ADVANCED-RESEARCH-L ArchivesArchiver > ADVANCED-RESEARCH > 2010-08 > 1281567503
From: Cheryl Rothwell <>
Subject: Re: [ADVANRES] Beginning of Surnames
Date: Wed, 11 Aug 2010 17:58:23 -0500
Although we apply the name Plantagenet to all descendants of Geoffrey of
Anjou [father of Henry II] the first person to actually use the name was
Richard, Duke of York, in 1448. It would not be correct to say Edward III
called himself Edward Plantagenet.
Windsor is a name selected by the royal family in 1917 because their real
name at the time was Saxe-Coburg [from Prince Albert, husband of Victoria]
and the English were at war with Germany.
On Wed, Aug 11, 2010 at 5:37 PM, Jacqueline Wilson <>wrote:
> Ralph - thank you for this post. It is something I have not thought
> about in a long time. Edward III is someone I had planned to study in
> the future because of his sons who are some of my favorite historical
> personages. Although I know he is of the house of Plantagenet, but
> was not his last name Windsor? What I find interesting is that his
> son John of Gaunt's brother in law was Geoffrey Chaucer. I would love
> to know when the Chaucer's started using a last name. According to
> Wikipedia, Geoffrey's father had a last name as early as 1324 -
> Chaucer as in the French: chausseur, meaning shoemaker.
> Jacqueline Wilson
> Evanston, IL
> Professional Indexer, Historian, and Genealogist
> Deputy Sheriff for Publications of the Chicago Corral of the Westerners
> IASPR Newsletter Editor
> "Wilssearch - your service of choice for the indexing challenged
> On Aug 11, 2010, at 3:42 PM, Ralph Taylor wrote:
> There may be no questions more significant to genealogy than how and
> surnames for common people came into general use. For most of us, it
> the beginning of the genealogical time frame - that period for which
> possible to specifically identify ancestors.
> Yet, there seems to be hardly any authoritative information on the
> in general (Most is pure, unfounded speculation.) and almost none for
> specific surnames. It is greatly under-investigated and has attracted
> little academic interest. (Strange, since surnames are such a important
> feature of modern life, but were once unknown in Europe.) I am putting
> forward a theory for which I would like to invite comment; this list
> the best place to do it.
> The theory is that the practice of surnames for European commoners
> came out
> of the social, political & economic turmoil following the Black Death,
> specifically the bubonic plague pandemic of 1348/1349.
> By "surnames", I mean hereditary family names -- names passed down from
> fathers (or perhaps mothers) to their children and again to the
> children, the children's children's children and so on.
> o I do not mean "sobriquets", names which may have applied to an
> but not to descendants. Examples: Ethelred the Unready (Saxon king who
> gained the throne unexpected), Malcolm Canmore (Scots king with a big
> Harald Bluetooth (Danish king with a bad tooth)
> o Nor, do I mean strict patronymics, as in Leif Ericson who was the
> son of
> Eric "the Red" Thorvaldsson, and whose son was Thorkell Leifsson.
> o Nor, do I mean titles which may have been inherited by one child but
> another. Example: Eleanor of Aquitane (Duchess of Aquitane)
> o Nor, do I mean designations which did not go to children for whom the
> designation didn't fit. Examples: Marie of Wissenburg (non-
> while in Wissenburg) or the 1172 recording of "Roger le
> Tayleur" (tailor to
> the king, but not applied to his children)
> A competing theory is population growth (for which I've found no
> substantiation). Arguing against the growth theory is that commoners'
> surnames appear almost immediately after the greatest population
> in European history and not during prior growth periods.
> Population movement following depopulation of some areas by wars and
> disasters has also been propounded as an explanation. Yet, there seems
> to be
> little correlation between these events and general surname use.
> The first people, it appears, to adopt the practice of inherited family
> names were the Chinese, from at least 2,500 years ago. They had rigid
> about names, including given and middle names. However, the Chinese
> put the
> family name first in the string of names, so "surname" isn't quite
> The Romans sometimes used two, three, or even four names and one of
> sometimes indicated a clan. However, the practice seems to have come and
> gone and not been well institutionalized. We do not see surnames
> generally in the conquered areas during the Roman period, a time of
> population growth.
> The next people with hereditary surnames seem to have been aristocratic
> Venetian families as early as (or earlier than) the 1190s. Other nobles
> passing through Venice on their return from the Crusades seem to have
> the idea, picked it up for their own use and spread it throughout
> But still, surnames were only for aristocrats; most people didn't have
> In the 12th and 13th centuries, serfs were still bound to the land and
> the proto middle class (e.g., English yeomen) lived and died mostly
> they were born. Where given names proved inadequate, sobriquets and
> designations sufficed.
> The Black Death, striking first in 1348*, changed Europe forever and
> left it
> less stable than before. (Even more, I'd argue, than the ideas brought
> from the Crusades.) Some areas lost 40% of their population; the
> average is
> put at about 33%. This was an epic cataclysm, rivaling the asteroid
> that eliminated the dinosaurs. That it would result in dramatic social
> changes can hardly be surprising.
> People fled the cities to escape (e.g., Chaucer's tales). Many serfs
> and left their masters short of laborers. Many masters died and were
> to prevent serfs from leaving the land. Wages spiked dramatically due
> to the
> labor shortages; attempts to control them, e.g., "Statute of Labourers
> 1351", proved only partly successful.
> Envision a vast churning of the population, with unknowns arriving in
> which hadn't seen strangers before. And, envision the authorities
> with controlling and collecting taxes from these folks. For the ruling
> class, it was a mess; a better way was needed to keep track.
> Somewhere, I came across a mention of a 1353 decree by or statute under
> Edward III (1312-1377, his surname is given as Plantagenet) requiring
> his subjects without surnames to take one. Unfortunately, I didn't
> the citation and now can't find it; it seems to get lost among the many
> changes Edward initiated . According to this source, Edward gave four
> categories his subjects could choose a name from:
> o Occupation: Taylor, Smith, Wright, Clark, Cooper, Carpenter, Plumber.
> o Location: Gates, Hill, Towne, Leigh (wood), Woods, Banks (e.g., of a
> river) Note that these are not necessarily the names of towns, but
> known to the residents of a small area such as a parish.
> o Color: White, Brown, Greene, Black
> o Physical Characteristics: Short, Little, Bigg, Stout
> By 1400, according to
> most English and Scottish families had surnames. (Timing is the obvious
> argument for the theory.) But, that didn't mean new surnames weren't
> or brought into the realm from other places.
> Not included in the above categories are patronymic-derived names:
> Stevenson, Harris, etc. In Germanic areas, there also would have been
> names"; a man might have acquired the name of a farm when he married
> the family that owned it.
> The Plague's upheaval also seems to have interfered with the practice of
> handing down trades, father to son. By 1480, my ancestor Thomas Taylor
> born and he was an animal husbandman, not a cutter of cloth.
> After one of the many Irish rebellions against England's rule, the
> forced the surname practice onto the Irish.
> The Dutch came very late to the surname game. They were still (mostly?)
> without surnames when conquered by Napoleon in 1811 and forced to take
> in a lottery. Scandinavians stuck to their patronymic system late too,
> the 19th century.
> * Note: Some will recall "Justinian's Plague" of the 6th to 8th
> which killed up to 25% of eastern Mediterranean people; it may not
> have been
> the same infectious agent. We should also note that 1348 represented
> the first of several successive waves of Plague epidemics into the
> 1700s; it
> was, however, the most severe.
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|Re: [ADVANRES] Beginning of Surnames by Cheryl Rothwell <>|