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

Local names

Surnames deriving from a place are probably the oldest and most common. They can be derived from numerous sources - country, town or estate - or from features in the landscape - hill, wood or stream. Many of these names, and their derivation are obvious, other less so. The names Pickering, Bedford, Berkley and Hampshire might have been given to migrants who left those places during the period of surname formation, or they may have been the names of the landowners where the individuals lived.

Many people took their name from their farm or hamlet. This was particularly the case in those counties where occupation was scattered, and the Pennines and Devon have more than their share of distinctive names.

Countries give us names such as French, Beamish (Bohemian), Britten, Fleming, Hannay (Hainault), Janeway (Genoese), Lubbock (Lubeck) and Moore (Morocco), among many others. And it's interesting that Blackmore, Morys, Moris, Morris, Morice, Morrice, Maurice, Moorish and Mountmorris are themselves all further forms of Moore.

Nearly every county, town, riding, hundred, wapentake, village, hamlet and even single house, at any date, has given its name. Again, most are obvious, but there are some surprises - such as Bristowe (both Bristol and Burstow in Surrey), and Vyse (Devizes or a dweller on the boundary). Thorpe means a village and there are numerous names derived from the word borough - examples are Boroughs, Bury, Burg, Burke, Bourke, Borrow and Burrowes.

Features of the landscape gave rise to many surnames. There are very many names derived from hill. In addition to Hill and Hills there are: Hull, Athill, Holt, Wold, Noll, Knollys, Knolles, Ness, Thill and Knill. Similarly we have Wood, Woods, Greenwood, Woodman, Woodruffe, Woodcutter and Attwood.

Many names come from rivers and streams: Surtees (on the Tees), Pickersgill (a stream with a pike in it), Hope and Holm (raised land in a fen), Fleet (estuary or stream), Burn and Bourne (a stream) and Sike and Sykes (a marshy stream).

Trees give names such as Leaf, Bark and Root, as well as Stock, Zouch and Curzon which all mean a stem. Then there are Elmes, Hazelthwaite and Maples, and oak alone gives rise to Oakley, Oakerley, Noakes, Oakham, Ockham, and many others, with Cheynes and Chenies coming from the French for oak, un chène.

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