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Surnames of the Fowey Valley

Surnames of the Fowey Valley, a talk by Bernard Deacon.

The AGM on 23 April was followed by a very interesting talk by Bernard Deacon on the surnames of the Fowey Valley which was attended by 21 people.

Surnames did not exist until the 12th century. At that stage an increasing population and lack of available first names gave rise to increasing confusion. Intially bynames were used, eg John the tall. These changed from one generation to the next but these gradually evolved into surnames which took one of four types; occupational, geographical, descriptive or patronymic (that is indicating “son of”). In England there was a long transitional phase from around 1250 to the 1400s during which second names became fixed. This occurred first in the south east and in wealthier sections of society and then spread later to the north and to the poor. Fixed surnames were rare in Cornwall in the mid 1300s, by the 1400s they were common in the east of the county but in the west inherited names were not the norm until well into the 16th century. This delay was partly explained by the persistence of the Cornish language. Cornish language surnames were more common to the west of Bodmin and Tywardreath.
Examples of occupational names which have persisted are Angove (smith) and Trehar (tailor), these were later translated into their English equivalents. As bynames became surnames relatively late in the west there was a tendency for a high proportion to be patronymic, eg Daddow, Clemow and Sandow ( the –ow indicating “son of”), these were the equivalents of Davies, Clements and Sanders. Sometimes the suffix –a is used as in Holla (son of Hal/Henry), Matta and Jacka
Descriptive names, or nicknames, tended not to become hereditary and have largely been lost. A few like Marrack (knight) have survived. A persisting geographical surname is Hellas (Helston).

A much fuller account can be read on Bernard’s website, Cornish Studies Resources,


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