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Surnames

The prosperity of towns was based on trades and crafts. In a fairly limited way, a study of surnames in the 1332 lay subsidy can help to illustrate this, as even in the early fourteenth century many people were still named after their occupation. In Grantham, out of 69 people, three had surnames which suggested an urban or artisan occupation, while there were none who had rural or agrarian surnames.

Medieval surnames; their meanings and origins

The following surnames were recorded in the Lay Subsidy of 1332 in Lincolnshire (after Land and People). The derivations are taken from the Internet Surname Database.

We have evidence that some of the jobs listed below were done in and around Grantham.  It is likely that most of them were jobs which people had, even though we don’t have evidence.

Rural or agrarian

Barleyman
Possibly a maker or seller of barley-bread or cakes; deriving from the Middle English ‘barlich, barli’ or the Old English ‘baerlic’ meaning ‘barley’.

Fisher
A fisherman or someone who lived near a fish weir on a river;deriving from the Middle English ‘fisher’, a development of the Old English pre 7th century ‘fiscere’, a derivative of ‘fiscian’ meaning ‘to catch fish’.

Forester
An official in charge of the Kings forest; from the Old French ‘forestier’, and Medieval English ‘forester’. It may also have described one who worked in a forest belonging to the King’s nobles.

Gardener
The head gardener of a noble or even royal house; derived from the northern French word ‘jardin’ and introduced into the British Isles after the Norman Invasion of 1066.

Granger
A farm bailiff, responsible for overseeing the collection of the rent in kind into the barns and storehouses of the lord of the manor, one in charge of a grange.  This official had the Anglo-Norman French title ‘grainger’, from the Old French ‘grangier’, from the Late Latin ‘granicarius’, a derivative of ‘granica’, granary.

Hayward
Someone responsible for checking and arranging the repair of all the fences and walls, preventing unauthorised access to the royal hunting parks by poachers, and deterring cattle from breaking through into the arable lands and destroying crops; it originates from the pre 7th century words ‘hege’ meaning hedge or fence, plus ‘weard’, a watch or guardian.

Herd
A keeper of animals, generally cows or sheep; derived from the pre 7th century Old English word ‘hierde’ meaning a herd or flock.

Miller
A corn miller, or at least someone in charge of a mill; the origination is from the pre 7th century Old English word ‘mylene’, and the later ‘milne’, but ultimately from the Roman (Latin) ‘molere’, meaning to grind.

Parker
An official in charge of the extensive hunting parks of a king or wealthy landowner; French derivation is from the words ‘parchier’ or ‘parquier’ meaning ‘park-keeper’.

Reeve
A steward or bailiff of a manor;  it derives from the Middle English ‘reeve’, a development of the Old English pre 7th century ‘(ge)refa’, meaning reeve (steward, bailiff).

Shepherd
Someone employed to tend and watch over sheep; the derivation is from the pre 7th century word ‘sceap’, with ‘hierde’ meaning a herd or flock.

Sumptor
Possibly a tithe collector, or a driver of a ‘pack horse train’; Anglicised development of the Old French ‘sommetier’, a word introduced by the Normans after 1066.

Thacker or Thatcher
A roofer, originally be someone who uses thatch; it derives from the word ‘thack’, meaning thatch, and itself a development of the pre 7th century Norse-Viking ‘thak’, with the agent suffix ‘-er’, taken to mean ‘one who does or works with’.

Warrener
An officer employed to watch over the game in a park or preserve; from the Old French ‘warrennier and, the Middle English ‘warnere’

Itinerant rural merchant and pedlar surnames

Carter
A transporter of goods; it is thought to have been originally derived from the Celtic word ‘cairt’, meaning ‘cart’.  The name is thought to have a complicated history, through Latin, Norman French, Old English, Middle English, Old Norse and Old French. 

Chapman
A merchant or trader; it is believed that the origination is from the Old English “ceapmann”, itself a compound consisting of the elements “ceap”, meaning to barter or bargain and “mann”, a person, or in this context, a travelling man.

Porter
Perhaps a man who carried loads for a living, especially one who used his own muscle power rather than a beast of burden or a wheeled vehicle, from Old French meaning ‘to carry’.

Tinker
A mender of pots and pans; derived from Middle English.  The mending of pots and pans does not seem to have been the particular pursuit of the medieval tinker, he was a general pedlar.  Records show that they also often sold pins, gloves, knives, glasses, rabbit skins, and many other wares.

