Thursday, 10 April 2014


Sometimes we must ponder SERIOUS matters...let us examine the US Declaration of Independence and it's signatories and tie it into a fairly comprehensive overview of Surname origins.... now, we all know the historical fact that European surnames were derived by only a few ways, either by:

Patronymics....last names derived from a father's name, were widely used in forming surnames, especially in the Scandinavian countries. Occasionally, the name of the mother contributed the surname, referred to as a matronymic surname. Such names were formed by adding a prefix or suffix denoting either "son of" or "daughter of." English and Scandinavian names ending in "son" are patronymic surnames, as are many names prefixed with the Gaelic "Mac," the Norman "Fitz," the Irish "O," and the Welsh "ap."
Examples: The son of John (JOHNSON), son of Donald (MACDONALD), son of Patrick (FITZPATRICK), son of Brien (O'BRIEN), son of Howell (ap HOWELL).

Territorial/Place Names or Local Names...One of the most common ways to differentiate one man from his neighbor was to describe him terms of his geographic surroundings or location (similar to describing a friend as the "one who lives down the street"). Such local names denoted some of the earliest instances of surnames in France, and were quickly introduced into England by the Norman nobility who chose names based on the locations of their ancestral estates (a Territorial surname).
1124 - 1153 - Hugh de Courci - a Norman knight (and his brother Philip) were hired in England and employed as Knights in the service of King David I 'The Saint' of Scotland, during this period he married the daughter of a Briton noble and settled in Dumfriesshire, Scotland; in the lands of CORRIE granted to him by King David I. Because of the General Council held in Forfar in 1061 during the reign of King Malcolm III 'Canmore' - at which the King had directed the nobility of Scotland "after the manner of other nations" to adopt surnames from their territorial possessions; Hugh took the surname 'CORRIE' (from his lands) as his official surname (now the  parish of Hutton & Corrie in Dumfriesshire, Scotland).
 If a person or family migrated from one place to another, they were often identified by the place they came from. If they lived near a stream, cliff, forest, hill, or other geographic feature, this might be used to describe them. Some last names can still be traced back to their exact place of origin, such as a particular city or county, while others have origins lost in obscurity (ATWOOD lived near a wood, but we don't know which one). Compass directions were another common geographic identification in the Middle Ages (EASTMAN, WESTWOOD). Most geographic-based surnames are easy to spot, though the evolution of language has made others less obvious, i.e. DUNLOP (muddy hill).
Examples: BROOKS lived along a brook; CHURCHILL lived near a church on a hill; NEVILLE came from Neville-Seine-Maritime, France or Neuville (New Town), a common place name in France; PARRIS came from -- you guessed it -- Paris, France.

Occupational Names....The 3rd class of surnames to develop reflect the occupation or status of the first bearer. These occupational last names, derived from the specialty crafts and trades of the medieval period, are fairly self-explanatory. A MILLER was essential for grinding flour from grain, a WAINWRIGHT was a wagon builder, and BISHOP was in the employ of a Bishop. Different surnames often developed from the same occupation based on the language of the country of origin (M√úLLER, for example, is German for Miller).
Examples: ALDERMAN, an official clerk of the court; TAYLOR, one that makes or repairs garments; CARTER, a maker/driver of carts; OUTLAW, an outlaw or criminal

Despite these basic surname classifications, many last names or surnames of today seem to defy explanation. The majority of these are probably corruptions of the original surnames -- variations that have become disguised almost beyond recognition. Surname spelling and pronunciation has evolved over many centuries, often making it hard for current generations to determine the origin and evolution of their surnames. Such family name derivations, resulting from a variety of factors, tend to confound both genealogists and etymologists.

It is fairly common for different branches of the same family to carry different last names, as the majority of English and American surnames have, in their history, appeared in four to more than a dozen variant spellings. Therefore, when researching the origin of your surname, it is important to work your way back through the generations in order to determine the original family name, as the surname that you carry now may have an entirely different meaning than the surname of your distant ancestor. It is also important to remember that some surnames, though their origins may appear obvious, aren't what they seem. BANKER, for example, is not an occupational surname, instead meaning "dweller on a hillside."

Descriptive Names (Nicknames)...the 4th and last class of surnames, those derived from a physical or other characteristic of first bearer, make up an estimated 10% of all surname or family names. These descriptive surnames are thought to have originally evolved as nicknames during the Middle Ages when men created nicknames or pet names for his neighbors and friends based on personality or physical appearance. Thus, Michael the strong became Michael STRONG and black-haired Peter became Peter BLACK. Sources for such nicknames included: an unusual size or shape of the body, bald heads, facial hair, physical deformities, distinctive facial features, skin or hair coloring, and even emotional disposition.
Examples: BROADHEAD, a person with a large head; BAINES (bones), a thin man; GOODMAN, a generous individual; ARMSTRONG, strong in the arm.

The burning question remaining for us today is...what did John Hancock's ancestors do?
I want you to focus on that mystery for just a few minutes......
But SERIOUSLY, all humour and innuendo aside:

Recorded in many forms including as Hancock, Hancox, Handcock and Handcocks, this is an English patronymic surname. It derives from the personal name "Hann", itself a form of the early Johan or John, themselves from the Hebrew "Yochanan", meaning "Jehovah has favoured (me with a son)" or possibly "may Jehovah favour (this child)". To this was added the English suffix "-cock", a popular ending deriving from the pre 7th century word "cocca", a nickname applied to a young lad. Curiously it was as a personal name that "Hanecok" was recorded in the Hundred Rolls of Yorkshire in 1276, although the surname itself first appears at much the same time as shown below. These early recordings include John Hanicokes in the Court Rolls of the Manor of Wakefield in Yorkshire in 1316, whilst Warynus Hancok and Agnes Hankokwyf were mentioned in the Poll Tax Records of Yorkshire in 1379. Thomas Hancock (1786 - 1865) was founder of the India rubber trade in England, and his brother Walter (1799 - 1852), invented the first steam engines for road traffic 1824 - 1836. Tony Hancock from Birmingham, who died in 1968, was regarded as the leading comedian of his day. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Thomas Hancoc. This was dated 1274 in the "Hundred Rolls of Shropshire", during the reign of King Edward 1st of England, known as "The Hammer of the Scots", 1272 - 1307. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.

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