Origin of the Pettypool Surname

extracts from: English Ancestry of the Pettypool Family of Colonial Virginia

©Carolyn Hartsough

According to scholars of English surnames we will not have success trying to trace individuals using their surnames much before the year 1200. Prior to that time there was little need to identify anyone other than by his or her forename. Most business or travel was confined to the local area, for most within no more than the walk to the nearest market town, usually no more than a radius of six or seven miles. 1 In most regions population levels were low and people thinly spread. Local context provided any clues needed to differentiate several individuals of the same forename.

When surnames did begin to appear, most arose from the following sources according to surname scholar, David Hey: 2

names derived from the father’s personal name
e.g. Edwards, Phillips, Williams
names derived from personal attributes, dispositions or peculiarities
e.g. Fox, Grey, Short
names derived from trades or occupations
e.g. Skinner, Miller, Smith
Topographical names
names derived from general features of the landscape where the family lived
e.g. Bridge, Green, Hill
Locative names
names derived from specific places, including places as small as hamlets and farmsteads
e.g. London, York, Walton

It is this last class of names that supplied our family with the surname Pettypool. Hey notes that when locations have been the source, most often “families took their surnames from the places that they had just left when they took up residence in some distant town or village”. 3 Before the rise of universal literacy and the standardization of spelling in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it is such moves into regions with even slightly differing language patterns and dialects that may account, in part, for the early variations in the spelling of Pettypool that we will encounter. Surname variants are also thought to arise when there are existing names or parts of names in a new district that resemble the recently arrived surname. Locals try to assimilate the transported name into a pronunciation and, subsequently, a spelling that is most familiar to them. This assimilation process may offer yet another clue about how alternative renderings of the Pettypool surname were arrived at.

 picture at Pooty Pools Farm

At Pooty Pools Farm.

The Pooty Pools Farm

Place-name as the source of the Pettypool Surname

For most of the period that preceded the immigration of William Pettypool— our American ancestral progenitor— agriculture and its related crafts dominated the economic lives of those living in Essex. Residents of the parts of Essex frequented by our ancestors participated in an agricultural system that was unusual across much of England until recent historical times and likely had been made possible by Essex’s geology. According to Edwards,

[it is probable] that the field patterns were determined by geology. The rich boulder clay land of central Essex is an area of ancient enclosure into fairly small fields of chunky shapes, enclosed well before written records became common. Maybe, in some parts of this area the enclosure was even earlier, inherited by the East Saxons from the Romans or, perhaps, even prehistoric settlers. 4

It is to the small “chunky” Pooty Pools Farm in this central part of Essex that we now turn our attention. Consistent with Edwards’ assertion that these small enclosed farmsteads arose early in the history of settled Essex, it is thought that Pooty Pools Farm, located in the parish of Roxwell, carries one of the two oldest recorded place-names in the local area.5

Suggestions for the origin of Pooty Pools, the place-name, remain highly speculative. Noting that the word “pooty” meant “snailshell” in some dialects, in an earlier publication I suggested this meaning as a potential placename source.6 Alternatively, Roper has proposed that the fore part of the name could come from an “Old English uncompounded personal name such as Putta or Pud(d).”7 Not surprisingly because of its apparently very ancient age, Pooty Pools Farm may never yield sufficient evidence to confirm with certainty its ultimate place-name origin.

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This page contains excerpts from English Ancestry of the Pettypool Family of Colonial Virginia by Carolyn Hartsough. To read the complete document:

[1] Christopher Dyer. Making a Living in the Middle Ages: The People of Britain 850-1520. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), 191.

[2] David Hey. “The Origins of English Family Names.” Family Names and Family History. (London: Hambledon & London, 2000), 51-80.

[3] David Hey, Family Names and Family History, 75.

[4] A. C. Edwards. A History of Essex. (Chichester, West Sussex: Phillimore & Co., Ltd., 2000), 14.

[5] Michael Roper. “Early Place-names within Roxwell.” Article. More Roxwell Revealed (Roxwell, Essex: Roxwell Revealed Publishing Group, 2005), 15.

[6] Carolyn Hartsough. "From a farm called Pooty Pools to Pettypool– truth may indeed be stranger than fiction." Article. Journal of One Name Studies. Vol. 9, No. 10 (2008): 14. http://www.one-name.org/journal/vol9-10.html: accessed 1 December 2012.

[7] Michael Roper. “Early Place-names within Roxwell.” Article. More Roxwell Revealed (Roxwell, Essex: Roxwell Revealed Publishing Group, 2005), 15.