People of Medieval Scotland
1093 - 1371

Treatment of occupational by-names and surnames (2013)

Most occupational second names in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were technically by-names, descriptive terms of an individual’s occupation, which were liable to change from generation to generation. Furthermore, such a person might be known in other contexts by his patronymic or by some nickname based on a physical characteristic. With the exception of high-status occupations such as goldsmith, the wealthier and more powerful burgesses, who were most likely to appear in charter witness lists, seem to have avoided occupational by-names in favour of patronymics and other types of second names and surnames.

The exception to the tendency for occupational names to appear as by-names occurs with some names of high-status offices in the royal household, which were being used as hereditary surnames by the middle of the thirteenth century, Stewart (the steward) and Durward (the doorward or usher) being the most well-evidenced cases. These names are rendered as ‘full’ surnames throughout the entire chronological span of the database in order to avoid confusion. It should also be kept in mind that offices or occupations like steward or marshal (marischal) could also apply to jobs held by people of ordinary means and wealth. In these cases, these names are treated as occupational by-names.

In a few cases, it is clear from the evidence that an occupational name is indeed being used as a hereditary surname; in these cases, these names are treated as full surnames in the database, e.g., Cook (of Balcaskie).

Occupational by-names have been given some of the characteristics of surnames, as they clearly developed into surnames in many cases. This means that the occupational by-names now appear in the ‘Surnames etc.’ browser facet but in lower case (on the person page), so that they will appear in the headline forms as ‘Simon, tailor’ rather than ‘Simon Taylor’. This is meant to allow the user to consider the possibility of the by-names being treated as surnames, whilst simultaneously avoiding the appearance that individuals of these occupations belonged to a particular family or families. Also, unlike titles, occupational by-names now appear in the original language section of the transaction factoid page, where possible (this does not apply to ERA factoids). Individuals with other surnames will not have the occupational by-name added in the surname field. Note that occupational names that appear only in ERA factoids may appear in the surnames list, but not have title/occupation factoids in the names of those occupations.

Metonymic occupational names have been treated separately. For these, see the relevant page in this section of the website.

For now, surnames and by-names based on nicknames for physical characteristics have been left unchanged in the database.

Families with surnames of occupation or office which appear in the PoMS database under their familiar modern surname form:

While there are common modern surnames deriving from the occupations or offices of clerk and chaplain, due to the large numbers of clerks and chaplains in the database and the difficulties associated with determining which, if any, of these should be treated as possible surnames, these have been left unchanged at the current time (spring 2013).

Butler (de Pincerna) (descendants of Malcolm Hay, king’s butler): (pincerna; butellarius, le botiller)

Cook (Balcaskie, Fife): (cook: cocus, le keu)

Durward (doorward, usher: hostiarius, l’ussier)

Marshal: only in the case of Gilbert Marshal, earl of Pembroke. See also marischal.

Scrimgeour. Members of this family have the occupation factoid ‘fencing master’. OFr escremisseor, scremisseur.

Stewart (steward: dapifer, senescallus, le seneschal)

A full list of occupational by-names treated in this new way can be found below.

almoner: denoted a distributor of alms, usually an official position in a monastery or for the royal household. associated factoid: almoner. only added to surname box when no other information about the person is given (surname, associated institution).

apothecary: from OFr apotacaire, Lat. apothecarius. A shop-keeper selling medicines, spices, preserves, and so forth, rather than a chemist or pharmacist. Modern surname forms Pothecary, Potticary.

arblaster: OFr arbalestier. Denoted a crossbowman. associated factoid: crossbowman. See also balister.

archer: from OFr archer, archier, for a bowman.

armiger: Latin armiger. An armour-bearer or squire. Modern surname forms Armiger, Arminger.

armourer: OFr armurier. A maker of armourer. Note modern surname forms Larmer, Larmour.

bachelor: OFr bachelor. A novice at arms or a young knight. Modern surname forms Bachelor, Batchelar, Batchelor, Batchelder, etc.

baillie: OFr, ME bailli. A bailiff or similar judicial or administrative  officer; a burgh alderman. Modern surname form Baillie; note English spelling Bailey.

