Places and surnames: why do some produce lots and others few?

Apologies in advance for a rather rushed surnames blog this week. I’ve been nursing an ailing desktop computer and it’s finally given up the ghost and about to depart for the great computer scrapyard in the sky (actually to be reborn via recycling). This has forced me to use a small laptop before I can set up a replacement PC. On top of that, yesterday was my second covid jab.

A reader asked last week whether there was a possible confusion in the 1400s or early 1500s between the surnames Trevithick and Tredinnick. The short answer is that I don’t know; I haven’t come across any direct evidence of the same individual switching between these two names. Let’s take an aggregate approach and see if it sheds any light. Here’s a map of the surname Tredinnick in the early period.

And for comparison here’s the map for Trevithick, taken from an earlier blog.

As we can see, there was some overlap in mid-Cornwall, although places called Tredenek were more common and, unlike Trevithick, found across Cornwall, east and west. The placename Tredinnick has at least two meanings. It can be bracken farm (originally Treredanek) or furze farm (Treveithinek), which are obviously close in meaning and can fall together, as they did.

However, as Treveithinek was usually spelt Tredenek or Tredinek by the 1300s it seems unlikely to have become Trevithick, although this may have been more possible once the meaning of the names got lost.

This raises an interesting further question. Why did some common placenames (such as Tredinnick, with about a dozen instances) give rise to relatively few surnames? Was it just luck, down to the survival of family lines in the medieval period? Or was it something to do with Cornwall’s geography or its linguistic history?

I’ll leave it to you to ponder on that while I start to grapple with my new desktop.

One thought on “Places and surnames: why do some produce lots and others few?

  1. Calling a place furze farm /bracken farm implies a less than desirable state of affairs. It may not have been a popular surname for this reason. Perhaps as people managed to oust these robust plants, too, the association between names and locations weakened more.

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