View Full Version : When did surnames come into common use?

21-03-2006, 10:21 AM
I would much appreciate it if someone could let me know approximately when people began to use surnames or family names.

Many thanks
John Adey

21-03-2006, 10:30 AM
In England the came in with William the Conqueror. In Wales it took a lot longer and didn't really happen until the late 1700s early 1800s - and in some places they are reverting to patronymics.

Hope this helps

21-03-2006, 11:42 AM
That was my first thought - but what about the Saxons? Harold ( the famous Battle of Hastings guy) was Harold Godwinson, so presumably the use of some sort of surname was in use prior to this? Looking at his surname, I would suspect the Vikings had something to do with it - didn't they call their children ...son - the patronymic naming convention mentioned already?
I am not a historina, so I am just making discussion :)


21-03-2006, 12:01 PM
I am not a historina, so I am just making discussion :)

MarkIs a historina a female historian? ;) I think it would be a rather nice name for one! :)

21-03-2006, 12:19 PM
Speeling eeror ;) My fingers get muddled at times ;)
It is rather a good name for a female historian though!

Peter Goodey
21-03-2006, 12:23 PM
Surnames came in with the Normans. Adoption of surnames spread gradually working its way down the social scale and outwards from the capital. The principle of inheritance of surnames took a little longer!

It's generally reckoned that by the early 15th century most families in England (and probably lowland Scotland) were using hereditary surnames. The process was probably completed about a century earlier in the south of England.

A trip to the library might be of interest. I'm sure you'll find several books there on this subject.

21-03-2006, 11:55 PM
Harold godwinson was Harold son of Godwin and if he had been a she then it would have been Godwinsdottir. If Harold had a son then it would have been HAroldson so not a surname just a patronymic.

In Wales they used ap or ab before the father's name and when surnames were "encouraged" they developed ap Robert into Probert ap Rhys into Preece or Price ap Howell into Powell and so on.

not a historina either but I do like to know about stuff

22-03-2006, 9:00 AM
I have started something interesting and enjoyable here. The reason that I asked is that, according to a pedigree in a heralds visitation of Kent, sometime during the reign of King Henry V (1413 to 1422) Walter de Greet adopted the name of Walter Adye and I wondered if this was typical.

John Adey

22-03-2006, 9:17 AM
sometime during the reign of King Henry V (1413 to 1422) Walter de Greet adopted the name of Walter Adye and I wondered if this was typical.
You initially asked two different questions - in the title of the thread, when surnames came into common use; and in the body of the message, when people began to use surnames.

Surnames as we think of them began to be used as has been mentioned around the time of the invasion by William the Bastard. They came into common use sometime during the coming centuries at a variety of times according to location. I would think that there may have been a boost in some types of surnames following the plague.

There were many reasons and ways for surnames to be adopted, occupation, place/location, descriptive, status, nickname, personal/patronymic - and probably some others. So, it's difficult to say that any single event in a process that took perhaps 500 years in England, is typical. But it wouldn't surprise me if someone adopting a name in the manner you have mentioned.
I suppose the next queston is why the change? What does Adey/Adye mean?

22-03-2006, 10:45 AM
Thank you Geoffers.

Most sources seem to believe that Adey, Adye, Ady, Adie, Addison and many simlar names or spelling variations have their root in Son of Adam but I would be interested in any theories.

John Adey

Guy Etchells
22-03-2006, 5:28 PM
Whilst agreeing to most of what has been mentioned I would question the thoughts of when surnames started being used.
It is fairly obvious that surnames or family names were in evidence in biblical times though whether they could be catagorised as surnames is open to debate.

What may be said is that people have always had a secondary name to distinguish themselves from others with the same forename.