Urban or artisan surnames

Baker
There are a number of possible origins and these include an official with special responsibilities for the baking ovens in a monastery or castle, as well as the keeper of the ‘communal kitchen’ in a town or village, since most of the humbler households had no cooking facilities other than a pot over a fire; is of Old English pre 8th century origins deriving from the word ‘boeccure’. The surname is always occupational, but not always for a maker of bread.

Barber
A barber; the barber of the Middle Ages was a skilled practitioner; he not only cut hair and shaved beards, but also acted as a surgeon and tooth-puller.  The derivation is from the Old French ‘barbier’, Anglo-Norman French ‘barber’, from the Latin ‘barbarius’, a derivative of ‘barba’, beard.

Baxter
Originally a name given to a woman that baked; from the Middle English term ‘bakester’, in turn derived from the Old English pre 7th century ‘baecestre’ meaning a female baker.

Bottler
A wine steward, usually the chief servant of a medieval household; deriving from the Anglo-Norman French ‘butuiller’, Old French ‘bouteillier’, a butler.

Brewster
A brewer of beer or ale; the name derives from the Old English pre 7th century verb ‘breowan’, to brew, and was in Middle English ‘brewere’, a brewer.

Carpenter
A worker in wood; the surname derives from the Anglo-Norman French term ‘carpentier’.

Chaloner
A maker or seller of blankets; the name derives from the Middle English word ‘chaloun’ meaning blanket or coverlet.

Cheesemonger
A maker or seller of cheese; ‘cheese’ derives from the Anglo-Saxon ‘cese’ of the pre 8th century.

Cook
A cook, seller of cooked meats, or the keeper of an eating house; the derivation is from the Old English pre 7th century ‘coc’, ultimately from the Latin ‘cocus’, cook.

Cooper
A barrel or tub maker; the origin is Anglo Saxon, deriving from the German ‘kuper’ itself a derivative of ‘kup’ - a container.

Cupper
A maker or repairer of wooden casks, buckers or tubs, may have derived from the Medieval English ‘couper’,

Dauber
A builder using wattle and daub; from Middle English ‘daube(n)’ meaning ‘to coat with a layer of plaster’, from the Old French ‘dauber’ ‘to coat with whitewash’.

Draper
A maker or seller of woollen cloth; deriving from the Old French ‘drapier’, Anglo-Norman French ‘draper’ (a derivative of ‘drap’, cloth).

Fletcher
Derived from the Germanic pre 7th century personal compound name ‘Fulcher’. The introduction into England was probably by the Normans, and the name translates as ‘people’s army’ from ‘folk’, plus ‘heri’, army.  Fulcher later developed into Fletcher, normally associated with arrow making: however, this is not always an acceptable explanation, the Fletcher being responsible for the equipping of the bowman, therefore a medieval supply officer.

Forster
This surname has two specific origins. The first is a developed form of the Old French ‘fustrier’, and refers to one who manufactured wooden saddle trees from a ‘fustre’, a baulk of timber. The second possible origin has a similar French background, deriving from ‘forcetier’, a development of ‘forcettes’, and describing a maker of chisels or shears.

Girdler
Somebody skilled in ironwork, one who produced the steel and leather belts associated with armour.

Glover
A maker or seller of gloves; deriving from the pre 7th century word ‘glof’.

Hatter
A maker or seller of hats; from the Old English pre 7th century ‘haet’.

Kilner
Either a potter or one who was in charge of a kiln. The derivation is from the Old English pre 7th century word ‘Cylen(e)’ meaning Kiln, itself from the Latin ‘Culina’, kitchen, a derivative of ‘Coquere’, to cook.

Lister
A textile dyer; from the Middle English word ‘litster’, meaning to dye.

Lorimer
A maker of (mainly) horse harness, and in particular the bits and other metal parts; with Old French pre 7th century origins.

Malter
A maker of malt, or somebody who lived at ‘the malt house’, or even a malt merchant.

Mason
A skilled stone mason, one who had served his time as an apprentice to a master craftsman; the derivation is from the pre 8th century Old French word ‘masson’, probably introduced into England by the Norman-French after the Norman conquest of 1066.

Mercer
A trader, or merchant; it derives from the Old French word ‘mercier’ or ‘merchier’, from the Latin ‘mercarius’, as agent derivative from ‘merx, mercis’, merchandise. The word may have been introduced by the Normans after the Conquest of 1066.

Milner
A miller; the word itself represents the northern Middle English term, an agent derivative of ‘mille, milne’, a mill, from the Olde English pre 7th century ‘mylen(e)’, originally from the Latin ‘molina’, a derivative of ‘molere’, to grind.

