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What's In a Name? Your Link to the Past
By Paul Blake
1.Before surnames
2.Local names
3.Occupations
4.Nicknames
5.Baptismal names
6.Find out more

Occupations

Other surnames were formed from a person's job or trade. The three most common English names are Smith, Wright and Taylor. Cook and Turner are also very common.

A name ending in -man or -er can usually imply a trade, as in Chapman (shopkeeper), and obvious occupation names are Goldsmith, Nailor, Potman, Belringer, Hornblower, Fiddler, Brewer, Piper, Baker and so forth. Among the less obvious are Latimer (interpreter), Leech (physician), Barker (tanner), Jenner (engineer), Milner (miller rather than milliner), Lorimer (bridle and bit maker), Pargiter, Pargetter and Dauber (plasterer), Bannister (bath keeper), and Crowther and Crowder (stringed instrument player).

The rarer occupational names are sometimes restricted in their distribution, as are other names that possibly originated with only one or two families. For example, the Arkwrights (makers of arks or chests) are from Lancashire, the Crappers (croppers) and Frobishers (furbishers or cleaners of armour) are from Yorkshire, and the Dymonds (dairymen) are from Devon. On the other hand, some distinctive names were influenced by more prolific occupational names, and names that started out as Goldsmith, Combsmith or Smithson may have become simply Smith.

Occupational names will differ in frequency in certain areas for several reasons. The geography of a district may favour one or more specific industries such as stone-masonry, thatching or fishing and the distribution of Mason, Thatcher and Fisher will reflect this. Thatcher also gives rise to Thacker, Thackery, Thackwray, and also Reedand Reader.

The more prolific 12th- to 14th-century building skills are represented by Wright, Slater, Leadbeater, Carpenter and Plummer. With no real brick industry during this period the surname Brick or Bricker does not exist - Brickman derives from the Norse 'brigg' meaning bridge.

Similarly with names derived from military occupations, there are no names from firearms, only those derived from the weaponry and occupations around in these early centuries. Such names include Knight, Squire, Archer, Bowman, Fletcher (arrow maker), Pike and the ubiquitous Smith.

The arts gave us Painter, Fiddler, Harper, Piper and Player. And from the church we have Pope, Bishop, Monk and Abbott. However, these are most likely to have been nicknames rather than actual occupations, as with King. Or possibly they originated from performers in the Mystery or other religious plays.


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