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

More About Names

We all know about names, don't we? Well from the "olden days" right through and including the Anglo-Saxon period, most people had just one name. Sure there were some who had titles; Lords, Royalty and even some traders, but most people only needed one name. Individuals mostly stayed in one village and so when you mentioned a name, most people knew who you were taking about. That all changed around the time of the Norman Conquest in and after 1066.Some French names did creep in, but many names came from the Bible. Most people could not read, but most people heard the bible stories and so John, Joseph, Mary and Sarah were among favoured names given to children.

As the population grew, second names had to be added to distinguish them from someone else in the same location. John of the Green, William of the Hill, and Sarah Small are examples of the locations or physical attributes that identified one person from another. Someone's birthplace, his or her father (John's son - Johnson), etc were all slowly introduced. In coastal areas where the Vikings had settled, they were already naming sons and daughters after their parents, a location or a personal characteristic.

These names were not necessarily handed down and it was not until around the early to mid-1300's that names were being inherited from their parents and, usually, down the father's line.

And Another Thing!
Most people were illiterate and most records, if any, were written in Latin. Tax collectors, monks and later priests and clergymen recorded names how they sounded and so the spelling and the pronunciation varied wildly. When church records were kept of baptisms, marriages and burials (largely after 1580) the records were scribbled in Latin. Even as English gradually became the standard for recording such events, the names (christian and surnames) were spelt many different ways.

So while Burgum and Burgham interchanged well through into Victorian times, so did Bergan, Birgin, Burcombe and dozens more variations. Your direct ancestors will have had numerous surname variations through no fault of their own. William Shakespeare signed his name numerous different ways and through the 1800's and into the twentieth century some were stilling their marriage certificates with "their mark". My own grandfather only learned how to sign his name late on in life and, on writing W.W. Burgum on a cheque, it bounced because the bank expected an 'x'!

More will be added to this article in due course.