baker: Latin pistor; Old French pesteur; Old English baecere. Note modern surname Pester is based on this occupational term.

balancer: OFr balancier. One who weighs with a balance. Note modern surname forms Ballance, Ballans.

balister:OFr balestier, a crossbowman. See also Arblaster. Note modern forms Ballaster, Ballister.

barber: Latin barbator, barbitonsor; Old French barbier, barbeor. Note the modern surname form Barbour is common in Scotland. A barber in the middle ages, of course, was a surgeon as well as a cutter or hair.

bard: Gaelic bàrd; a poet.

barker: from Middle English bark, to tan, this term denoted a tanner. Note that the surname Barker also drew on OFr berkier, denoting a shepherd.

baxter: from OE baecestre, denoting a female baker, and ME baxster, applied to both sexes.

bellringer: Lat. clochere.

brewer: from ME brewere, a brewer. Latin braciator; OFr braceor, brasseur. Note variant spelling briwere. Thomas the brewer of the forest of Paisley, is also called ‘brewster’, a term which was originally used of female brewers but became a sex-neutral term.

burward: from OE burgweard, for a fortress-guard.

butcher: from OFr bochier, bouchier, ‘butcher’.  Latin carnifex.

butler: from OFr bouteillier, a servant in charge of the wine-cellar; cup-bearer. The Latin form pincerna is generally preferred over butillarius in Scottish sources.

This term can be either an occupational term or a term of office. Note that a cadet branch of the Hay family, descendants of Malcolm pincerna, the king’s butler, adopted the surname of office ‘Butler’.

buyer (emptor): a direct translation of the Latin. See also Le Acator, from OFr acatour, acateur.

ceard (craftsman): Gaelic ceard, for a craftsman. Modern surname Caird.

calfherd: denoting a tender of calves.

camber: denoting a comber of wool.

carpenter: Latin carpentarius; O Fr charpentier. A carpenter.

carter: Latin carettarius, Old Norman French caretier; ME cart + -er; OFr charetier. A driver of a cart or chariot.

chandler: OFr chandelier, candelier. A maker or seller of candles.

champion: OFr champion. One who fights on behalf of another. Note also Latin form pugil. Note modern surname form Campion.

chapman: from OE ceapmann, cepemann: a merchant, trader or dealer.

clavinger (key-bearer): Latin clavigerius. Keeper of the keys; door-keeper.

collier: from OE col, ‘coal’, this refers to a maker or seller of wood charcoal.

cook: Latin coco, OFr queu, keu, cu. A cook. Modern surname forms Cook, Kew. A family based on Balcaskie and Abercrombie in East Fife adopted the surname Cook based on the occupation of their progenitor, Ivo, who was a royal cook.

cooper: a maker or seller of casks, buckets, and tubs.

coucher: French coucheur, denoting a maker of couches or upholsterer.

courier: from ME curour; OFr coreor: a messenger or runner. See also messenger, below.

crowther: a player of the crwth or crowd, an instrument similar to a violin.

cryer: from OFr crieur; ME criere. A court officer or other person who makes public announcements.

cutler: from OFr coutelier, denoting one who makes, repairs, or sells knives and blades.

cutter: Latin incisor, indicating a stone-cutter, die-cutter, or engraver.

dempster: This surname came from the office of judex. Note that the Latin judex, which means a judge, was used to refer to the office of breitheamh. This position eventually became known as dempster or deemster in English or Scots, and thus it is more closely associated with the surname Dempster  than with Judge. Judices in the PoMS database do not have a term in the surname field. The exception to this are Andrew dempster and Fergus dempster, who are specifically accorded that title in the sources.

deòradh (dewar): Gaelic deòradh indicates a dewar or hereditary relic-keeper. Modern surname form Dewar.

diker: from OE dicere; a ditch-digger. The modern surname Fosser comes from OFr fosseur, with the same meaning.

dispenser: Lat dispensator; OFr dispensier, despensier. Note the modern surnames Despencer, Despenser, Spencer. While in general this term could apply to any household officer in charge of provisioning, such as a butler or steward, it seems to have been a distinct position in its own right in the Poms database. The position seems to have often occurred in episcopal and monastic households, although there are cases of the office in comital households as well.

