THE ORIGINS OF SURNAMES
By Sean Goddard, Exeter, England
published by GAE, October 1991
If an association like the GAE wants to create and maintain any credibility in its researches, it needs continually to debate the evidence it uses, and this includes the origins of the name. It may be a good idea occasionally to remind ourselves what we know already, and by active debate we might avoid the smirking of academic historians - and I know quite a few - most of whom think that family name history is badly researched nobility seeking, without any real value. So I would like to comment on surnames in general and review how this might affect our ideas on the origins of Goddard.
Surnames usually derive from among the following sources: local surnames, surnames of relationship, surnames of occupation, or nicknames. But the notion of having hereditary surnames, in the sense in which we now use them, is relatively recent. It is widely accepted that the introduction of surnames into Britain came with the Normans - although there are a few examples of Old English surnames - and grew slowly in popularity and use until the end of the fourteenth century when most people were using one. There was, in the past, no need for an individual to have an extra ‘label’ to his name; everyone knew who he was. There was no need to adopt a byname or, if he did, to expect his children to use it as well.
In post-conquest Britain the use of French personal names began to replace the Old English, Scandinavian and Celtic names. This was particularly true of the upper classes, the same people, of course, who were involved in transactions which needed documenting. It is here, in the records of the time, that we see the first use of bynames by the Latin educated officials, the keepers of records, who needed to know who was who. Imagine their problem being confronted with six Roberts in one manor. They needed to be sure who they were dealing with, so they might have coped by giving them all a byname such as: Robert filius (son of) William; Robert filius Osweald; Robert Long, a nick-name given by his peers because of his height; Robert atte Ford, if he had a dwelling near a ford; Robert de Richmond, because he used to live there; Robert le Miller, because that was his job. An extreme, but real, example of this ‘labeling’ can be seen in the ‘City of London Calendar of Plea and Memoranda Rolls’ for 1442, where a man is described as ‘Roger atte Lee de Lychefeld’. None of these people are ever likely to have called themselves by these names. Problems like this have always been with us, even in a period when surnames were in common hereditary usage: they were not always uniformly or consistently used. For example, Oliver Cromwell was a ‘Williams’ and David Livingstone (I presume) was a ‘McLeay’! Which means no one can assume any sort of continuity for their name. Not even Goddards!
The Association has always held the view that the name of Goddard comes to us in Britain from the Vikings through Norman France, but recognises other possible Viking routes as well (see Newsletters and forthcoming leaflet). The name derives from the office of the ‘Godord’, a chieftain I secular priest class, an ancient aristocracy, who ruled areas of Viking controlled land under the King. What does seem odd is that others have not picked up this Scandinavian source. There is general acceptance in published material for the Old German root of the name (see also Newsletter No.19) and even an old French root, but why have these researchers not spotted the Viking connection?
There is an Old English metrical romance dating to c. 1285, which takes historical fact and treats it as fiction. It is based (not always accurately) on a story in Geoffrey Gaimar’s Estoire des Engles and written with a strange mixture of influences: north Midland dialect, but with a strong Norse element, and yet in the style of French heroic poetry. The story, set in c.500, is about Havelock the Dane, son of the king of Denmark, who is made a ward of Duke Godard after his father’s death, but Godard takes the throne for himself. I won’t tell you more of the story now, but rest assured that the wicked Godard was defeated. Interestingly for us, this late thirteenth century rendering of an earlier story would appear to confirm Godard as a Danish (Viking) personal name.
There are, of course, many early references to Goddard as a personal name, such as Betty Metcalf’s article in Newsletter No. 3. Here we find Godardus, together with his uncle Ernulfus and Ernulfus’s powerful brother Rogerius de Buslei, selling tithes in Normandy to become part of Duke William’s invasion force. A little later in Domesday Book (1086) we have our old friend Wadard, whom we all suspect of being a Goddard, as well as another Godard, Jocelyn’s man, holding one plough at Tealby in Lincolnshire. In late twelfth century Canterbury we find Godard the miller and Godard the priest both of St. Mary and St. Edmund Ridingate churches.
earliest known Goddard used as a surname, to which I have seen reference, is
Robert Godard in the Curia Regis Rolls from Hampshire, with a date of 1208.
Another is Wilfrich Godard (even more interesting for the continued use of an
Old English personal name) from Norfolk in 1221. But what of (Sir) Walter de
Godarville, the much documented nobleman? Was he, for the sake of legal
documents, Walter who had his principal estates at Godarville in Normandy, or
was this really a surname? Even if we lose the preposition ‘de’, does it make it
any more likely? There were Norman surnames in use at the time of the Domesday
Book such as Percy, Glanville and Montgomery, so it is not impossible that de
Godarville followed these, but it must be established generation by generation
before we can be sure.
Other problems of continuity of surname use might be such things as the taking of aliases, the adoption of their master’s surname by apprentices, and the adoption of phonetic near equivalents by east European immigrants.
We are lucky with a name like Goddard to research, because there are not so many around to confuse and it was in early use as a surname. Unlike the Welsh, though, who only began to adopt surnames in the seventeenth century; and even in the nineteenth there are many examples of sons taking their father’s Christian name as a surname. We must be vigilant in our studies and never assume continuity: we may well have hunches (often the only way to advance our studies) but we must always admit it. We owe it to the next generation of researchers to be honest.