Dec 072016

“But wait!” I hear you cry.  “What does a weight have to do with surname studies?” The answer: I am not talking about weights here – the types which usually appear with measures.  I am talking about waits – the musical sort.

(I could have written W is for Workhouse, but that seemed too sad for nearly Christmas-time.)

Town waits were musicians who were organised to play for ceremonies and special occasions, such as fairs and weddings.  You may still think that such a frivolous topic can hardly have anything to do with surname studies – but wait (ha ha! see what I did there?).  Waits started appearing in records from the Middle Ages right up to the eighteenth century: purchases of cloaks and ribbons, hiring, and payments for such things as musical instruments.  And where there are records – there are surnames!



This isn’t a post with a strange word you never heard of that starts with ‘X’.  Nor is it a post about a word which just happens to have an ‘x’ in it somewhere.

‘X’ was often quite a big part of some people’s lives.  Nowadays, illiteracy is fodder for newspapers who want a screaming headline or two – but a couple of hundred years ago, there was not nearly as much stigma about not being able to read and write.  If you could, then you were regarded with some awe.  I’m sure you have come across signatures on marriage certificates (for instance), where you almost wish they had signed with an ‘X’ instead.

But the signatures of the bride and groom were not originally required.  Everybody in the parish expected the parish clerk to be able to read and write, and therefore he would enter the names and dates.  And, of course, he would spell things the way he thought they should be spelt.  Like Winyfort for Winifred.  I wonder if she would have made an ‘X’ at the time of her marriage (1676) if it had been required?

And sometimes, icons were used instead of the ‘X’.  This is known as an autograph…

© Ros Haywood
School of  Surnames

Next week’s letters are ‘Y’ and ‘Z’. Has anybody got any interesting snippets that marry these up with with surname studies?  If so, please send them to Ros Haywood at sos [at]

letters W and X courtesy of
Original text and image for ‘Letter X Post’ from GenWestUK