20 November 2012

Goodbye to the Footheads and the Pauncefoots

A column at The Telegraph reviews The Surnames Handbook, a new book which details the extinction of many traditional British surnames.
Names such as Mackmain, Bythewood, Foothead and Pauncefoot are among those thought to have died out in Britain, and researchers believe thousands more have vanished...

...has put the number of names now in use in Britain and Ireland at up to half a million, half of which have been introduced in the past century as a result of immigration.

...considered endangered are some names taken from months: February, April, September, October, November and December.

Pauncefoot – a name which appears in the Domesday Book of 1086, as Pauncevolt – was probably a nickname for a person with a fat belly, from the Old French word “pance” or “panch”, meaning “stomach”, and “volt”, meaning “vaulted” or “arched”. The surname is preserved in the name of the village of Compton Pauncefoot, in Somerset.

Four ways surnames were chosen:
Place-names or landscape features, such as Hill, Wood, Bridges, Rivers, Green, and names ending in -brook, -ford, -land, -well, or -dun/-don (hill) 
Father’s given name, such as Roberts, Rogers or Johnson. More rarely, from the female line, such as Emmett (from Emma) and Magson (from Margaret). Sometimes from shortened forms, such as Rix or Dixon, which derive from the name Richard. 
Occupational names describing trades, such as Smith, Taylor, Wright, Walker, Turner, Cooper, Ward, Parker, and Carter. Other names are derived from status or office: Abbot, Burgess, Chamberlain, Freeman, Reeve and Squire.  
Nicknames, which may describe characteristics such as Long or Little; qualities, such as Faithful or Smart; or family relationships, such as Brothers, or Bastard.
So today I learn that "Dixon" was originally Dick's-son, much in the way Scandinavian names such as Paulson and Larson arose.  Cool.


  1. The jokes just write themselves. In honor of T-day, I remember a pal whose last name was Turskey. Invariably, when he gave his name to be called for seating at a restaurant, the host-tron would either accidentally, or accidentally-on-purpose, call "Turkey, party of 2, Turkey...." After the first time, he became "Timetraveler." LOL --A.

  2. My paternal grandmother's maiden name was Pauncefort. A regional variation, perhaps? And you can imagine my delight to find a character named Amelia Pauncefort in one of Robertson Davies' "Deptford Trilogy" novels.


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