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This page summarizes our review of the Domesday Book in regard to surnames.
time of the Domesday Book some wealthy landowners in England
had surnames. We have found among those named
at least three men (all Norman noblemen)
and two with brothers or fathers who bore the same second name. Most at this time
are known either by their titles, their birthplaces, their French estates or a nickname . (The
Earl of Chester was nicknamed Hugh Lupus, "Hugh the Wolf", for his treatment
of the Welsh.)
The Domesday Book lists only landholders by name. Freemen, burgesses, peasants
and serfs of various classes are counted by household, but not named. (These commoners received
about the same attention as plows & livestock.)
The overwhelming majority of the landholders (tenants-in-chief and
under-tenants) are Norman noblemen, many with vast estates in several
counties. A few are Anglo-Saxons (including the family of the defeated
Alfred the Great) and Danes.
Most of the names appear to be titles or bynames. Hugh is described
only as the "Earl of Chester". Others are designated by their places of birth. At
least two, however, (Roger Bigot, Roger Malet) have what may be inherited family names, in that a
father or brother shares the second name and another man (Walter Tyrel) bears
what may be a surname.
While sometimes described as "The First Census", the purpose of the
Domesday Book appears to be two-fold
As a tax list & survey to determine the resources of England to support taxation. (In order to fund
resistance to the
expected invasion from Denmark.) and
To establish property rights.
The Domesday Book, commissioned by William the Conqueror in December 1085, was compiled in a multi-stage procedure.
Records from the time of Alfred the Great were assembled systematically.
These were compared with post-1066 grants by William.
Groups of commissioners were directed to verify & correct the resulting reports.
They traveled to the sites, interviewed residents, and visually observed
the facts. (Counts of plows, for example, assessed the amount of land
farmed.) The commissioners' reports were final; there was no appeal,
thus the "Doomsday" connotation.
The commissioners' reports were abstracted & compiled by a single scribe
with the assistance of a proofreader.
The "Great Domesday Book" consists of 413 pages of these compiled
abstracts. The "Little Domesday Book" consists of 475 pages of the
commissioners' detail for the counties of Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk -- the
final locations for the commissioners' work. These were apparently not turned over
to the scribe for compilation after William died in 1087.
The Book (taking both together) is not complete; London, Winchester &
Northumbria, for example, are not listed. However,
13,418 locations in 40 of the ancient counties of England are listed.
For our purposes, the Domesday Book tells us that the practice of inherited family
names may have started among the Norman nobility by the end of the 11th century,
but it was not especially common even in that class. It tells us nothing about
surname practices among the unnamed lower classes except -- by implication --
that they were deemed unworthy of notice.
entry for the fishing port of Dunwich, Suffolk (held by Roger Malet, one of our three with possible surnames) counts a number of (French)
"free men". In this brief mention, we see the beginnings of a middle class which may be an
important factor in surname practices.