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Surnames


True surnames as such were rarely used in the medieval period. To speak of the Plantagenet kings of England or the Capetian kings of France is, in reality, the anachronistic use of a surname that was not used contemporaneously by royalty themselves. Historians, particularly in Western Europe, have assigned hereditary surnames to individuals who are not known to have ever used these names in contemporary documents. This anachronistic use of surnames applied to royal and noble houses is not just an aesthetic issue. Errors of historical accuracy, interpretation, association, filiation, etc. have been compounded because of lax application of hereditary surnames.

In the presentation of genealogical materials, another issue arises. How does one index people who, technically, did not use surnames? When an individual is referred to by the use of a toponym, does the particle "de" become part of the surname? (E.g. "de Botetourte" or "De Botetourte"?)

The editors of The Complete Peerage provide the following explanation:

"When surnames were still in the making the particle "de" was used for those who took their designation from their chief estate or place of origin, as distinguished from others who bore names denoting a trade or characteristic - or were simply Johns sons of Rogers, &c. As, however, the majority of persons whose names are found in early records, mainly written in Latin, were nearly all land holders, and most of them tenants of great estates, the "de" was largely in use from the 11th to the 14th century. Its continuation depended on whether the name it prefixed was English or foreign, and began with a vowel or consonant."

"With hardly any exceptions the "de" was eventually discarded in the case of all names, English or foreign, beginning with a consonant, and this seems to be true also of English names beginning with a vowel; but foreign names beginning with a vowel usually absorbed the particle" (Complete Peerage, VI, p. 689).

More explanations and examples of the use of the particle "de" can be found in Appendix A, of The Complete Peerage, vol. VI, pp. 689-693.

Although "serious scholars" would have argument with my presentation of surnames in this database, I have treated toponyms as surnames without the particle "de." (E.g. John de Botetourte, Lord Botetourte, can be found in the surname index under "Botetourte.") I have also treated the anachronistic applications of surnames to royalty as surnames. (E.g. Edward I, King of England, can be found in the surname index under "Plantagenet.") This is mostly for my own convenience in helping me to find individuals in my database. It also reduces the number of individuals who are indexed without a surname as these individuals are not as easily accessed.

This simplified presentation, as with my unscholarly use of dates, is largely due to the conformities pressed upon me by the Gedcom format of genealogical databases. However, the details are in my notes and should provide a better basis for evaluating the materials presented here.


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1997-2010 Hal Bradley