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  • Writer's pictureAn Oxford Historian

Early Medieval Occupational Bynames

Updated: Apr 26, 2021

Another consistent theme in early medieval English naming is the presence of bynames/nicknames that reflect occupation and work. Not only do these give us an interesting slice of life and employment options from the period, but also points towards a focus on the social roles played by these individuals within their communities. My interest here is primarily not with clear expressions of rank or occupation - these are certainly important, and there are many of them. However, there are many further cases where occupation names are metaphorical or employ a deliberate judgment on the quality of the craft - these are far more intriguing.

God' Softebred - Soft Bread (von Feilitzen, 216)

From the c.1110 survey in Winton, this would seem to reflect a reference to the quality of the bread. Indeed, baking is a frequently occurring theme. Girold Furwatel - Cake-Oven - is found in the 1148 survey and reflects a similar focus (von Feilitzen, 216).

Lichesuster - Corpse Nun (von Feilitzen, 164)

From the 1148 survey in Winton, von Feilitzen suggests this is a name given to one who prepares corpses for burial.

Winstan Escipport - Shut-Gate (von Feilitzen, 211)

Found within the c.1110 Winton survey, this is potentially a reference to a gate-keeping job. Possible comparison here is to be drawn with Godwin Porriz - Tengik glosses a possible translation as 'porch, vestibule' (Tengvik, 390), implying a similar occupation, although von Feilitzen does not support this (von Feilitzen, 215).

Ascelin Casier - 'Cheese-Cellar' (von Feilitzen, 209

Winton Domesday - survey of c. 1110. This is presumably a reference to a seller of cheese.

R. Tailgebosc - Cut Wood (Tengvik, 388)

There are a substantial grouping of occupation bynames in Domesday that focus on a verb and noun compound - the doing of an action. There are at least 4 individuals with the Old French byname Tailgebosc, presumably referencing a forester or a carpenter. Dunninges Tailiferes - Cut Iron - is similar (Tengvik, 388). Hunters appear to be given the names Aelfric StikeStac - Stick/Stab Stag - Alwine Stichehar - Stick/Stab Hare - and Stichehert - Stick/Stab Hart (Tengvik, 387). We must assume that Æilmer Stachecoc - Spit (roast) Cock - was a cook (Tengvik, 387).

Luuinges Scalarius - Laddermaker (Tengvik, 267)

From Domesday. While this one is itself not very colourful, it is an interesting reflection of employment - was this individual tasked solely with making ladders, or just particularly good at it?

Ticchemannessone - 'man who keeps or breeds kids'

Slightly less ominous than first appears, this is a reference to a shepherd.

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von Feilitzen, O. 'The Personal Names and Bynames of the Winton Domesday' in M. Biddle (ed.) Winchester in the Early Medieval Ages (Oxford, 1976), pp. 143-229

Tengvik, G. Old English Bynames (Uppsala, 1938)


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