By P. H. Reaney, R. M. Wilson
This vintage dictionary solutions questions similar to those and explains the origins of over 16,000 names in present English use. it is going to be a resource of fascination to everybody with an curiosity in names and their background.
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Additional resources for A Dictionary of English Surnames
Names of animals may be nicknames, descriptive of appearance or disposition. Lamb may denote meekness, Bull strength or a headstrong nature, Colt a lively, frisky individual, but they may often be used of a keeper of these animals. Bird names are not always easy to interpret: Raven ‘black’, Heron, Stork ‘long legs’, Nightingale and Thrush ‘songsters’, Kite ‘ravenous’. Plant names may refer to a grower or seller, but may be nicknames: Cardon ‘thistle’, obstinate, stubborn, Pinnell ‘tall and upright as a young pine’.
William Founder cast both bells and cannon. Surnames of occupation are more common than the modern forms suggest. Many surnames, previously regarded as nicknames difficult to explain, are really occupational. Apart from mere shortening by which Cofferer and Coverer became Coffer and Cover, the name of the article made or the commodity dealt in was used by metonymy for the maker or dealer. Modern Garlick represents not only medieval Garlek but also Garleker and Garlekmonger. Cheese is found as a surname in the twelfth century but, whilst Cheser has disappeared, both Cheeseman and Cheesewright survive.
So, too, the man in charge of the colts or the palfreys was called not only Colter or Coltman, Palfreyer or Palfreyman, but also Colt or Palfrey. Thus, Bull and Lamb (sometimes from a personal name) are not always nicknames. They may be metonymic for bull-herd and lamb-herd. Brooker and Brook (atte Broke) are undoubtedly local surnames, ‘dweller by the brook’. Bridge, Bridger and Bridgeman may similarly be local, but as the keeper of the bridge, especially where tolls had to be collected, also lived near the bridge, the surnames may be occupational also.
A Dictionary of English Surnames by P. H. Reaney, R. M. Wilson