1500 & 1600s English alias names?

+14 votes
Hi all, I am researching some names in medieval England.  Several of these names are Surname alias Surname.  Why are there apparently two surnames for the same person?  Some examples are:

Thomas Dixon alias Waterman

John Smith alias Court

Richard Mato alias Fletcher

William Gilbard alias Higgs

Margery Smith alias Court (m2 Lorde)

Juliana Smith (Smyth) alias Court

These do not seem to be towns (Sir Francis Smith of Wootton)  or descriptive (William Smith the elder), so what are these alias names?  Why were they used?
in The Tree House by Kitty Smith G2G6 Pilot (553k points)
retagged by Darlene Athey-Hill

Sometimes, as today, aliases were used for  nefarious reasons (you get a lot of aliases in the Old Bailey records)
Is it possible though that Fletcher,Waterman and Smith were originally occupational names used to distinguish two families of the same surname. Higgs? don't know, the only occupation  I could find was a higgler (pedlar)
The Smith alias Court is a really interesting one though. There are at least 14 documents in the National archives with people using this name dating from the late 1500s to one born in 1853  
edit 1:
 I did find this article about the use of aliases in Devon with some possible reasons discussed .He does say though that:

"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."

(no definitive  answers for 'real'aliases though) http://genuki.cs.ncl.ac.uk/DEV/DevonMisc/Aliases.html


also this about Ann Hathaway's alias (some of the Smith alias Courts came from Stratford, a regional usage?)http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/27/books/chapters/first-chapter-shakespeares-wife.html?_r=0

Perhaps the ones that became fixed and hereditary should be seen as the equivalent of hyphenated names, before hyphens were invented.
A famous example is Thomas Cromwell's father Walter sometimes using his mother's surname Smith (which led some historians to claim he was one by trade). Another one is his nephew (the ancestor of Oliver) who switched to the surname Cromwell, after his parents died and he became a dependent of Thomas. It often had to do with who one's guardians were, and what families you wanted to be thought of as being part of. Of course there will be cases where modern genealogists are just trying to place a bet both ways, which is normally not a good idea in my opinion. When I see people with two first names in this period I see it as MORE of a red flag though.
I have run into a similar (and similarly confusing) case.  I have traced back to around 1700 without (great) difficulty and found the family name 'Hill'.  There are many people of this name living in a relatively small area close to a famous hill in Shropshire. However, the name vanishes prior to 1643.  Around this time there were several people whose family name was 'Gwin', 'Gwyn' or 'Gwynne' but these Peter out during the same period while there are individuals using the name 'Hill alias Gwin'.

This great G2G post, saved to my Favorites.

It might help me break a brick-wall https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Vickery-668 .

Thank You all for the Question and sharing. JPV IV :)

Many would regard the Mediaeval period as finished by 1500s, in fact many (not always with good reason) give the date of the battle of Bosworth and the accession of Henry VII as the division between the Medieval and the early modern periods. There are great arguments to be rehearsed here, however...

One of the characteristics of the Mediaeval period that differed from the early modern was the much increased use of surnames by the ordinary people. Probably because of a number of different reasons, including growing population densities, and more urbanised areas (relatively speaking) leading. The increased use of public records about ordinary folk (It was in Henry VIII's reign (the son of Henry VII) that the first official parish records came about, for example!) would have been a further driver.

3 Answers

+5 votes

Hi Kitty

While reading Denham parish registers, 1539-1850, in which the author discusses ALIAS on pages 303-4, I remembered your question and thought you may like to read it.  He refers to one instance, on p 270, where a surname Oldmayne is changed ex vulgi blateratione (by common babble) to Pricke and the person and his descendants are for some time known as Oldmayne Alias Pricke.

by Maryann Hurt G2G6 Mach 8 (84.4k points)
Interesting, Maryann.  Thank you.  So I guess "at another time" is the explanation.
I think Maryann has it. This was the time when many of the modern surnames were just beginning to become permanent, so it is perhaps reasonable that the ongoing surname was used in official documents with the past names noted.

I was researching William Orchard who died in the reign of Henry VIII but who was noted as a mason (and architect) and quarry owner (and leaseholder) in and around Headington near Oxford. When you read the documents relating to his work and his own quarries, he is often recorded as William Mason, but later this becomes firmed up as William Orchard. His son is noted in the Oxford alumni series as graduating BCL as John Orchard, not Mason,

The choice of Orchard does seem to be linked to earlier generations who were also Orchard or Archard; so it was already an hereditary surname as such, but not yet firmly set as the surname of record.
+5 votes
You may find it interesting to read the case of Mary Emily Stuart v. Board of Supervisors of Elections for Howard County, Maryland:    http://msa.maryland.gov/megafile/msa/speccol/sc2200/sc2221/000024/000006/000002/pdf/s393-357a.pdf.   While this case is important for establishing the right of married women in the United States to continue to use their birth name as their legal name, it makes frequent references to English Common Law, which establishes the common law right of any individual to use any name they choose -- so long as there is no intent to defraud.  I know of only one or two of my friends who have totally changed their names, and with today's record keeping and forms that has to have been a significant hassle, but it may well have been simpler back in the 1600s -- and therefore more frequent!
by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (356k points)
+1 vote
Deleted response -- duplicated an earlier response.
by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (356k points)

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