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The surprising and unusual meanings behind some of Suffolk's oldest surnames




What’s in a name?

When Shakespeare first penned the phrase in Romeo and Juliet, it was used to suggest that one’s name can say nothing about their character.

But while that may be the case nowadays, and maybe even in Shakespeare’s 16th century, names when they were first created were used to label a person and give an insight into their personality, occupation or appearance.

In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare questioned the meaning of names and whether or not they show anything about a person's character
In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare questioned the meaning of names and whether or not they show anything about a person's character

Here is a list of some common and not-so-common surnames which hail from Suffolk and the story behind them. Is yours among them?

Albrey

Anyone with the surname Albrey is part of an ancestry line which goes way back.

Some names were first recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086. Photo: The National Archives UK
Some names were first recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086. Photo: The National Archives UK

Having first been recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086, it was given to people as an Anglo-Saxon nickname for Elf or Noble King.

And while calling someone an ‘elf’ today might not be the most flattering of comments, for Anglo-Saxons it was a high compliment.

An elf was an Anglo-Saxon semi-god and so anyone lucky enough to have the name bestowed upon them was well-respected and admired.

Bartrum

The name Bartrum comes from the Old English word for 'bright, famous raven'
The name Bartrum comes from the Old English word for 'bright, famous raven'

Bartrum, or sometimes spelled Buttrum, is also a name which crops up in the Domesday Book.

This surname is one which doesn’t at all give away its meaning.

It translates from Old English as ‘bright, famous raven’ and is a nickname that was given to someone with shiny black hair.

Some Suffolk surnames have very unusual and surprising meanings
Some Suffolk surnames have very unusual and surprising meanings

Cotwin

The surname Cotwin is one with a very heart-warming meaning.

The name was first recorded in the Suffolk Assize Rolls in 1228 as Geoffrey Cotwin of Suffolk.

The name is made up of the word ‘cot’, which at the time meant cottage or shelter, and ‘win’, which meant friend.

It was given to someone who was a friend who provided shelter for others.

After 1066, the Normans introduced surnames to England, with the practice having gradually spread
After 1066, the Normans introduced surnames to England, with the practice having gradually spread

Everitt

A variation of the surname Everitt was recorded in the Domesday Book as ‘Everhart’.

The name translates from Old English as ‘brave and strong boar’ and was given to people who were seen to be strong fighters in battle.

Game/Gayman

The surname Game was first recorded as Gamen in 1251 in the Suffolk Feet of Fines.

It is an Anglo-Saxon name given to a dealer in game.

In 1674, the name takes on a different spelling in the Suffolk Hearth Tax, where it is recorded for the first time as Gayman.

The surname Game was given to a dealer of game, including deer, rabbits and pheasants
The surname Game was given to a dealer of game, including deer, rabbits and pheasants

Gooderham

The name Gooderham was first recorded in Suffolk in 1283 and has remained a common one across the county.

The name, which is first mentioned in the Suffolk Subsidy Rolls as Guderam, is derived from the Old Norse nickname gudormr meaning ‘battle snake’.

Anyone with the name could also claim to be descended from royalty, with the first Danish ruler of East Anglia having been a Gooderham.

Leeks

With the surname Leeks, what you see really is what you get.

Having been recorded in various forms across the country, it is thought that the surname Leeks, with the s on the end, originated from Suffolk.

And what does it mean?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the name was given to someone who was a seller of leeks, though we doubt that anyone bearing the name now has that job title!

It may not take a genius to guess where the surname Leeks comes from
It may not take a genius to guess where the surname Leeks comes from

Marjoram

The 1881 census, which showed the origins and distribution of UK surnames, records Marjoram or Marjoran as a name which comes from the North of Suffolk and the South Norfolk border.

It shares the name with the herb, which is often used to treat coughs and colds.

The name was commonly given to growers and sellers of herbs as well as herbalists who used them for medicinal purposes.

Mouser

Mouser is another name which many may think they already know the meaning of, but this is one surname with many possible meanings.

Again, it does not come a shock to know that it is derived from ’mus’ - the Anglo-Saxon word for mouse - and was given to someone behaving like a mouse or who was timid and shy.

Bafflingly, the name was also given to very sociable people and those who came across as brash or ‘in your face’.

In Suffolk, it is also recorded as being given to someone whose job it was to control and kill pests.

The name Mouser was given to pest controllers and people who behaved like mice
The name Mouser was given to pest controllers and people who behaved like mice

Nesling

Nesling is a surname that many parents who dropped their teenagers off at university earlier this month might wish they could give their children.

First recorded in the Suffolk Subsidy Rolls in 1524, the name in Old English means ‘nestling’.

It was used to refer to a young child who was believed to be too young to leave the home or more literally, fly the nest.

Pritty

Unlike ‘Leeks’, Pritty is a surname that seems to take no meaning from the word ‘pretty’ we use today.

It was recorded in the Suffolk Subsidy Rolls in 1327 as Robert Prytty.

It is derived from the Anglo Saxon word ‘praett’ meaning ‘trick’ and was often given to someone who was clever, crafty and cunning.

Syrett

This surname is another which was first found in the Domesday Book but it is thought to date back to before the 7th century.

It comes from the Old English word ‘sige-raed’, which translates as ‘victory counsel’.

It is believed that the name was given to someone who had shown bravery and skill in war and had showed themselves to be a successful warrior and leader.

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