doorward: an usher, porter or door-keeper. Modern Scots surname Durward.

dubber: ME dubbere; OFr doubeur. A renovator of old clothes.

engineer: OFr engineor; Lat. ingeniator. Probably most often signified a maker of siege engines, but also used in for a planner, designer, architect or master of works in the broader sense. Note modern surname forms Jenner, Ginner. This term may also have been used as a nickname by-name meaning one who was considered deceptive or scheming.

esperonor (spur-maker): OFr esperonnier, denoting a maker of spurs.

ewer: OFr ewer, denoting a servant who supplied water to guests at table. Modern surnames Lewer and Lower as well as Ewer and Ewers.

falconer: from OFr fau(l)connier. A keeper or trainer of falcons or hawks, or one who hunts with falcons. Modern surname Faulkner.

ferrour (ironsmith): OFr ferreor, ferour; Lat. ferrarius. A worker in iron, a smith. Modern surnames Ferrer, Ferrar, Farrar, etc.

ferryman: A keeper and operator of a ferry. Latin passator. Modern surname forms Ferriman, Ferryman.


fletcher: OFr flechier, flecher, for a maker or seller of arrows.

flocker: from OE floc, denoting a flat fish such as a flounder. A catcher of such fish.

foreman (swineherd): OE for (‘pig’) + man. A swineherd.

fowler: Lat. oiselarius or aucupis. A hunter of wild birds.

freemason: ME fremasoun. Master mason.

fuller: OE fullere; OFr fouleor; Lat. fullo. A fuller of cloth (a textile worker). Modern surname forms Fuller, Voller, Vollers.

furber/ furbisher: OFr forbeor, fourbeor, furbeor. A furbisher of weapons, armour, etc. Note  modern surnames Furber, Forber, Frobisher.

gardener: OFr jardinier. Lat. ortolanus; hortolanus; Gardener. Note modern surname Gardner, Gardiner.

girdler: a maker or seller of girdles, derived from OE gyrdel. Modern surname forms Girdler, Gurdler, Gurtler.

glazier: a glass-maker. Lat. vitrearius.

glover: from OE glof, ‘glove’, a maker and seller of gloves.

granger: OFr grangier. Latin grangenarius, grangiarius, granatorius. Denotes a keeper of a grange or barn.

grieve: The general sense of this word is of an overseer or steward, but, perhaps under influence of southern English ‘reeve’, it came to mean a burgh official sometimes also known as a provost. Northumbrian OE groefa. Latin prepositus. Modern surname forms Grieve, Grieves, Greif, Grief, etc. Note also surname Provost.

halterer:  a maker or seller of halters, from OE haelftre. Note modern surname Halter.

harper: OFr harpeor; OE hearpere. A musician playing the harp.

hayward: from OE haegward, ‘enclosure guard, for a keeper of cattle in a common field or a local officer in charge of maintaining fences and enclosures. Latin messor may indicate this or a reap-reeve, an officer in charge of overseeing the harvest.

herdman: from OE hierdeman; a herder of livestock.

hopper (dancer): from OE hoppian, ‘to hop, leap, dance’, this term indicated a dancer, possibly one who dances at a fair or festival. This may have been an hereditary surname used by a family in Coldingham.

hunter: from OE huntian, ‘to hunt’. Title/occupation factoid ‘huntsman’. Many of these individuals appear in the Ragman Rolls, which is written in French, but with the word ‘Hunter’ in English. Charters use the Latin venator.

jagger: ME jagger, for a carrier, carter, pedlar, hawker

janitor (gatekeeper): Lat. janitor, for a doorkeeper, porter, or gatekeeper.

jouster: from OFr justeor, justeur, a jouster. Note modern surname forms Juster, Jewster, Joester.

judge: French juge.

larderer/ lardiner: from OFr lardier. A lardiner or larderer was the person in charge of the store of bacon and meat. Modern surname form Lardner, Larder.

latimer (interpreter): OFr latinier, latimier. A speaker of Latin, and hence an interpreter. Note modern surname forms Latimer, Latner.

litster (dyer): ME lite, from Old Norse lita, ‘to dye’. This name for a dyer was typical in Northumbria and southern Scotland. Note modern surname form Lister. Note occupational factoid form dyer.

