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Medieval Names

 

General



Before the year 1066, the English were known by their single Christian name. Of course, this was a great problem when living in a big town and when not everyone was familiar with each other.

After the Norman conquest of Great Britain in 1066, a new system which included the use of a surname was introduced to England. This proved to be very useful, but nevertheless inaccurate.

At first, surnames could be based on a person's job, place of birth, characteristic or from his father such as "Joseph the smith", "Gilbert of Hastings", "Edward the red" or "William son of John". The three former surnames (job, place of birth and attribute) were found to be inaccurate because they could change and were very prone to confusion. For example, if "John the Tall" lost his two legs, his surname would be completely mistaken.

For this reason, the paternal name has been traditionally used as a surname, for it is very accurate and cannot change.

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