I was listening to the ICC Champions Trophy Cricket today and it struck me the wide ranging surnames amongst the cricketers and commentators. There was Tufnell, Agnew, Plunkett, Morgan and Root.
We all have a surname but how many of us actually know what our surname means. Some are obvious such as Smith, Baker, Turner, Taylor and Miller, but what about the rest.
Let’s take my surname Dobby as an example.
Many may recognise the name thanks to Harry Potter, and no I don’t look like a house elf! But where did the name come from?
I always believed it came from a Yorkshire name for a little elf or goblin. This would certainly link in with how J K Rowling saw Dobby. In weaving a Dobby is the shuttle which sews the warp thread and is also a floor standing loom. You can still buy Dobby Spot fabric today (it’s usually white with raised bumps on it). Well to add another theory, Dobby may also be derived from Robert. So which is true? In all honesty who knows? It’s probably a combination off all off them. Being a Yorkshire lass I tend to go with the elf theory or form of Robert.
You can also use the time frame for when the surname was first used. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary the word Dobby was first used in 1878. Well that’s fine but the Dobby loom was developed in the 1840’s and my 4 times great grandfather was born in 1784 so the name was around before that. So in reality it must be the elf or Robert connection.
All surnames have to have their origins somewhere. They can be nature such as Bird, Hill and Tree. Work based such as Smith, Baker and Taylor or even derived from first names such as Robson, Robertson and Johnson.
Until the middle ages most people didn’t have surnames but were just known by their first name and possibly used their home village for a kind of surname, for example Robin of Loxley, as son of their father or their occupation. This was originally called a byname and it eventually became what we know as a surname. A surname can also evolve from a nick name. For example the surname Plantagenet came from the broom plant (planta genista) which was the family’s emblem. So for example a name such as Thick could have related to how intelligent someone was. A person may have been known as, for example John Thick as they were called John and were a less intelligent than others.
All surnames have to have an origin somewhere no matter what form they take. They give us our identity but should be no reflection on who we are. I’m a Dobby, but I’m not a loom, called Robert and definitely not a house elf. I’m just me and it’s my surname.