If your surname is Mason, Carpenter or Angove (Cornish for smith) you can be fairly sure that, at some point in the distant past, one of your ancestors was a mason, carpenter or a smith. But can the same be said about names such as King, Bishop, Knight, Squire, Chancellor and similar? Many of these … Continue reading Do surnames mean what they say?
Sometimes the modern distribution of a surname gives few clues to the origin of a name. Sometimes it does. Those surnames derived from places seem the most clear-cut. But even then, if there are several examples of places of the same name, which one, or ones, gave rise to the surname? Let’s take one example … Continue reading Where do Polglazes come from?
There are not many Farmers in Cornwall, while more generally the words peasant and smallholder did not give rise to surnames. Sometimes, the absence of these names is linked to their frequency in medieval times. If there were a lot of peasants then calling John or Joan 'Peasant' would be of little help in distinguishing … Continue reading Agricultural Cornish surnames
Several surnames derived from placenames not found in Cornwall have either become numerous here or largely confined to Cornwall over the centuries. These have to all intents and purposes become Cornish surnames. some, such as Chesterfield or Kendal, may have origins many hundreds of miles away, but the largest number, as we might expect, originated … Continue reading Some Devon placenames that became Cornish surnames
In The Surnames of Cornwall I reported that by the 1600s around a third of people in Cornwall possessed what I termed ‘local’ surnames. This included surnames from a specific place (sometimes called locative surnames) and surnames from more general landscape features (such as Hill or Green). On this website I pointed out that by … Continue reading A tale of toponyms
The surname dictionaries are singularly unhelpful when it comes to the origin of Bice, Bilkey and Boase, all found in Cornwall in the early 1500s and all three dispersing by the 1600s. Bice and Bilkey do not appear in Reaney’s dictionary of surnames while Boase is implicitly regarded as a variant of Boyse or Boyce. … Continue reading More surname puzzles
Some surnames become more concentrated over time, multiplying in certain districts. Others remain few in number, quietly plodding their way down through the centuries. Here are a couple of Cornish examples, one from the west and the other from the east. The name Berryman or Berriman is particularly associated with West Penwith. In 1861, 64 … Continue reading Concentrated surnames
Here are three Cornish surnames. Their early distributions, clustered in one district, is the classic sign of a toponym, a surname that has its origin in a specific placename. But things may be more complicated than they seem. Benallack is a placename that turns up in three Cornish parishes. It comes from the Cornish word … Continue reading Three obviously Cornish toponyms. Or are they?
Sometimes the surname dictionaries assure us that two similarly spelt names have entirely different origins. The older approach was based on seeking the earliest form of the name and then interpreting its meaning by reference to the languages of the time. This copied the methods of placename studies. However, sometimes the fluidity of surname spellings … Continue reading Maps and theories
Does the presence of patronymic surnames (surnames derived from first names) tell us anything about the last days of the traditional Cornish language? I have argued elsewhere that the distribution of the most common surnames in nineteenth century Cornwall – Williams, Thomas and Richards – offers a good indication of the geography of the language … Continue reading Patronyms and the Cornish language