Three surname puzzles: Badge, Bersey and Cheffers

These three surnames were all a lot more common in Cornwall in the later 1800s than anywhere else, but their origin is unclear or open to debate. If any reader has anything which will help clarify these particular puzzles do leave a comment.

Badge might be a short version of Badger, which could apply to a hawker or a beggar in the medieval period. On the other hand it’s suggested to be a variant of Bagg or Bagger (a maker of bags). Or it may have come from a personal name of some kind. It was found as Bage in the early 1500s but scattered randomly around the countryside – at Penryn, Perranzabuloe, St Austell and St Stephen by Launceston. By 1641 the name was occurring in the west at Camborne and in east Cornwall at Whitstone, St Cleer and Maker. This distribution suggests it wasn’t from a placename and had multiple origins.

Badge – a dispersed surname

Bersey. In the 1520s John Bersey was a tailor at Tywardreath, while there were three other Bersys in the parish and others later at St Mewan, not far away. Its distribution in 1641 was still mainly centred on mid-Cornwall, where it seems to have emerged around St Austell at an early point. But what does it mean? Also spelt Barsey in early records it looks like a pet form of a personal name (think Eddy or Jory). Yet, its concentrated early geography might also suggest an origin in a placename.

Cheffers. In 1524 a Thomas Chefer was listed at Ruan Major on the Lizard. Nineteen years later there’s a Thomas Cheffer in neighbouring St Keverne, most probably the same man. He may have been the ancestor of a growing band of folk with the name Cheffer. They remained entirely confined to the parish of St Keverne until the 1690s, when they began to venture as far as Falmouth, in the process starting to add an -s to the surname. It’s fairly obvious that this name has a single point of origin on the Lizard, but was it from a lost placename, or possibly an unknown Cornish language occupational name of some kind?

One thought on “Three surname puzzles: Badge, Bersey and Cheffers

  1. I’ll only try 1; maybe Cheffer and Cheffers could be related to Geoffroi/Jeff(e)ry & Jeff(e)ries – just in that tis noted (e.g. NJA Williams’ “The Cornish Consonantal System” (2016) p29) that French words ending -ge are often spelt -ch (e.g. ertach, maryach) in Cornish. As well as at the back end, occasionally at the front end – English ‘jowl’ is consistently ‘chal’, or ‘challa’ (Origo Mundi & Creation of the World) and in the stage directions by Creation of the World line 1114, in English, there’s even, “A chawbone readye”.


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