In my final research snippet on medieval names, I'm looking at surnames, often referred to as bynames, in the thirteenth-century Custumale Roffense (the Rochester custumal), a survey of tenants and their duties and rents, which was compiled by the monks of St Andrew's Priory in Rochester.
In England, the appearance of inherited family names is associated with the post-Conquest period (i.e. after the year 1066). Nicknames, however, were quite common before then, if the Domesday Book is anything to go by.
For a wonderful 'top ten' of Old English nicknames of men who were landowners in 1066, I strongly recommend Dr Thijs Porck's blog post on the subject. It would seem there was a penchant for allusions to body parts, including the eyes, nose, feet, and even the testicles!
But what of the Rochester custumal?
I should say at the outset that the reason bynames were used was, at least in part, to distinguish one Adam (or John, Robert, or William) from the next, especially if they lived near each other. Something as simple as indicating someone's parentage was an obvious thing to do. So we have, for example, in the vill of Denton, Adam son of Solomon (see image above) and Adam son of Lambert (see image below).
Almost all the names I've come across so far that are of this kind are patronymic, that is, the father rather than the mother is named as the parent. The one probable exception is a certain Richard, also from Denton, who is named as the son of Sevara (in the manuscript the name appears as Seuare, a feminine genitive form: see image below), which may be an earlier version of the woman's name Savory.
It is common for bynames to be geographical, usually in the form of name + location, such as Amabel (Mabel) of Lynsted, Godard of Rochester, and Richard of Poulhurst. Slightly differently, a surname may have indicated one's heritage: so Ralph Wale's surname may indicate he had a Welsh ancestry.
Slightly more fun among the geographical bynames are those alluding to a feature of the landscape, such as Hugh de la Cumbe (Anglo-Norman for 'of the valley') and Adam de la Helde ('of the slope/hill': see helde in the Middle English Dictionary).
I have not come across many nicknames comparable to those of the Anglo-Saxons in the Domesday Book, mentioned above. The only two so far are Hugh the Red (Latin, Rufus, see image above), who perhaps had a ruddy complexion or red hair, and Elword 'the Angry' (Old English weamod, see image below), of whom, I believe, I would have stayed clear in the local thirteenth-century alehouse.
Very common bynames in the Rochester custumal are those related to occupations. Strictly speaking, it is often quite difficult to know if the compiler is referring to the present occupation of the named individual or to an inherited surname derived from the occupation of an ancestor of that individual. For example, was Osmund simply 'the cooper' (Latin cuparius) rather than Osmund Cooper?
These names are usually written in Latin (or are Latinised). My understanding is that though some Latin forms have subsequently become English family names, it is generally better to translate them into their English equivalents, though I wouldn't wish to be dogmatic about this. So, for example, Latin Faber is the common surname Smith.
Here are some more occupational surnames from Custumale Roffense:
Butler (Latin pincerna), Cardinal (Latin cardinalis), Chaplin (Latin capellana), Clerk (Latin clericus), Merchant (Latin mercator), Singer (Latin cantor), Tailor (Latin parmenter), and Weaver (Latin telarius).
And so, to my three favourite bynames discovered so far in my research, none of which are easy to categorise along the lines described above.
First is Punt, belonging to a fellow called Edwy (see image above). This surname is suggestive of a connection to boats, as Old English punt, which derives from Latin ponto, means a flat-bottomed boat or ferry. Was Edwy, or his ancestor, a ferryman?
Second is Pudding, a surname owned by a chap called Geoffrey (see image below), who is listed as one of the jurors of Darenth. I love the idea of Geoffrey's ancestors being pudding makers, but I suspect the name has a somewhat different derivation.
And, finally, a byname for which I have even fewer clues to its origin and meaning: Baggard. This surname belonged to a certain Ralph from the vill of Wouldham (see image below). So if any of you have any clues, or if you yourself are named Baggard, do let me know. Apparently, it has not survived as an English or Irish family name (according to the Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland), so if you are a Baggard, you're very special indeed.
For more research snippets on medieval names, click on the links below:
Dr Monk looks at the context behind women's names in the thirteenth-century Rochester Custumal.
