Some of you may have read about the newest revelation made by an historian that the earliest form of the word "fuck" was discovered in an English document dated to 1310.
But honestly, that's nothing!
You see, in court documents in the Middle Ages, clerks either had their own fun time adding surnames, or the defendants and accusers had no surnames and were better known by all manner of colorful monikers. Redhar or Bignose, or by their occupation, like Tailor or Mason, and these eventually evolved into their surnames or family names.
A most useful book where I get a lot of the surnames for my characters in my medieval mysteries is Talking ballocs: Nicknames and English Medieval Sociolinguistics by Dave Postles. In it, he breaks down the more, uh, unusual names, their meanings, and in what documents they can be found.
Let's look at a few.
In 11th century Winchester, we find the names Clawcunte and Taddeballoc. And in 1167 a fine was levied against Simon Sittebid'cunte.
Now, no offense to the 1310 document, but in as early as 1248, Nicholas Smalfuk was found guilty of burglary in Hungerford.
And apparently, clothing contributed to the nicknames and bynames of individuals. One can certainly understand Courthose or Curthose for a short fellow. Redhose, Letherhose, Bokele for buckle, Witbelt for white belt, and Blacsleve for black sleeve, but please explain to me Fukebagge? Or better yet, don't. I suppose codpiece. Those medievals. They didn't always rely on subtly.
There are a lot of iterations of Shakespeare (shaking one's spear, either a literal spear or a metaphorical one): Shakeshaft, Wagstaff, Strokehose, Pyntylwagge. And then moving on from there, you might see Briselaunce (bruise lance), Spillewood...well, you get the picture.
Postles points out that "by the early fourteenth century, something like a third of all taxpayers with nickname bynames were identified by a byname referring to the body." We're talking hair color, size (height, girth), facial hair, usually the upper torso but as we've seen, not always.
Though the risque and more salacious names get all the attention (Louescheft--loveshaft, Silvirpintel--silver penis, Pryketayl--prick tail), I am more disposed toward the more esoteric names. We have Nigel Shakedag (shake-dagger), John Hardepate (hard head), Spryngabdde (spring into bed), Coupegorge (cutthroat), Chaceporc (pig stealer), and Siluermouth. I like to use them for my more lowly characters, sometimes coarse and sometimes not. It adds verisimilitude and depth to them, even if I'm the only one who notices (though I suspect you will now).
So don't be so sure of the innocent sound and spelling of your own name. It might be derived from something your ancestor did and was marked and remembered for. Time to hit Ancestry.com.