Does your surname indicate a connection to an ancestor who lived or worked in a medieval castle?

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30 June 2020
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Wayne Shepheard explores the roots of castle-related surnames. Read on to discover whether your ancestral surname hints at a particular medieval trade or occupation.

For many hundreds of years, castles provided major centres of control of the populace, administration of regions, defence and employment. Although few people can trace their ancestry directly to members of castle staff – or even to the medieval period – your ancestor’s surname may hint at castle connections.

Castle-related surnames

Many modern surnames may derive from one of the many occupations directly associated with castles,
such as: Chamberlain, Knight, Marshall and Steward; and under them – archers, bakers, bowmen, brewers, butchers, butlers, carpenters, carters, clerks, cooks, fletchers, gardeners, grooms, hunters, masons, millers, pages, porters, sheriffs, squires and ushers.

Any of these people may have worked in the castle confines and later taken the occupation as their surname. 

Admittedly these occupations were also common outside of castles so it may not be easy to determine whether any, outside perhaps of military- and management-based names, came from castle residents. 

The surname 'Castle'

Even the word castle has become a widely-used surname, under a variety of different spellings: Castle, Castles, Cassell, Castell and Castells. It may have come to be used by anyone who lived or worked at a castle. 

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My forebears, if our surname (with or without the extra ‘a’) derived originally from those attending sheep, would not have worked in castles, but may have provided wool and mutton to those who did.

With respect to the language of the day it may be appropriate to keep in mind what other names such ancestors may have had: in French, Shepherd is Berger; in Latin it is Pastor; in German it is Schafer. I could have medieval ancestors with any of these names. 

Extract taken from an in-depth exploration of medieval castles and our ancestors in the August issue of Family Tree. Get your copy here.

About the author

Wayne Shepheard is the author of ‘Surviving Mother Nature’s Tests: the effects of climate change and other natural phenomena have had on the lives of our ancestors (with examples from the British Isles)’ (2018). Find out more here.