Popular Science Monthly/Volume 35/October 1889/Industrial Family Names

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By Prof. D. R. McANALLY.

THE industrial history of the English-speaking peoples has been faithfully written by able hands, and, until more material accumulates by the growth of science and the progress of industry, little can be added to records already made. The study of what may, for the lack of a better name, be called industrial philology, has not, however, kept pace with the history of industrial occupations. Much has been well done in this line, for long ago students of language perceived that in the proper names of men and places lingered unwritten histories, but all yet accomplished scarcely makes an impression on the huge heap of material, since most proper names once had a significance which, in many cases, has long ago been forgotten.

Even a casual examination of the family names of men discloses the fact that many of the most common must have originated in the adoption, by an individual, of the name of his occupation as a surname, to distinguish him from other men of the same given name. Dr. Adam Clarke, in his "Autobiography," has a learned and critical essay on his own name, and accounts for its use by his family in the manner already indicated. There can be no doubt that this is a typical illustration, nor that, during the period when the English language was assuming its present form, many trade-names became those of individuals, and frequently, when men more than commonly distinguished themselves in a calling, were assumed as distinctive surnames by their children, and were thus continued when the propriety of the appellation no longer existed. In this way multitudes of trade-names are perpetuated, some in their original form, some so modified as to be scarcely recognizable, and others, no doubt, which once were designations of trade, so changed as to bear not a trace of their origin. Concerning the last named speculation is profitless, and even those of the second class may be passed with little notice, since quite enough material is found in family names which plainly proclaim their own ancestry.

The food-providing occupations have always, of necessity, been thronged, and from them come, in more or less altered form, many of our family names. The Butchers and Slaughters tell their own story, so also do Flesh and Flesher, since in Scotland and the north of England the purveyor of fresh meat is even to-day known as the "flesher." But Fletcher and Flitcher need to be introduced as the lineal descendants of Flesher, while Boucher and Bouchelle would be unidentified were not the fact known that our ancestors had much intercourse with the Normans, and, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, French was daily spoken by the better class in the British Isles. Our Bakers may be readily traced back to their floury-handed ancestors, but the Baxters must be followed for generations before we find that they were of the same family, being the descendants of the Bagsters, who were the off-spring of the Bagesters, who acknowledged that they were the children of the Bakesters, who were feminine bakers. Of the bread-making tribe were also the Breaders and the Whitbreads, the latter perhaps once priding themselves on the color of their stock in trade, while nearly related to them were the Mills, the Millers, and the Mealers. The large and respectable family of the Boulangers came from the French bakers who carried on their trade in England during the ages when family names were growing, while Mr. Lowe suggests that the Bollingers and the Bulliners are of the same origin.

Few points in Great Britain are more than a hundred miles from the sea, and in all ages fish has formed one of the staple articles of British diet. Catching the fish was therefore an important industry, and Fish, Fisher, and Fisherman doubtless had their origin in the occupation of the men who first assumed these names, of which fact there is abundant record. It is quite possible also, as Max Müller suggests, that men may have made a specialty of taking or of selling a particular kind of fish, and thus Salmon from Robert le Salmoner, Hering from John le Heringer, and Trouter from Roger le Trowter, may have arisen without violence to the laws of philology. Bardsley, in his book on English names, derives Possoner from le Poissonier, another relic of the French occupation of England. The selling of fruit was, in the three centuries after the Norman conquest, a special occupation, and mention of John le Fruiterer occurs in the Golden Roll, the conclusion being drawn by philologists that Fruter, Frooter, and several similar names thus had their origin. Cheese was furnished by Roger le Cheseman in the twelfth century, whence our Cheesemans and Chesmans, while condiments of various kinds came from a special store where nothing else was kept and the owner known as le Spicier, no doubt the ancestor of some of our Spicers. Fowls were sold by the poulterer, from which word, it is believed, Polter is derived; while Grocer, as a family name, needs no explanation beyond the statement that in mediæval England his assortment of goods, while not so extensive, was quite as varied as at present.

The preparation of food for immediate consumption gave rise to another occupation and other names. The Cooks we still have with us, also the Cokes, the latter being the more common spelling of the word in the thirteenth century. From these, by natural succession, come the Cooksons, the Cokesons, the Coksons, and, one scholar suggests, the Cocks and the Cocksons—the last two, however, appearing to be far-fetched. As drink was to our fore-fathers quite as indispensable as meat, it also gave rise to family names, being manufactured by Brewers, Maltsters, and Vintners or Wintners, remaining as Winters, and dispensed by Tapsters and Drawers. Nor should it be forgotten that receptacles for the liquors were from the hands of the Barilers, Hoopers, Coopers, and Cowpers; nor that the contents of the casks were carefully ascertained by the Gangers and Measurers. Bowlers and Bowlings, with Cuppers, made the drinking-vessels in use among the common people. Horns and Horners those of a better class—all of whom, with verbal changes, remain to attest the former popularity of their respective callings.

