Some Devon Surname Aliases


Mike Brown  

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!

Aliases Index

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
R Register
RO Removal Order
SC Stannary Court Rolls
W Will

AdamWalkey1657 RLifton
AgateLidger/Lydger1747 & 1748 RThrowleigh
AggatLeager1687 RThrowleigh
AggetLidger1755 RDrewsteignton
AlfordeSmythe1606 RAxminster
AllenBlackford1732 RSouth Tawton
ApterToull1613 RIlsington
ApterVenton1572 CRSouth Tawton
ArscottRemmet1645 RBelstone
AveryCrocker1668-1695 & 1735-1741 RDrewsteignton
AveryCrocker/Croker1723 & 1768 & 1787 RThrowleigh
AveryTaverner1668 RLustleigh
AxworthyHam1648 WMilton Abbot
BannadonVawden1617 RSampford Spiney
BartollBaker1633 DAwliscombe
BastoweCole1626 RIlsington
BenhamTreasure1780 RAshburton
BerdeEwen1581 LSBuckfastleigh
BlackfordDowle1607 WSwimbridge
BoddyeMarcken1605 WHemiock
BoryerBearden1767-1772 RDean Prior
BowcherLovey1588 RLamerton
BowdenButcher1749 RThrowleigh
BowdenEwe1670 RHolne
BowdynBaker1524 LSDrewsteignton
BoysMan1598 RWidecombe
BraylieWidlake1601 WFilleigh
Bremblecomb(e)Clark(e)1662-1711 RDrewsteignton
BrentStephen1543 LSTavistock
BrokeHalse1547 DSouth Tawton
BryantWilliams1677 RBere Ferrers
BudbrookPreston1777 RManaton
BudbrookPriston1756 RDrewsteignton
BurnmanNewberry1723 RMilton Abbot
BurringGross/Groose1781-1811 RBuckfastleigh
ButsonBroke1546 WKentisbeare
CapronButler1646 WTiverton
ChamberlayneHarper1604 & 1619 RIlsington
ChristophersJeffery1719 RThrowleigh
ClarkBrimacombe1709 RThrowleigh
ClarkeBremblecomb(e)1676 & 1698 & 1708 & 1782 RDrewsteignton
ClarkePuttavin/Pottevin1770 & 1776 RDean Prior
CleaveHamett1652 RWidecombe
CleaveHammett1702 CRLydford
ClementJetsom1595 DHolbeton
CleveHamete1613 RWidecombe
CokeTyllan1525 LSSampford Spiney
ColdridgeSmal(d)ridge1680 & 1707 & 1708 RDrewsteignton
ColeKelland1640 WJacobstowe
CollrageSmalridge1659 RDrewsteignton
CombeAxworthy1647 WHatherleigh
CombeAxworthy1648 WOkehampton
CombeAxworthy1671 WBridestowe
ComeMedewill1543 LSTavistock
ComingeCole1595 WPlymouth
CommynChilcott1646 WTiverton
CoochLeline1745 RNorth Bovey
CookeGlanvill1724 RBridestowe
CookeReynolls1606 RAxminster
CornQuaram1750 RUgborough
CountereSmerdon1606 RWidecombe
CozenShepherd1666 RLustleigh
CrockerAvery1698 & 1699 & 1760 RDrewsteignton
CrockerLane1580 WSouth Molton
CrookerGrindon1580 WWitheridge
DaviesPain1701 RDrewsteignton
DemansCotley1620 RHolbeton
DenlySalter1791 & 1797 & 1799 RAshburton
DenwodeBurnard1581 LSAshburton
DownHarvey1772 ROThrushelton
DrewBuffet1762 & 1765 RThrowleigh
DyrekOger1516 CWAshburton
EastabrookShilston1684 RDrewsteignton
EdmondKnight1587 CRLydford (Forest)
FarleighMartin1725 RSouth Brent
FarleighSoper1587 CWUgborough
FarleySoper1545 LSCornwood
FinchThomas1757 RSouth Tawton
FoscueGregory1634 RBere Ferrers
FrostVost1671 RDrewsteignton
FuingeKnight1632 WKingsbridge
FynesClinton1774 MIMoretonhampstead
GilbertWebber1569-1601 RWest Alvington
GlanvilGloyan1777 RSourton
GloineGlanvil1758 RSourton
GloyneGlanville1663 RKelly
GytshamClement1561 DHolbeton
HallsMaynerd1625 RBuckland Monachorum
HamBucknell1737 WAxminster
HammettCleave1702 CRLydford (Forest)
HammettCleave/Cleeve1643 & 1652 RWidecombe
HancockEaston1616 RBuckland Monachorum
HarmanAlgar1582 RBuckland Monachorum
HarrieWilcocke1613 WLifton
HarrysTucker1592 WAxminster
HarrysTucker1617 RAxminster
HatherlyNicols1619 RHarford
HeleTucker1754 REggesford
HeleTucker1761 RWembworthy