loker: from OE loc, ‘lock’, this probably refers to a locksmith, although it possibly means ‘looker’. Thus it has been left in its unedited form.

lorimer: from OFr loremier, meaning a spurrier. Modern surname form is also Lorimer.

lyder: prob. from OE lead, meaning the metal lead. The ‘y’ spelling is attested; see Thuresson, Middle English Occupational Terms, 228. Probably refers to a worker in lead or a plumber.

mair: from Gaelic maor, indicating a steward, bailie, or other similar executive office. Modern surname form Mair.

marischal: OFr mareschal; ‘one who tends horses, esp. one who treats their diseases, a farrier; a shoe smith’(Fransson, 144).

mason: This term comes from Norman French machun, Old French masson. Latin cementarius.

mercer: from OFr mercier, merchier, a merchant of textiles and fabrics, especially silk, velvet and other expensive materials.

merchant: OFr marchant, for a merchant or trader. Lat. mercator. Modern surname forms Marchant, Marchand, Merchant, etc. Note that most people described as merchants in the PoMS database (many of them foreign traders) already had a surname; thus only a minority of ‘merchants’ are entered in the surname field.

messenger: OFr messagier, messager. A carrier of a message, a courier or envoy.

messer: This occupational term comes from OFr messier, meaning a harvester or hayward. Modern surname form is also Messer.

miller: from ME mylne; Lat. molendinarius. Note modern surname forms Miller, Millar, Milner, Millner.

monk: in some cases, Latin monachus or French moine can refer to an actual monk; in other cases, it can be a by-name or surname derived from the use of ‘monk’ as a nickname. In neither case is monk a true occupational surname, because of the vows of celibacy. Even in the cases when a person’s parentage did point to a monk, it is unlikely that person would encourage the use of that surname.

mouner: from OFr molnier, mosnier, monier, etc., an francophone term for a miller.

napier: from OFr napier, nappier, from nappe, ‘table-cloth’, indicating the keeper of the table linens, sometimes called a naperer. The modern surname form Napier is most common in Scotland.

packer: from ME packe, ‘to pack’, for a packer of wool. Modern surname Packer.

page: OFr page. A page, a low-level male servant. This name was used as a surname by a family in Coldingham.

painter: Latin pictor. OFr peintour. A painter. Modern surname forms Painter, Paynter.

pantler: Lat. pannetarius; OFr panetier. Officer in charge of the pantry. Modern surname forms Panter, Panther.

parker: from OFr parchier, parquier, parker: a park-keeper.

perrier: from OFr perrier, perrieur. A quarrier or carrier of stones. Modern surname forms Perrier, Perryer, Purrier, etc.

pertricour: from OFr perdrigeour, this signified a collector of partridges.

plater: from ME plate, a maker of plate-armour or plate-metal in use for armour. Modern surname forms Plate, Plater.

plumber : from OFr plummier, plommier, ploumier, for one who works with lead, a plumber. Modern surname form Plummer.

porter : from OFr portier, meaning a keeper of the door or gate. See also janitor, doorward.

poulter: OFr pouletier. A dealer in poultry. Note variant form ‘poulterer’.

quarrier. Latin quarior; OFr quarreor. A quarryman. Modern surname form Quarrier.

rhymer (poet) : Anglo-French rimour, rymour. Note modern surname forms Rimer, Rimmer, Rymer.

saucier: OFr saussier, saulcier, etc. A saucier, a maker or sellar of sauces, mustards, etc.

sealer: a seal-maker, from OFr seel; ME sel, seel. Cf. sellar.

sellar: either a saddler, from OFr selier, seller; a seller, in the sense of a vendor of goods; a sealer, or a cellarer.

sergeant: OFr sergent, serjant; Lat. serviens. A servant, often a minor judicial enforcement official. Due to the broad meaning of Lat. serviens, only those cases given in the vernacular are currently described as sergeant in the surnames box.

shearer, from OE sceran, ‘to cut, to shear’. A shearer of cloth, and perhaps also of sheep.

shearman: from OE scearra, ‘shears’; a man who cut woollen cloth. Note moderns surname forms Sharman, Shurman, Sherman. Note also the Latin form tonsor.

