Some Devon Surname Aliases
Dartmoor Press (Archived Copy)
The Index below has been compiled from a variety of documentary sources, but principally from registers and wills. It is now being made available via the GENUKI website in the hope that the entries might provide enquirers with some useful clues to surnames to consider in trying to unravel the genealogy of the families concerned. And also so that others with a general interest in this subject can see what aliases have been discovered in various records which have been consulted.
The Index is solely of true aliases, rather than alternative spelling forms which are purely phonetic in origin, which latter were occasionally written as aliases in some sources. So-called aliases used in manorial documents are also excluded, for the term alias was used in them only in order to identify the maiden names of lives in three life leases. Sometimes in manorial records, instead of using the form of words 'Winifred Bishop alias Smerdon', the name was written 'Winifred Bishop now Smerdon', which is what was meant in all such instances, the first name being the maiden name (that by which the person was named as a life on the lease) and the second being the married name. This example is not a hypothetical one. Winifred Bishop was named as a life on a lease of Southbrook in Buckland before she married the tenant, Thomas Smerdon (this was regular practice, a new lease often being taken out on a property shortly before or soon after a marriage in order to protect the future interests of the wife). Winifred Bishop outlived her husband by a considerable number of years, but continued to hold the lease by virtue of being a named as a life on the term. But by then, of course, she had become Winifred Smerdon. Hence the necessity to name her as Winifred Bishop 'alias' or 'now' Smerdon in the manor rentals and surveys, in order to positively identify her so as to leave no doubt as to her entitlement to the leasehold on the property.
A few introductory notes and some general observations are provided before the actual Index.....
I have for some time held a fascination for surname aliases, and over the past couple of years or so have made a particular point of noting and indexing them when they have been found. One of the initial aims of compiling such an Index - but one which has not really been achieved! - was to try and identify the origins of some of the aliases. But it has to be said that these remain something of a mystery in the vast majority of instances.
Historians appear to have only touched very briefly on this subject, two principal alternative proposals for the origin of aliases having been mooted. One is that aliases were assumed by bastard children in order to protect, or safeguard, their inheritance, the alias in such cases being the surname of the father. The other proposition was that the alias identified the occupation of the person, but this would surely have only been the case in very early times. Neither of these proposals has been borne out by the very limited research which I have conducted into these matters.
Most particularly, despite having studied many hundreds of bastardy documents, I have never yet found an instance of a bastard child taking the name of the father as an alias. Indeed, in cases where the father's name was indentified in the name given to the child, the father's surname was a second forename. This was a frequent occurrence. A solitary instance was found where a male child in later life dropped his mother's surname in favour of his father's (which latter had been given to him as a second forename), but this was not the use of an alias in the accepted sense.
Neither have I found any occurrences of aliases identifying the occupation of the person concerned, although the documents considered are almost certainly from too late a period to fall into this category.
So, the origins of the vast majority of the aliases in the Index remain unresolved. But an interesting factor which emerged, not previously fully appreciated, or understood, is that all of the aliases so far discovered were very localised, either exclusive to one parish, or found only in a compact group of a few neighbouring parishes. This factor points strongly towards the use of many aliases in order to protect the inheritance, or interests, of children in a single generation.
However, if such was the always case, the recurrent use of some aliases in successive generations is the more curious. Bremblecombe alias Clarke is an instance of this. Why it was necessary to continue the usage of the alias in such cases is not clear. An even more extraordinary example is that of Ley alias Poole (and/or the other way around), scattered occurrences of which are spread over a period of no less than 165 years!
There are relatively few examples which have come to light of the same aliases occurring in parishes somewhat detached from one another. These few instances, I believe, can be easily accounted for by the movements of a single individual or family. The Jetsome alias Clement which occurs in Shaugh Prior and Holbeton, for instance, are known to have been one and the same person.
An origin for some aliases emerged during the research, used to identify children of a previous marriage, presumably in order to protect their inheritance. The occurrence of Prestwood alias Bodley proves this absolutely. The alias occurs in the will of Alice Prestwood, widow of Thomas Prestwood, in order to identify the children of her previous marriage to a Bodley. She also identified herself by this alias. In this case, and any similar instances, the alias would have been used only in legal documents, so that in the case of wills, no question of the identity of the testator and the beneficiaries could arise - in just the same way as so-called aliases were used in manorial documents to positively identify married daughters of previous tenants, so that there would be no question respecting their rights to leasehold interests, as being named as lives in the leases. This usage cannot, however, explain the vast majority of the aliases which have been found.
