Because the practice of adding an -s to a personal name that then became a surname first arose in England and within English-speaking communities, one might assume that non-English speakers were slower to adopt it. It didn’t stop them eventually doing so, of course. Quite the contrary, as the number of Williamses or Evanses in Wales in the 1600s and 1700s attest. That came as Welsh-speakers were transforming their traditional naming system into hereditary surnames on the general European pattern.
But what about Cornwall? Here’s a hypothesis. Cornish-speakers more belatedly added an -s than did their English-speaking compatriots, who had embraced the -s much earlier. As we saw in the previous blog, for most patronyms this change was about half-completed in the mid-1600s. So maps of distributions in 1641 ought to give us a picture of its geography. At that point the Cornish language was still in use west of Truro, had probably largely ceased a generation or so earlier in mid-Cornwall and had been defunct east of Bodmin since the 1300s at the latest.
Here are two maps, one for Richard/Richards and the other for Robert/Roberts.
Hmmm. Richard/s may support my model, although numbers are low in the east. But Robert/s doesn’t appear to do so. What do you think? Perhaps the presence of an -s was merely the result of the preference or whim of the local literate elite.