Workers in wood have left their record among our proper names to such an extent as to justify the conclusion, even if it were not to be reached from other sources of information, that this branch of industry was important during the ages when men were assuming family names. Caring for the raw material in its growing state gave us the Forrests and the Forresters, the Woods, Wooders, Woodsons, and Woodmans. Cutting the timber into proper lengths was the business of the Sawyers, perhaps also of the Hewers, while dressing the lumber originated the Carpenters. The Carvers did the ornamental work, so, according to Lowe, did the Cutters and Cuttings, though about these names there is a difference of opinion, some assigning them to the leather trade and others to the stone-cutting.

Akin to the lumber business is the Houser, who, according to one authority, is of the same family as the Bilders and Bildermans, which names, it is supposed, originated with master-workmen who undertook the general contract of setting up a house. Nearly related also are the Thatchers, the Thackers, the Thackerers, and the Thackerays, who, always in the country, and frequently in town, covered the house after it was erected. But houses in Great Britain were more generally constructed of stone or brick than of wood, and artisans in these materials must have been numerous, as is evidenced by Stone, Stoner, Stonebreaker, and Stoneman, the Masons, the Carvers, and, as already mentioned, the Cutters also. The Tylers made and placed in position the tiles used for roofing, while the Painters, Paynters, and Penters made both exterior and interior of the building presentable.

The Tylers just mentioned were workers in clay, which suggests another branch of industry, from which numerous family names have sprung. Not to speak of Clay, Claye, Clayer, and Clayman—the preparers of or dealers in the material—there are Pott, Potts, Potter, Pottman, Crock, Crocker, Crockman, Jarman, Plater, Disher, and, according to Taylor, Turner also, though some assign this name to the worker in wood. The burden of proof, however, seems to make the original turner an artist in jugs, the propriety of the name in this case being manifest.

From wood, stone, and clay the transition to the metals is easy and natural, and of the skill of our Saxon forefathers in this direction there are abundant records in the family names still remaining in common use. Iron, Ironer, and Ironman are common; Copper, Coper, Copperer, and Coperman equally so; while Leader, Lederman, and Lederer come down almost unchanged from Roger le Lederman, mentioned in a parliamentary writ of the thirteenth century. Brasser and Brassy still exist, along with Tiner and Tyner, to testify to the variety of metals used, while Silver is as rare as Golden, though both exist in our directories, and doubtless tell of the occupations of their originals.

When metal-working is considered, the family names indicative of occupation are equally significant. Smith needs only a mention as a sort of generic term; Coppersmith is often seen, together with Goldsmith. The manufacture of special articles of metal gave rise to several family names—such as Spooner, Knifer, and Nypher—Ralph le Spooner and John le Knyfere appearing in the records of that period. The cutler then as now dealt in small articles of hardware, and the Cutlers remain to bear witness to the popularity of the business; while Armour speaks of the development of the craft in another direction.

Leaving metal-working for the manufacture of textile fabrics. Prof. Müller has some very interesting notes on the manufacture of flax as connected with the growth of the English language. From these it is evident that several family names originated with the linen trade. There are Flax and Flaxman, Linn, Lynn, and Lynnman, who doubtless provided the material, lin being a Saxon name for Flax; and, with some probability, it has been suggested that White, Whitener, Whitner, Bleach, Blake, Blaker, and Blakeman had their origin in the process of bleaching the goods. Leather, too, furnished names as well as occupation to those who dealt in it or busied themselves in various branches of its manufacture. The records of the twelfth century have preserved for us the names of Ralph le Hyder, Roger le Skinnere, John le Curier, Thomas le Tannere, whose philological descendants still appear on the pages of our directories in varied spellings, while the Shoemakers are almost as numerous as the Glovers. Sowter, Sutter, and Soter are modifications of Souter, once a common name for a shoemaker, while Clouter, Cloter, and Cloutman, together with Cobbler, Cobler, and Cobbleman, are forms of a different word of the same signification, and the Pattens, Pattons, Pattenmans, Pattermans, and perhaps Pattersons, took their names from the patten, a sort of clog much worn during the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries. Taylor finds Bark and Barker in the old writs of that period, and suggests that the occupation of the first owners of these names was to provide the tanners with the material for converting the hides into leather. This may or may not be the case, but it is reasonably certain, according to the best authorities, that our Butlers were once the Botelers, bottles in that day being frequently made of leather, and the name being applied first to him who made the bottles and, after a time, to him who looked after them and their contents.

Rope-making is not distantly related to the leather trade, and of the manufacture of ropes relics are still seen in Roper, Corder, Stringer, and Twyner.

