blundus (Blond) and William Ruffus (red).

There are two older names: Robert Race and John Hastengs. Race is a Celtic name found today in variants such as Rhys, Rice, and Rees. Hasteng, which later became Hastings, has nothing to do with the town of that name but is a Viking name, probably a leftover from the period of the Danelaw. Both Rees and Hastenga are warrior names. The Race and the Hastengs families may offer some evidence that the natives were able to integrate themselves into Norman society.

You can also see the emergence of a surname in these documents. Matthew le Bule (Bull) was the son of Godfrey of Wolverton. The Bull, possibly a nickname of sorts, may well have progressed into a fully fledged surname.

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