Painter
A painter, often of glass; derived from the Middle English (1200 - 1500), Old French ‘peinto(u)r’ meaning ‘painter’.

Parchmentmaker
A parchment maker or seller; the word ‘parchment’ was derived, via the Middle English and Old French ‘parchemin’, from Latin.

Pinder
Official of the Manor or Village responsible for impounding stray cattle or other domestic animals and hold them within a ‘Pound’.

Plummer
A dealer in feathers, from an agent derivative of the Old English ‘plume’, meaning feather, or a lead-worker, especially a maker of lead pipes and conduits, a plumber. The derivation is from the Anglo-Norman French ‘plom(m)er’ or ‘plum(m)er’, from ‘plom(b)’ or ‘plum(b)’, lead.

Potter
A maker of drinking and storage vessels; from the Old English pre 7th century word ‘pott’, itself derived from the Roman (Latin) ‘pottus,’ meaning drink or draught.

Roper
A rope maker; derived from the pre 7th century word ‘rap’, meaning a rope,

Saddler
Someone who made, and also perhaps sold, saddles and harness for horses in general; the name derives from the Old English pre 7th century ‘sadol’, in Old Saxon ‘zadel’, and in Middle English and Middle German ‘sadel’.

Slater
One who works with slate; from the pre 8th century French word ‘esclate’, meaning slate.

Sawyer
One who saws wood; from Old English pre 7th century ‘sagu’, and the medieval ‘saghe’.

Sherman
A cloth-finisher, one who trimmed the surface of the finest cloth with shears to remove any excess nap; from the pre 7th century Old English ‘schere’, meaning shears or scissors, plus ‘man(n)’, which in this context is a status suffix implying the person in charge.

Shipman
Either a shepherd, or a seaman or mariner; as a shepherd the derivation is from the pre 7th century word ‘sceap’, meaning sheep, with ‘man’, and in the second, from the word ‘scip’ of similar age and meaning a ship.

Skepper
A basket-maker; deriving from the Middle English ‘skipp(e), skepp(e)’, basket, hamper, in turn from the Old Norse ‘skeppa’,

Skinner
One who processes hides or pelts; from the Norse-Viking pre 5th century word ‘skinn’.

Smith
Of pre 7th century Anglo-Saxon origins, it derives from the word ‘smitan’ meaning ‘to smite’ and as such is believed to have described not a worker in iron, but a soldier, one who smote. That he also probably wore armour, which he would have been required to repair, may have lead to the secondary meaning.

Spicer
A seller or dealer in spices, or an apothecary or druggist; the Middle English term was ‘spicer’ or ‘spicier’, derived from the Old French ‘espicier’ or ‘especier’.

Tailor
A tailor; derives from the word ‘tailleur’ meaning ‘a cutter-out of cloth’.

Tanner
A tanner of animal skins and hides, an important skill in medieval times when leather was used in the manufacture of everyday items such as buckets, shoes and clothes, and of course harness, saddlery and armour for the men at arms and knights.

Turner
May be a maker of small objects of wood, metal, or bone by turning on a lathe, deriving from the Anglo-Norman French word ‘torner’, or an official in charge of a tournament, deriving from the Old French word ‘tornei’.

Tyler
A maker or layer of tiles; the derivation is either from the Old English pre 7th century word ‘tigele’, itself from the Latin ‘tegula’.

Webster
A weaver; from the Old English pre 7th century ‘wevva’, developed into the Middle English ‘webbe’, a derivative of ‘wefan’, to weave.

Wright
A maker of machinery or objects, mostly in wood; the derivation is from the Olde English pre 7th century word ‘wyrhta’ meaning a craftsman, itself from the verb ‘wyrcan’, meaning to work or construct as in wheelwright, cartwright, millwright and wainwright. When ‘wyrhta’ was used on its own, it often referred to a builder of windmills or watermills.

Suggested Activities

  • What jobs were people doing in Medieval Grantham, and do people still do those jobs today?  How do these jobs differ from modern day jobs
  • Ask KS1 children what job they would like to have done and why, and ask them to draw a picture of what they would look like.
  • Create a card game to match the surname to the description.
  • Use www.surnamedb.com to research your surname.
  • Research common present day surnames using the telephone directory and create a database (ICT links).
  • Act out the occupation of the surname owner (Drama links).
  • Design a medieval ‘seal’ that might have been used by the owner of the surname.

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