BURGUM FAMILY HISTORY SOCIETY

The Burgum family history society is a member of the Guild of one name studies and researches the names
BURGUM
and BURGHAM

Possible origins of the name BURGUM (and BURGHAM) and those Foreign Connections.


Where does the name BURGUM come from? Is it German? Is it Norwegian? Were my family French?

These are the questions that have been asked of me since long before the BURGUM FAMILY HISTORY SOCIETY began. Books on the origin of surnames in the UK are reasonably consistent about the surnames BURGUM and BURGHAM. "Surnames of the U.K." by William Harrison (published by Eaton Press in 1912), states... "BURGUM, BURGHAM (Eng): Belonging to Burgham = the field or enclosure of the stronghold (Old English - Burg, a stronghold; and ham - an enclosure, a piece of land)." However, this is not the end of the matter.

There is, for example, a place called BURGUM in Northern Friesland, in the Netherlands. Could the BURGUMS be from there? As my article, BURGUM - The Place, states; "There is no evidence at this stage to indicate that any direct link exists between the family name and the place. The village name has passed through many changes over the centuries from Berghum and Birgum, to Bergum (the Dutch spelling) to Burgum. However, our surname has also passed through a similar transition beginning with Berhume, Bergome and Bergoe and continuing with Birgum, Bergum and Burgham." Is it coincidence that a Dutch town shares our name? Some have linked us to other European countries, too. Could our name come from the French area of Burgundy? Could it be connected with the German word "Burgomaster" meaning mayor or leader of a town? There is a place in Northern Spain named Burgos, an Italian town called Bergamo and a Norwegian city called Bergen? Could any of these suggest a foreign link to our name? Norway is, perhaps, the most compelling as there were certainly BURGUMS from Scandinavia who settled in the United States of America. Are these our ancestors or is there another, more logical explanation? The answer lies in the origins of language and, in particular, the origins of English. The UK has struggled for years over the issues of the Euro, sovereignty, and its British identity. The irony is that the British identity, carved from over two thousand years of history, has its origins not just in the Celts, but the Romans, the Germans, the Danes and the French. This influence has, of course, extended to the written and spoken word and formed the English language spoken all over the world.

In the distant times of approximately two thousand years ago the Romans came, conquered and settled in what we now call England. It remained a Roman province for nearly 400 years. The people, the Britons, lived and thrived under Roman occupation, while walls were built at the borders to keep out those untamed in what is now Scotland and Wales. Over the centuries, as invaders occupied and changed England forever, the wilder lands of Scotland and Wales preserved the Celtic nature of what were our original ancestors. In the fifth century, the tribes of the Lowlands of Northern Europe, the English (Angles), the Jutes and the Saxons were living in that area which included Northern Germany and Denmark.

With the demise of the Roman Empire, the Germanic tribes of the Jutes, the Angles and the Saxons moved into what became known as England, while the Britons and the Celts were driven to the margins. The language of this land became a combination of Old English and Saxon, very similar to the language of Friesland, where the town of Burgum is situated today. It is not surprising, therefore, that so many similarities exist between the German of the Jutes, the Angles and the Saxons and the English of today. It was at this time that words such as "ing" meaning "the people of..", "ton" meaning "an enclosure or village", or "ham" meaning "farm". This language was lyrical and descriptive and gave rise to the epic poetry of Beowulf, describing the heroic glory days of the Germanic tribes. It was written sometime between the 7th and the 10th centuries and the word "burgum" is used to describe a defensive battlement; a stronghold. (Picture right - the first page folio of the epic Beowulf)

In the late 8th century the pagan Vikings, pirates from the Scandinavia, began raiding the shores of England. They would cross from Denmark, initially just raiding close to the shore. Their attacks continued for seventy years and in 865, the Vikings invaded East Anglia. They swept across England, occupying the North-east and East Anglia, then moving south and west. It was King Alfred who fought the Danes, skirmishing in Wiltshire and Somerset. Finally Alfred experienced some success against the Danes and a peace-treaty was negotiated, dividing England in half along a line NW-SE from very roughly from Oxford to Liverpool. An uneasy peace continued for many years and as things stabilised, names such as "Danby" (the farm of Dan), "..thorpe" (village), and "Robertson" (son of Robert) came from the Danish tongue. Words such as "they", "there", and "them" were also introduced from the Old Norse. The Old English, modified by Germanic, then by the Vikings, developed the language still further.
Beowulf Cotton MS Vitellius A XV f. 132r

King Alfred had several works translated from the Latin into English, in order that the monks could spread the word to the common man more easily. Then, in 1066, the Norman invasion of England saw three centuries of reign by non-English Kings. The Norman tongue was French and the King, the Nobles, the Royal Court and the Law was all in French. The religious language remained Latin, and English came in a poor third. Thousands of French words thus were introduced into the English language. The word "castle" (castel) did not exist in English before the Normans came.

Thus Old English was influenced, changed and grew through the invasions of the Germanic tribes of the Jutes, Angles and the Saxons. These were changed still further by the invading Vikings and then by three centuries of French reign. It is not surprising, therefore, that the names of BURGUM and BURGHAM appear to have links with Germany, with Scandinavia and with France. However, it is likely that it is language and the inter-marriage of the invaders with the Britons and the English that provides these links, rather than the immigration of families from these lands.

Indeed, the common use of surnames came quite late as the population grew. Certainly after the invasions that I have mentioned above. Suffice to say the names of BURGUM and BURGHAM, as relates to our families, seem to have grown in a limited area. The emergence of another BURGUM or BURGHAM, either as a place name or as a person, does not disprove this. It simply shows how our language has close relations abroad and we should not be surprised if the name pops up, unrelated and unexpectedly, elsewhere in Europe.

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