Enlarged and highlighted sections show the names of two women, Asceline (left) and Mabel of Lynsted (right), both of whom are listed as peasant landholders in Wouldham, Kent. From Custumale Roffensis (Rochester, 13th century), folios 13v-14r. Images by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Rochester Cathedral.
As I mentioned at the end of part 1 of this 'research snippet', I've had my curiosity piqued whenever women's names appear in Custumale Roffense – the custumal, or survey, of tenants' agricultural services, rents and other obligations rendered to their manorial lord, i.e. the priory of St Andrew at Rochester.
In the image above you can see two names of women from the monks' manor at Wouldham, which today is about a 10 minute drive from the cathedral and castle in Rochester, but more like an hour and 20 minutes in medieval footsteps.
On the left, Aceline (asceline in the manuscript) is named along with two others, William and Edmund. The heirs (heredes in the manuscript) of these three hold a small one acre plot of land, for which they pay an annual rent of seven and a half pennies.
The fact that 'heirs' are mentioned probably doesn't indicate that the three named individuals were necessarily deceased at the time when the survey was first carried out. Rather, we should understand that these three legally, and jointly, held the tenancy for this acre plot, and whoever inherited the tenancy on the demise of them all would continue to pay the fixed sum.
On the right, Amabel (the shortened form Mabel is used in the manuscript) is listed, by herself. She has a geographical byname (surname), 'of Lynsted' (de lindestede in the manuscript). This village is more than twenty miles away from Wouldham, so in medieval terms, she was not originally a local woman. She held a much more substantial piece of land, of 20 acres in fact, for which she and her heirs owed the correspondingly larger amount of 5 shillings.
In the Rochester custumal there is a significant number of women who are listed as land-holders, but by far the majority of tenants named are men. So then, in an age where women were 'married off' by their fathers, and in the context of peasant life, we might ask why it was that some women did in fact hold land.
The custumal provides us with one answer. In its section concerning the customs for Haddenham, a large manor in Buckinghamshire, which was settled on the priory in the eleventh century by Lanfranc, archbishop of Canterbury (r. 1070-1089), and confirmed by King William II ('Rufus') (r. 1097-1100), a stipulation concerning widows is given:
Also, if anyone should die, the lord will have the best beast that he (the deceased) had. And if he had but one horse, the horse must be sold and the lord must have 30 pennies for heriot (death duty) and the widow the rest of the money. And the widow must hold that land, in which she is re-pledging, as long as she is able to defend it, and as long as she remains as a chaste widow.
As we can see from my translation, a widow of Haddenham had a right, once the death duty was paid to the lord (the monks of St Andrew's, in this case), to inherit her deceased husband's tenured land. To obtain it she would have to follow the customary practice of pledging faith to the lord and would have to 'defend' the tenancy. This meant she would have to pay a 'relief' payment to the lord, allowing her officially to enter onto the land; and also a written record would be made of the transfer of tenancy.*
Also implied by the term 'defend' (Latin defendere) is the widow's ability to maintain the rent and services to the lord of the manor. Fail in that regard, a very real possibility in view of her diminished state as a widow, and she could lose the tenancy.
The stipulation that she remain a 'chaste widow' is not so much a moral requirement but a recognition that should she in the future re-marry she would have to give up the tenancy. Someone else, her heir or heirs, would have the opportunity to purchase the tenure agreement, rather than it being taken over by her new husband.
We see, then, that one reason peasant women held land in the thirteenth-century is because they inherited the tenancy from their husbands. In fact, this seems to be the case with Aceline, mentioned above, for her name appears again in a list of those tenants in Wouldham whose customs did not include agricultural services to the lord, but only a monetary rent.
Her entry reads (below): 'The widow Aceline's land of 4 acres'. So it seems that this woman not only held a shared tenure for the aforementioned one acre plot, but a larger area in her own right. Who the two men mentioned in the first of those holdings were, I cannot say, though they were likely related to her.
My research may well turn up other circumstances in which women held land. It is known, for example, that it became increasingly common throughout late medieval England for land to be held jointly by husband and wife.* And I was particularly intrigued the other day to come across the names of two women who together held land in Wouldham. But I will have to leave Aldith and Goda for another day.
In part three of this research snippet, What's in a name?, I will be taking a closer look at the meaning of surnames. So we'll catch up then. But, in the meantime, if you want to ask something about my research or leave a comment, please feel free to do so in the comments section below.
