Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"A Brief History of Common Surnames" by Ralph Taylor

The ADVANCED-RESEARCH mailing list recently had an interesting series of posts about the origin of surnames. Ralph Taylor started the discussion, and has written an article about the subject. He has posted his article at http://freepages.misc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~taylorydna/surname-theory.shtml.

Ralph's summary about English surnames says:

"We have, hopefully, shown that surname practice in England followed this progression:

o Surnames had begun in the Norman nobility by the 1086 Domesday Book and become more common among them by the 1215 Magna Carta.
o Surnames were not used by commoners before the Plague of 1348/1349.
o The Plague of 1348/1349 -- a catastrophe of epic proportions -- was an immense upset to the pre-existing order and a threat to all social order, requiring new means of dealing with a freer population. Surnames for everyone, including commoners, was one of those means.
o There was at least some use of surnames by commoners by 1367.
o The Poll Tax of 1377 implies the ability to identify every person, in order to record who's paid and who's not.
o Surnames were a well-established practice for everyone including commoners by 1400."

Please read the whole article. If you have comments, you could email Ralph or join the ADVANCED-RESEARCH mailing list and post comments.

Perhaps even more important for those of us with English ancestors, the summary of English history, social structure and landowning in medieval times is instructional and interesting.

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