It’s interesting when we start to look at our family history, one of the first things we often look for, is the meaning of the name and this can be very surprising, as many do not mean what we automatically think. Many are related to the trade carried out by our ancestor, the town, village or the place he lived but sometimes, it was a nick-name relating to what he looked like. Here is a list of a few:
Fletcher: A man who made arrows.
Blaxter: A bleacher.
Villin: A commoner or farm servant.
Bunn: Good, from the French “Bon”.
Fuller: A man who worked in the cloth industry.
Skipper: A man who owned a ship.
Redman: Red haired or someone with a high colour.
Athill: Someone who lived on a hill.
Deville: From the town.
Walsingham: From Walsingham.
See what you can find out about the origin of your own surname and, if you have any problems, let me know and I’ll see if I can help.
When it comes to finding where your family originated from, you may think that you will never find out because the records in the libraries don’t tell you anything. Don’t give up as some names are typically from Norfolk: Rallison, Frary, Bennefer, Cason, Gurney, Grimmer, Filby, Hipkin, Howling, Foulger, Gotts and Skipper, are all names which are very common in Norfolk. In fact, if you are a Benefer, I can guarantee that your ancestor came from King’s Lynn! My great Grandmother was a Benefer and I have not yet found any Benefer who isn’t related to me.
So, how do we find where our family name originated from? Obviously, if it is a name like Smith or Jones, it will be very difficult but if you have an unusual name, it is always worth putting the name in an early census search on a family history index site and see what comes up. If 99% of the hits are from one area, it could be a good place to start! If I put Rallison or Benefer into a search for the 1851 census, the only hits are people born in Norfolk.
I have been researching my own family history since 1977 and I have found that all of my ancestors lived within 50 miles of where I live today, even the families I have traced back to the 16th Century. Some are rare names, like Goll, Benefer and Ebdale but others are quite common like Burrows, Harvey and Claxton. How far have your ancestors travelled?