shepherd: OE sceaphyrde; Lat. bercarius. A herder of sheep. Note many variant modern surname forms, including Sheppard, Shepperd, Shepheard. Note also pastor and pasturel, from OFr pastor, a herdsman. These also have ‘shepherd’ occupation factoids.

soutar (shoemaker): from Lat. sutor. A shoemaker or cobbler.

skinner: Lat. pelliparius. A dealer in animal skins or pelts. Modern surname forms Skinner, Skynner, Skyner.

smith: this has given rise to surnames based on the English, French, and Latin forms of the name. OFr fevere, fever have given rise to surnames Lefevre, Le Fevre, Le Fever, Feaver, Feavers, Fevers, etc. Latin faber has given rise to modern surname Faber.

spicer: from OFr espicier, especier, for a dealer in spices and in some cases herbs and drugs.

steedman: This by-name indicates a keeper of steeds, in the sense of war-horses. Note modern surname forms Steadman, Steedman, Stedman.

steward: from OE stigweard, stíweard, ME stiwærd, styward, indicating a household official in charge of the domestic servants and the table. The family of royal stewards adopted the surname of office Stewart, but the term was also used for individuals of lesser means. Lat. dapifer, senescallus; Anglo-Norman seneschal. Modern forms Steward, Stewart, Steuart, Stuart. Note also modern forms Seneschal, Senchell, Sensicle, etc. Individuals with other surnames and patronymics, members of the Stewart family and people described as stewards of religious institutions have not been given the Stewart surname in the Surnames search facet.

surgeon: from Lat cirurgicus; OFr serurgien; a surgeon.

tailor: OFr tailleor. A maker of clothes. Modern surname form Taylor.

tanner: OFr taneor, tanour; OE tannere. A tanner. Modern surname form Tanner.

teindman: the by-name or surname form Tendeman, held by two apparently wealthy burgesses, means ‘teindman’. This may indicate  a person in charge of gathering teinds or taxes (see also occupation ‘tax collector/ decimarius’); alternatively, it could indicate a ‘tithing-man’, in the sense of a local burgh peace officer or under-constable.

templar: OFr templier; a member of the knights Templar or his descendant. Modern surname forms Templar, Templer.

tinkler: Northern English form of ‘tinker’, for a worker in metal. Modern surname form Tinkler.

toller: from OE tollere, a tax collector. Note modern surname forms Toller, Toler, Towler.

treyour: A treyour (OFr trayeur, treour, etc) was a wine-merchant, a name taken from the task of tapping wine casks.

vintner: Anglo-Norman viniter; Latin vinetarius. A vintner or wine-merchant. Modern surname forms Vinter, Vintor, Vintiner.

violer: OFr vieleur. A player of the viol; a fiddler. Note modern surname form Vieler.

waferer: a maker and seller of wafers or thin cakes, including eucharistic bread. Modern surname form Wafer.

weaver: a weaver, from OE wefan. Latin is textor. Modern surname form Weaver.

wetherherd: a herder of wethers, i.e. rams, usually castrated (a kind of shepherd).

wildsmith: either 'wheel-smith' or OE weald + smith, for a smith of the forest or wood.

winedrawer: a wine merchant, or one who draws wine from the cask.

woodward: from OE wuduweard, ‘wood-guard’, forester.

wright: from OE wyrhta, wryhta, a carpenter or joiner.



  • Richard McKinley, A History of British Surnames (1990)
  • P. H. Reaney and R. M. Wilson, A Dictionary of English Surnames. Revised edition (1997)
  • P. H. Reaney The Origin of English Surnames (1967)
  • Gustav Fransson, Middle English Surnames of Occupation (Lund 1935)
  • Bertil Thuresson, Middle English Occupational Terms (Lund 1950)
  • The Durham Liber Vitae, ed. David and Lynda Rollason, ii (2007), 258-262
  • George F. Black,  The Surnames of Scotland: their origin, meaning, and history (1946)
  • The Oxford English Dictionary (
  • The Anglo-Norman Dictionary (
  • The Dictionary of the Scottish Language (


By Matthew Hammond. 2013.