(Family history research into the SHOPLAND family)                                                                   History

The Origins of Surnames

by Robert Shopland of Cleveland, Somerset
Contrary to popular belief, few English families can trace their surnames back to Domesday Book. During the two centuries or so that followed the Conquest (1066) most major land owning families and many knights adopted hereditary surnames, especially if they lived in the south of England, the Midlands or East Anglia. A high proportion of these early surnames were derived from the place where the family had its main residence. Between the years 1150 and 1300 the number of male first names in general use was declining sharply, while at the same time a few male names were becoming very common. The stock of native surnames that was formed during the Middle Ages has been added to at various periods. Records show that in the 14th-century people were sometimes known by two or three by-names during their lifetime. The progress by which surnames became fixed was prolonged and complicated.

It is unwise to depend on the modern form of a surname when seeking its etymology, for it is very common indeed for a name to have changed in such a way as to be hardly recognizable. This could be true if families or male members moved from one location to another where kialect was very different. Would surname pronunciation be very much different if a family stayed in the same area for generations, especially if that surname was derived from a place-name?

Surnames could be derived from the following: a place-name, occupation or trade, topographical name, from an office, nickname, relationship, personal name change.

A surname in its modern form can be very different from any original name. Corruption of spelling, sound and the interpretation by the written word or speech can change a name almost beyond all recognition.

One must also remember that not all people of the same surname are descended from a common ancestor. A person may have been known by an alias, that is, two surnames yoked together: "Smith, alias Jones". In time one of these could be abandoned entirely, or the two surnames fused into a double-barralled surname. Also, it has always been legal to change one's surname.

Surnames indentified with a particular place can present many pitfalls when interpreting place-names. It is always necessary to go back to the earliest recorded spellings of both the surname and the place-name, for either or both may have been substantially altered over the years. Many families sought their fortunes elsewhere at a very early period of surname formation. If a surname is that of a place-name, then it is likely that an emigrant has assumed his surname upon leaving the place and settling elsewhere. Families moved considerable distances in the Middle Ages during the period when surnames were being formed. New names were brought into England by immigrants. Many foreign names were Anglicized in the course of time and some of these took the same form as old English surnames. Some immigrants consciously adopted an English name that did not necessarily relate to their original one. Many refugees coming into Britain, particularly from France and the Low Countries, were so considerable in the 16th and 17th centuries that at one time foreign immigration formed a third of the total population.

It is doubtful if our family surname derived from either an occupation or trade, likewise from an office or nickname. Topographical names, by which we mean those derived from features of the landscape, either natural or man-made, are one of the most numerous categories of surnames. One might place our surname in this category.

The major spellings of the family surname are Shopland and Shapland, with only one vowel change. The harder sounding 'Shap' is the Devon dialect could be easily substituted for the softer sounding 'Shop' name element, especially if the person was an immigrant, say, from France. When we (my family and I) were living in France our name was pronounced by the locals more or less as 'Chopan', the first element being soft sounding.

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