Redknapps’ past laid bare in a secret history of surnames

Louise Redknapp.
Louise Redknapp.
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IT IS a name synonymous today with glamour, wealth and success, but its history tells a different story.

University researchers who investigated the origin of more than 45,000 families have demonstrated that no matter how far up the social scale you have travelled, a simple surname is all it takes to drag you back down.

Twelvetrees: The old East Riding village of Wheldrake, near York

Twelvetrees: The old East Riding village of Wheldrake, near York

In the case of one football and music dynasty, they say, the name betrays an ancestry spent in servitude. Redknapp, of whom there were only 102 bearers at the time of the last census, is likely to be no more than a Middle English nickname for a servant boy with red hair, say
the authors of today’s new edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland.

The pop star and TV presenter Louise Nurding took the name in 1998 when she married the Liverpool footballer Jamie Redknapp, whose father, Harry, had a long career as a player and manager.

Palin, Twelvetrees and Li are also amongst the 8,000 family names explained for the first time in today’s edition, which has been published after a four-year study.

It found that nearly 40,000 family names are native to Britain and Ireland, while the remainder reflect the diverse languages and cultures of immigrants who have settled from the 16th century to the present day, including French Huguenot, Dutch, Jewish, Indian, Arabic, Korean, Japanese, Chinese and African.

Professors Patrick Hanks and Richard Coates led a team of historical linguists, medieval historians, lexicographers and expert advisers on Irish, Scottish, Welsh and recent immigrant names.

Prof Coates said: “Some surnames have origins that are occupational – obvious examples are Smith and Baker; less obvious ones are Beadle, Rutter, and Baxter.

“Other names can be linked to a place, for example Hill or Green, which relates to a village green. Surnames which are ‘patronymic’ are those which originally enshrined the father’s name – such as Jackson, or Jenkinson.

“There are also names where the origin describes the original bearer such as Brown, Short, or Thin – though Short may in fact be an ironic ‘nickname’ surname for a tall person.”

Twelvetrees, a rare name with only 75 bearers recorded in the 1881 census, is revealed to be a variation of Twelftree, a surname thought to be an altered form of Weldrick, which would have located a family to the village of Wheldrake in the East Riding of Yorkshire. The name has become more widely known through Billy Twelvetrees, the England rugby union international.

Palin, of whom the two best-known bearers are the former Python Michael and the Alaska politician Sarah, is revealed to hail from the north-west Midlands, where it was a late Middle English development of the surname Paulin, itself derived from the Middle English personal name Paulin, a form of Paul.

Farraday, Vardy, Clutterbuck, Stilgoe and Toynbee – said to identify someone from Tumby in Lincolnshire – are also names that have not been explained in previous dictionaries, while Hislop, a name that has previously been identified wrongly, is now said to originate from an unidentified location in northern England.