HerneWills1797 RBuckfastleigh
HextBabb1572 CRSouth Tawton
HextCabbe1536 IPMSouth Tawton
HiggRaynolds1631 RBere Ferrers
HoareHookeway1618 WColyton
HobbesWebber1613 RBigbury
HorsladeLockyar1595 WFremington
HorwoodeHorwell1584 WHemiock
JamesKensbeare1629 WUpottery
JamesSlade1575 & 1585 WKentisbeare
JefferyChristopher1608 RLustleigh
JetsomeClement1622 RShaugh Prior
JetsomeClement1649 DHolbeton
KeeneFrye1617 WHatherley
KingwellTucker1724 & 1731 RIlsington
KnightEdmonds1608 RSampford Spiney
KnyghtEdmondes1572 RWidecombe
LaskeySheperd1733 RIlsington
LaudleyReed1674 RTavistock
LaversClement1612 & 1631 RShaugh Prior
LaversClement1610 RSampford Spiney
LeePool1729 & 1733 RDrewsteignton
LelineCootch1778 RMoretonhampstead
LeyPoole1753 RManaton
LeyPule1613 RBovey Tracey
LidgerAgget/Agate1710-1744 RThrowleigh
LightfootBarrett1737 RSydenham Damarel
LightfootBarrett1788 RMilton Abbot
LightfootTapper1727 RMoretonhampstead
LockyerSawyer1693 WHoniton
ManderCreber1621 & 1624 RShaugh Prior
MartenHonychurch/Honichurche1585 & 1587 WNorth Tawton
MeadyMedway1794 RAshburton
MerdonJookmor1609 RWidecombe
MichallMiall1790 RTavistock
MillsSloman1810 & 1812 RSourton
MinipheeSearle1688 WExeter
MitchellHams1681 RSouth Brent
MonkRod1752 RWalkhampton
MoreHeade1618 WHemiock
MouleColman1653 RDean Prior
NettleSleep1752 RSydenham Damarel
NichollBowden1585 RBere Ferrers
OdimerClarke1583 WBickleigh
OdimurClark1609 RBickleigh
OgerDyrek1515 CWAshburton
OkeMore1551 RNorth Tawton
OlyverBodway1583 WBickleigh
OsborneWebber1617 RAxminster
OsementOssbourne1668 RLustleigh
PikeJetsham1779 & 1780 RBuckland Monachorum
PooleLey1781 RManaton
PooleLeye1614 RBovey Tracey
PrestonBudbrook1752 RDrewsteignton
PrestwoodBodley1558 WExeter
Pritcher/PricherAustin1664 & 1667 RBelstone
PuttavinClark1788-1811 RBuckfastleigh
RodMount1755 AIWalkhampton
RodeBondfield1607 RBranscombe
SalterDenly1804 RAshburton
ScusePerez1652 RBuckland Monachorum
ShapterPomeford1615-1616 RIlsington
ShortridgeCooke1601 RLamerton
SimonsDinodle1633 RWidecombe
SladeJames1585 WKentisbeare
SmaldridgeColdridge1685 RDrewsteignton
SmythWill1588 RLamerton
SoperGood1581 LSCornwood
SoperWeeks1617 RIlsington
StabackCombe1740 RThrowleigh
StephenTalbot(te)1550 & 1607 & 1621 & 1649 RBuckland Monachorum
StonePrince1677 WExeter
StonningTalbort1666 RSampford Spiney
StureRogers1724 RWidecombe
SuttonHarris1798 RDrewsteignton
SymonsSwaddle1619 RIlsington
SysseleghTayllor1525 LSWhitchurch
TalbotSteven1581 LSWalkhampton
TalbottSteven1592 RBere Ferrers
ThomasTiddy1690 RWalkhampton
TorrCoulter [?]1652 RBere Ferrers
TorrenCole1608 WDartmouth
TozerSimmons1765 RUgborough
UptonNorracott1676 & 1681 RDrewsteignton
VeneryWills1685 & 1690 RThrowleigh
WannellVoisie1581 LSMoretonhampstead
WashEmmett1803 RBuckfastleigh
WayPeter1635 WStockleigh English
WayeGeffry1512 CWAshburton
WebberGilbert1575 RWest Alvington
WeekesDowne1610 RDrewsteignton
WelbrokeYolland1581 LSAshburton
WhiteWalter1629 RBuckland Monachorum
WikeTolly1566 RBelstone
WillSmyth1592 RLamerton
WilliamsBryant1639 RBere Ferrers
WilliamsWilky1639 RBere Ferrers
WillsFernworthy1745 RDrewsteignton
WillsVener(e)y1674-1690 RThrowleigh
WillyamsCholwill1581 WSouth Brent
WingattWindeatt1773 RTavistock
WolcombeBawden1590 DShaugh Prior
WoodButler1587 WWilland
WottonCombe1604 RIlsington
WottonGale1576 SCAshburton
WyattWickett1785 RWalkhampton
YallandWelbroke1610 RWidecombe
YardWhite1608 RAveton Gifford

Brian Randell, 16 Jul 2010