One of the most curious pages of philological history is that written by Bardsley in recounting the proper names which grew out of the wool trade. For ages wool was the staple of England, and thousands of busy operatives were employed in the various processes necessary before the wool could be transferred from the back of the sheep to the back of the man; before the raw product could be converted into the finished manufacture. At every step, proper names indicative of the calling of those who bore them sprang up, so that, were we ignorant of the fact that the Saxons dealt in wool and made cloth, we might draw perfectly correct and legitimate conclusions as to the business, its extent and various departments, from the family names still surviving. To follow Bardsley in this quaint pilgrimage through the woolen-factories of Old England: the sheep were cared for by the Shepherd or Sheepherd, a name which with variations of spelling is extremely common. Shearing was the first operation requiring either delicacy or skill, and Shearer, Shearman, Shurman, and similar names bespeak their own ancestry. The wool was then placed in bags, made by the Sackers or Canvassers, and was ready for the merchant, an individual often known as Stapler, Wool, Wooler, Woolman, or Woolsey, or in French as Lanier or Lanyer. He consigned it to the care of persons who transported it from place to place on the backs of pack-horses or in vehicles, and were thus known as the Packers, the Carters, or the Carriers. The wool was then handed over to the Carders and Combers, or Kempers and Kempsters, as they were variously called, and passed from their hands to those of the Spinners, who used implements made by the Spindlers and Slayers, afterward going on to the Weavers, Weevers, Webbs, Webbers, or feminine Websters. The cloth was next "teased" to bring out the nap, a process done by the Teasers, Tosers, Tousers, Teazelers, or Taylors, when it was finished and ready for the Dyer, Litter, or Lister, or the Norman Taintor or Taintur. Woad, the common dye-stuff, was provided by the Woader or Woadman, while there is some indication of another material in the names Madder, Madderer, and Madderman occurring in the Hundred Rolls. The Fullers, Fullertons, Fullersons, and Fullmans undertook the process of whitening the cloth, if it was to be white, in which they were assisted by the Walkers, who trod it with their feet, accompanied by the Beaters, Beatermans, Bates, Batts, and Battmans, who used sticks instead of heels and toes.

The designation of the process is seen to give a name to all engaged in a special work, just as at present, and further to be adopted as a family name by some who perhaps attained notable excellence over their fellows, or were led by chance or caprice to adopt the title of their calling as their own surname. The list might be indefinitely extended. Tuck and Tucker, Sticher, Seamer, Sower, Braider, Wash and Washer, Lavender and Launder, terms formerly designating the cleansing of linen, are illustrations to the point, and many others can easily be gathered by any one having the time and patience for such research.

Particular articles of apparel, either in the course of manufacture, or completed and in use, have left their imprint in several family names. The hat gave us the Hatts and Hattars; also, according to Taylor, the Blocks, Blockets, Blockers, and Blockmans, the last four taking their names from the wooden instrument on which the hats were shaped. Caps gave us the Cappers and the Capers; smocks, a loose, shirt-like outer garment worn by peasants and workingmen, the Smockers and Smookers; the pilch, a fur cloak, the Pilchers, Pulchers, and Pitchers. The manufacture of belts gave a name to the Girdles, Girdlers, and Girdleys, while the wearing of laces originated Lacer, Lacy, Pointer, and Poynter. The use of furs originated the Pelters and the Furriers. The cowl, as an appendage to a great-coat, was much in use when family names were growing, hence Cowler, Cowley, Cowlet and the like; while another name for the same article originated the Hoods and the Hoodmans. Fastening the clothing with buttons originated the Buttons and Buttoners; with buckles, the Buckles and Bucklars; while the use of pins, at first of great size, gave names to Pinners, Pinnets, and Pinneys; and the manufactture of a small bag for the safe keeping of money was the original employment of our Pursers, Bursars, and Pouchers. A call for precious stones was answered by the Jewells, Agates, Rubys, and perhaps Crystalls, and the necessity for light in the houses and streets was met by the Candlers, Lampers, Lighters, Links, Linkers, and Torchers.

Mention of the last classes suggests the nature of the service they rendered to our belated ancestors in the unlighted, muddy, and otherwise dangerous streets of mediæval London, and this calls to mind the fact that in personal service have originated a number of family names. The old Saxon had his face scraped by a barber, whence our swarm of Barbers, Barbars, Barbors, Barbours, and Burbers; while in those days the hair of the ladies was artistically "tired," whence the Tyers, Tyrers, and Tyermans of the present day. When sick, or "ill," as his descendants now say, he sent for the leech, and this worthy has left a numerous progeny among the Leeches Leaches, and Leachers. His letters were written by scriveners, who still remain among us as Scribners; and, when he needed relaxation, he was entertained by Players, Dancers, Whistlers, and Singers.