* On inheritance, see Mark Bailey, The English Manor: c.1200-c.1500 (Manchester University Press, 2002), pp. 27-29. In fact, Bailey's book is a must read for anyone wanting to understand the manorial system in medieval England.
The second in Dr Monk's series 'Reseach Snippets'. Here, in part 1, he takes a look at the problem of translating medieval Latinised names into modern English. In part 2, he will be exploring women's names and the meanings behind surnames.
Translating a thirteenth-century custumal, you come across an awful lot of names: names of people who owe services, money or food rents to the manorial lord. In this case, the lord is a collective one, being the Bendedictine brothers of the cathedral priory of St Andrew, in Rochester.
There are plenty of well-known given names (i.e. fore or first names) that appear frequently: John, Robert, William being three of the most common. But there are more unusual ones, too, such as Edwy and Salvi.
As the manuscript I'm translating, Custumale Roffense, is written in Latin, the names are usually Latinised. So John is Johannes; Robert, Robertus; and William, Willelmus. For the purpose of writing for a general audience (I'm writing a book about everyday life in the monastic world of thirteenth-century Rochester), I have to make a decision about how to translate Latinised names.
Most of the folk mentioned in the custumal are ordinary people working the land, and it's extremely unlikely they would have gone around using the Latinised forms of their names! My usual response as translator is to choose what is called the canonical name form, a standardised form that doesn't necessarily represent how a person would have written their name, were they able to do so, in the vernacular at the time, or indeed give us much of an indication of how exactly they would have pronounced their name.
As I often say to myself, translation is always a compromise. But whereas choosing John, Robert and William seems pretty straight forward, and not too controversial, sometimes the decision making process is more difficult for rarer names. Let me take the two examples above of Edwy and Salvi to illustrate what I mean.
As a scholar who's spent a lot of time looking at the Anglo-Saxons (pre-1066), using the standardised name form of Edwy grates on me, to use a piece of idiom from my childhood. This is because I know it derives from Old English Eadwig (the 'g' here is soft, by the way, and sounds similar to the ending on the modern name Eddie), and in fact appears in our 13th-century manuscript as eadwi, as you can see in the image above; and so it preserves the Old English ea vowel combination (known as a diphthong).*
*Technically, eadwi is in the genitive, or possessive, form, as it is part of the phrase Heredes eadwi, 'the heirs of Edwy', and so grammar dictates it must end with i.
So part of me wanted to keep the ea in my translation, because I liked the idea that this person had an English, rather than a Norman-French, name, and maybe he still said his name the way the Anglo-Saxons probably said it, which is more like Adwy than Edwy.
But then I reminded myself that I wouldn't do that with other Anglo-Saxon names like Eadweard, which I would readily update to Edward, and so I have ended up conforming to the canonical form of the name. Alas!
My choice of the name Salvi is problematic for a different reason, namely, I din't have much to work with! In the manuscript, as you see above, the name is written Salewi.**
**Technically, the i ending here indicates it's in the genitive, or possessive form, because it's part of the phrase Herede[s] Salewi, 'the heirs of Salvi'.
My hunch was that the name was a form of the Latin salvus (meaning 'safe, saved'). When translating medieval Latin, there is sometimes a correspondence between the letters w and v (for example the name Alvice has the Latin form Alwidis). This led me to check for possible names that derive from salvus, and so I arrived at Salvo.
However, Salvo has an Italian origin, and that didn't seem to fit comfortably with 13th-century England. I had wondered if it might be a name with a Nordic origin, and so my search then led me to the Old Norse name Salvi. I didn't exactly shout ta-dah! or Hallelujah! but this Nordic name seemed a more appropriate rendering. Ah, translating medieval languages is not always an exact science!
One of the things that I've found very interesting when translating this custumal is that not all the tenants' names are masculine, confirming the fact that women did hold land in later medieval England.
A number of widows are named outright as landholders owing services or rents to the monks, but I was a bit surprised to discover that the names that appear in the commonly occuring phrases 'the heirs of so-and-do' and 'son of so-and-so', were not always men's names. For some reason, I had assumed they would be.
I will be discussing this in more detail in part 2 of this research snippet, and I'll also be taking a look at surnames, wich are often referred to as bynames. See you there!