Another, rather less convincing, argument for the use of aliases which has been propounded by a previous author is that they were used to identify the place of residence or dwelling of the person concerned. I am very sceptical about this suggestion. In particular because the placenames adopted by individuals in early times were not really aliases. Rather, they took the form of, for example, Roger atte Well. Which is not the same as Roger alias Well! Even though this person lived, literally, 'at Well'. The property itself later became Welltown, and the family adopted the surname Atwell (sometimes spelt Atwill). So that the place became, literally, 'the town (settlement) of the Atwell family'. The last member of this particular branch of the Atwells died more than two centuries ago. But the medieval house from which they took their name still stands - now much-altered, of course. It is in Walkhampton. The natural spring - 'well' - in a field above, after which the place was first named, still flows through the main courtyard of the premises.
I have, however, come across a solitary instance of an alias having been taken from a property name. And from a relatively late period. For I found that the Wotton alias Gale which appears in stannary court rolls of 1576 occurs as Wotton of Gale in the lay subsidy rolls of 1533 & 1534. Aside from the obvious consideration that the Wotton family lived at Gale - which is in Ashburton - why this particular family should have also taken the property name as an alias is difficult to explain. For if this was a commonplace method of adopting names then there would be many hundreds of examples from this period. The stannary coinage rolls of this year, by the way, contain very many dozens of other personal names who were described as being 'of' or coming 'from' such and such a place, but this is the only actual alias in well over 1,000 entries.
And again, this usage cannot explain the vast majority of aliases. For the fact that a number of them could apparently be transposed proves that this cannot have been so. A hypothetical example will demonstrate the point. Crocker alias Upperfarm, assigned to a Mr Crocker who purportedly lives at the highest farm in the valley. This cannot be transposed to Upperfarm alias Crocker, which is absurd and meaningless! I had, however, considered that some of the transposed examples which have been noted from various registers were errors made by ministers or clerks, for some of these are very few in number. The example of Bremblecombe alias Clarke does not support this idea, however. This occurs 27 times in the parishes in which it was found. Clarke alias Bremblecombe occurs 11 times which, although a far lesser number, is still too many to be accounted for by odd mistakes here and there.
Another interesting instance of the use of an alias is that of Fynes alias Clinton. However, although I have included this in the Index I do not regard it as a true alias. Rather, the name Fynes was adopted by James Clinton in the early eighteenth century to disguise his true identity, because of the strong Jacobite associations of the Clintons. There is a little mystery surrounding the family which I have not satisfactorily resolved. For around this period the Clinton baronetcy fell into abeyance, and passed by a rather convoluted process through various cadet branches and female lines - though not being officially recognised - until it was later assumed or appropriated by a member of another family whose connection with the principal lines of descent is obscure to say the least. It is my belief that James Clinton was probably the rightful heir, although for some reason never took the inheritance. The fact that his original memorial tablet, which identified the alias in its text, is said to have 'mysteriously disappeared' from the church sometime after his death merely adds to the mystery.
A most unexpected factor which emerged from the research was the extraordinary number of aliases which occur in just a very small district in the Dartmoor borderlands. The number (37) from the Drewsteignton-South Tawton-Throwleigh district represents a large proportion of the total (207) which have been found anywhere. It should be emphasised that not all of the registers from the parishes in my own particular region of local history interest (Dartmoor & West Devon) - a total of about 40 or 50 parishes - have been systematically scoured for aliases or been fully transcribed. But all of the registers in the region have been closely studied during various avenues of research, and a total of 125,000+ entries transcribed from them (all are rural parishes with generally small populations, by the way). So that it certainly appears that the very large assemblage of aliases in just these three parishes is indeed something unusual.
And also something which is inexplicable! It does, however, raise the intriguing possibility that aliases were resorted to or adopted in some places more than others, perhaps by long custom or tradition. Which in turn begs the question why? And for what purpose? And what do the aliases signify?
On the other hand, if aliases were in almost universal use, one would surely expect to find similar numbers of them in parishes of similarly sized populations. But this does not happen. Very extensive research has been conducted into some parishes and manors. From the many hundreds of Walkhampton documents and ledgers which have been studied only six aliases have been noticed, and I regard two of these as very suspect. Only three have resulted from extensive research with the Ugborough archives. Both of these are fairly large rural parishes in terms of population size. None at all have been noted from the records of Buckland in the Moor. This is admittedly only a tiny place, but the number of documents consulted during research into that manor and parish again runs into many hundreds.
These rather strange results call for explanation. And I wish that I could provide one!
