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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


Sometimes a nickname became a hereditary surname. Names such as Fox, from the crafty animal, or White, perhaps from the hair or complexion, are widespread. However, the pronounced regional distribution of names such as Nice in Essex or Wildgoose in Derbyshire suggests single family origins. In some cases, nicknames are from Norman-French words, such as Papillon (dainty or inconsistent, from butterfly) or Foljambe (deformed leg).

Names deriving from plants and animals are almost certainly nicknames - such as Catt, Sparrow and Oak - but may also be location names or even occupations. But most nicknames come from colour, complexion or form - names such as Armstrong and Strongitharm, Heavyside, Quickly, Slowman, Smallman, Fairfax and Blunt (fair-haired).

Other examples of nicknames derive from personal or moral qualities, for example Good, Goodchild, Thoroughgood, Allgood, Toogood and Goodenough. Other examples are Joly, Jolibois and Joliffe, or Kennard (royal-brave). And some - such as Puttock (greedy) or Coe (jackdaw) - show contempt or ridicule.

The surname Blake may seem fairly straightforward but there are two derivations. Firstly as a variation of Black, a descriptive name for someone of dark appearance, and secondly originating as the Old English word, blac meaning wan or fair - two completely opposite meanings. In Wiltshire, the surname Black is not a common one, greatly outnumbered by Blake.

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