“What’s in a surname” I was thinking the other day as I pondered my own.
Why am I called what I am, and does it really mean anything?
A quick internet search revealed Walker is the 14th most popular surname in Australia, and the 18th in England. Smith and Jones being numbers one and two, and likely aliases no doubt.
Wang tops the world ranks, followed by Devi – China and India being the most populated places, and best at cricket.
My interest in surnames had indeed been triggered by the intriguing honorific “Dick Wang” read aloud from a recent newspaper article.
To my not really that big surprise on searching further, I discovered all names, no matter what culture, evolve out of the dark, distant grunting past.
How far you go back depends on how long you can survive without the internet.
Taking an arbitrary Anglo angle, it seems before the Norman conquest of 1066, you might likely have borne a Saxon or Celtic name like “Olaf” or “Hounilda”.
That fell away under the invaders who were more likely, as far I can tell, to kill you if you said that was your name.
As society expanded out over the hill a bit, surnames came into play and you were kind of identified by where you came from or what you did. For example, Barry of Mudpit, Beryl who Smells.
As time marched on things like landscapes started to be used – Noll, Hill, Nob.
As did occupations – Arkwright (makers of arks) and Crappers (croppers).
Clearly ye olde English evolved through the ages, as did baptismal names.
Son of William became Williams or Williamson, but also possibly Will, Willett, Wills, Willis, Willimott, Wilkins, Wilkinson, Wilcoxor Wilcockson, Bluey.
The more I got into it, the more I realised what a slippery, rubbery slope I was on.
But what of Walker? What could it mean, and were there links to “he who walks”.
I’d read somewhere that Phantom sometimes left the jungle.
Alas, a deeper dive suggested Walker was actually related to the ancient profession of “fulling”.
Fulling, in Roman times, was conducted by slaves working the cloth while ankle deep in tubs of human urine known as wash.
Technological advances through the Dark Ages saw the urine replaced by fullers earth (ammonia silicate), but apparently there was still plenty of urine.
Talk about steeping up, but let’s put it in context.
The popularity of the surname today suggests fulling was a solid career choice in Medieval times.
That it is ranked alongside leech collecting as one of the worst jobs of the Middle Ages suggests a certain niche aptitude.
Thankfully, another take on the meaning of Walker indicated “an officer whose duty consisted of walking or inspecting a certain part of a forest.”
Self pride dictated I took the forest lurker interpretation over urine stomper.
To do otherwise might be taking the piss.