Columns in the Index provide:
Surname,Alias,Date(s) of Occurence(s) & Document Code,Parish
Documents (Codes Follow the Dates) from which aliases have been noted are:
AI Apprenticeship Indenture
CR Manor Court Rolls
CW Churchwardens' Accounts
D Property Deed
IPM Inquisition Post Mortem
LS Lay Subsidy
MI Monumental Inscription
RO Removal Order
SC Stannary Court Rolls
|Agate||Lidger/Lydger||1747 & 1748 R||Throwleigh|
|Allen||Blackford||1732 R||South Tawton|
|Apter||Venton||1572 CR||South Tawton|
|Avery||Crocker||1668-1695 & 1735-1741 R||Drewsteignton|
|Avery||Crocker/Croker||1723 & 1768 & 1787 R||Throwleigh|
|Axworthy||Ham||1648 W||Milton Abbot|
|Bannadon||Vawden||1617 R||Sampford Spiney|
|Boryer||Bearden||1767-1772 R||Dean Prior|
|Broke||Halse||1547 D||South Tawton|
|Bryant||Williams||1677 R||Bere Ferrers|
|Burnman||Newberry||1723 R||Milton Abbot|
|Chamberlayne||Harper||1604 & 1619 R||Ilsington|
|Clarke||Bremblecomb(e)||1676 & 1698 & 1708 & 1782 R||Drewsteignton|
|Clarke||Puttavin/Pottevin||1770 & 1776 R||Dean Prior|
|Coke||Tyllan||1525 LS||Sampford Spiney|
|Coldridge||Smal(d)ridge||1680 & 1707 & 1708 R||Drewsteignton|
|Cooch||Leline||1745 R||North Bovey|
|Crocker||Avery||1698 & 1699 & 1760 R||Drewsteignton|
|Crocker||Lane||1580 W||South Molton|
|Denly||Salter||1791 & 1797 & 1799 R||Ashburton|
|Drew||Buffet||1762 & 1765 R||Throwleigh|
|Edmond||Knight||1587 CR||Lydford (Forest)|
|Farleigh||Martin||1725 R||South Brent|
|Finch||Thomas||1757 R||South Tawton|
|Foscue||Gregory||1634 R||Bere Ferrers|
|Gilbert||Webber||1569-1601 R||West Alvington|
|Halls||Maynerd||1625 R||Buckland Monachorum|
|Hammett||Cleave||1702 CR||Lydford (Forest)|
|Hammett||Cleave/Cleeve||1643 & 1652 R||Widecombe|
|Hancock||Easton||1616 R||Buckland Monachorum|
|Harman||Algar||1582 R||Buckland Monachorum|
|Hext||Babb||1572 CR||South Tawton|
|Hext||Cabbe||1536 IPM||South Tawton|
|Higg||Raynolds||1631 R||Bere Ferrers|
|James||Slade||1575 & 1585 W||Kentisbeare|
|Jetsome||Clement||1622 R||Shaugh Prior|
|Kingwell||Tucker||1724 & 1731 R||Ilsington|
|Knight||Edmonds||1608 R||Sampford Spiney|
|Lavers||Clement||1612 & 1631 R||Shaugh Prior|
|Lavers||Clement||1610 R||Sampford Spiney|
|Lee||Pool||1729 & 1733 R||Drewsteignton|
|Ley||Pule||1613 R||Bovey Tracey|
|Lightfoot||Barrett||1737 R||Sydenham Damarel|
|Lightfoot||Barrett||1788 R||Milton Abbot|
|Mander||Creber||1621 & 1624 R||Shaugh Prior|
|Marten||Honychurch/Honichurche||1585 & 1587 W||North Tawton|
|Mills||Sloman||1810 & 1812 R||Sourton|
|Mitchell||Hams||1681 R||South Brent|
|Moule||Colman||1653 R||Dean Prior|
|Nettle||Sleep||1752 R||Sydenham Damarel|
|Nicholl||Bowden||1585 R||Bere Ferrers|
|Oke||More||1551 R||North Tawton|
|Pike||Jetsham||1779 & 1780 R||Buckland Monachorum|
|Poole||Leye||1614 R||Bovey Tracey|
|Pritcher/Pricher||Austin||1664 & 1667 R||Belstone|
|Scuse||Perez||1652 R||Buckland Monachorum|
|Stephen||Talbot(te)||1550 & 1607 & 1621 & 1649 R||Buckland Monachorum|
|Stonning||Talbort||1666 R||Sampford Spiney|
|Talbott||Steven||1592 R||Bere Ferrers|
|Torr||Coulter [?]||1652 R||Bere Ferrers|
|Upton||Norracott||1676 & 1681 R||Drewsteignton|
|Venery||Wills||1685 & 1690 R||Throwleigh|
|Way||Peter||1635 W||Stockleigh English|
|Webber||Gilbert||1575 R||West Alvington|
|White||Walter||1629 R||Buckland Monachorum|
|Williams||Bryant||1639 R||Bere Ferrers|
|Williams||Wilky||1639 R||Bere Ferrers|
|Willyams||Cholwill||1581 W||South Brent|
|Wolcombe||Bawden||1590 D||Shaugh Prior|
|Yard||White||1608 R||Aveton Gifford|
Brian Randell, 16 Jul 2010