What Surname Dictionaries Say...The Farthegn Moneyers...History of the Farthing Surname...Frequency Studies and the Farthing Surname...The Founding of Farthingstone...The Farthegn Rune Stones...The Legend of King Farthegn.....................TABLE OF CONTENTS


The Origins of the Farthing Surname

by Ben Farthing

Of the several theoretical origins of the Farthing surname, only one is truly compelling. Based on historical facts, it states that the surname developed from Farthegn, an Old Scandinavian personal name meaning "Traveled Thegn". Farthegn was a compound name consisting of two elements: fara, meaning to travel, and thegn, meaning landed nobleman / soldier. Old English "thegn" is also akin to the word "Dane", meaning warrior. The title "thegn" has been found on many rune-stones in Scandinavia and a man named Farthegn was a rune master in Viking Age Sweden. To date I have been unable to find any data that would support two other theoretical origins, namely "one that paid a ferthing for rent", and "one that lived on a parcel of land that was a ferthing in size."

What the Farthing surname may do then is to perpetuate for posterity the name of a Viking named Farthegn that settled in England over a thousand years ago. He was one of the chieftains who established the occupied territory known as the Danelaw. In his book The Vikings in Britain, Henry Loyn writes, "The sheer addition in genetic terms of Scandinavian blood into the human stock peopling these islands must have been considerable." And, "Over large tracts of the British Isles the Scandinavians formed an important recognizable element in the human population." It was customary for a Scandinavian family to use the same personal name for many generations, and Farthegn had been in continuous use as an inherited personal name 700 years before most Englishmen had hereditary surnames. As long as 1,400 years ago, for example, a "sea-king" named Farthegn ruled the island of Karmoy off the southwest coast of Norway. He founded a village now called Ferkingstad. The way the older generation pronounces it, however, sounds as if they are saying Farthingstad.

In 865, a large Viking army composed of Danes, Norwegians, and Swedes invaded England with intentions of conquering and colonizing it. One of this army's divisional commanders, a Viking named Farthegn seized an English village and became it's overlord. This village became known as Farthegn's Tun (tun: village). His purpose was to create a protective screen behind which a more intensive Scandinavian colonization could take place. Soldiers of the Viking army and immigrant-farmers from Scandinavia soon followed and proceeded to farm the land and raise families. Rather than settling down to farm, Farthegn continued to be part of the military elite, overseeing the peaceful settlement of his countrymen within what became known as the Danelaw. By the 13th century Farthegn's Tun had become known as Farthingstone.

No sooner did the Scandinavians settle in England than they began minting coins. A moneyer named Farthegn was appointed by the Crown to mint silver pennies as early as 959. There are indications that he belonged to a family of moneyers whose profession was handed down from generation to generation for at least 300 years. Moneyers were of a sufficiently high status to marry into the most powerful families in the country and they became established within the upper classes of society. Greater affluence meant not only more desirable marriage partners but lower infant mortality rates. This helped ensure that the name Farthegn would survive.

After the Normans conquered England in the latter half of the 11th century, the expertise of the native moneyers and other royal officials was so valued that they were allowed to keep their positions. Being servants of the King enabled English and Anglo-Scandinavian families like the Farthegns to acquire or recover their previously held wealth and status. By the 1130's intermarriage had ensured that most families of the middle and upper classes were both Norman and English, and the Farthegn family quickly became assimilated into Anglo-Norman society. So the men that inherited the name Farthegn not only thrived under Norman occupation, but became indistinguishable from them, as their Viking ancestors had become indistinguishable from their English neighbors generations before.

The Farthegn family did not limit their royal service to moneying, however. Robert Farthegn, for example, was an administrator of royal estates in Suffolk in 1086. One historian has identified this man as a Norman because he has the first name Robert. The assumption is that anyone using a popular Norman name like Robert so soon after the Conquest must certainly be a Norman and not just a culturally-assimlated Englishman. We can see how this Scandinavian name became well-estasblished in the southwest of England by reading about Thomas Farthegn, an important customs official working for the Exchequer out of the ports of Plymouth and Weymouth in 1320. And a 12th century moneyer named Farthegn became established in the town of Bristol. He was the probable progenitor of the Farthing family of present-day Somersetshire. A Viking named Farthegn even settled in nearby Wales. The place named after him is today known as Farthing's Hook.

As the language underwent the change from Old English to Middle English, most scribes began to change the spelling of the name Farthegn to Ferthing. Being unfamiliar with the history and meaning of the name, they tended to change it to an easily recognizable form. Every Englishman knew that a ferthing was a quarter of a penny. For hundreds of years, a feorthung could only be created by cutting a penny up into four pie-shaped pieces. During this period, however, round ferthings were being minted for the first time and were in demand by the populace.

Another case in point concerns the lord of an estate named Schelin. Over time, no one could recall exactly who Schelin was. Today we know his estate not as Schelin's Tun, but Shillingstone. A man by the name of Sciell was noted for using a certain ford in a river. Originally called Sciell's Ford, it is now known as Shillingford. And finally, Scyttel's family owned a hill called Scyttel Dun. It was changed to Shillington. These are just a few of the many examples of how a man that played a vital role in English local history was all but forgotten, and his namesake changed to something totally unrelated to its original meaning.

In the mid-twelfth century English was beginning to undergo some of its most dramatic changes. The language became simpler - gender is gone, as are many declensions and conjugations, and the spelling has been greatly simplified. The period of Middle English had begun. Before that time the Old English and Old Norse languages were so similar that Vikings and Englishmen had little difficulty understanding each other. However, by the mid-twelfth century Scandinavian traders at York could no longer understand what the Englishmen were saying. Coincidently, it was at this time that Farthegn started to be spelled as Ferthing in Yorkshire. In Lincolnshire it took a hundred more years for the old spelling to be replaced with the new one. In Somersetshire, the most conservative area in England, Farthegn hung on the longest, resisting the change until the mid-fourteenth century.

By 1500, Middle English had evolved into Modern English and the Ferthing surname was changed to Farthing. During this early Modern English period, referred to as Elizabethan English, many er words were pronounced as ar ones. For example, Queen Elizabeth misspelled the word work as if it should be pronounced "wark", person was "parson", heard was "hard", and defer was "defar". Englishmen would say marcy for mercy, marchant for merchant, and of course, farthing for ferthing.

Throughout this report, the now-obsolete Old English and Old Scandinavian letters "eth" and "thorn" have been replaced with the Modern English equivalent "th". Please continue by clicking on Next Page...or...go to the Table_of_Contents

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