|Paying a Ferthing in Tax|
|I have finally found an example of Englishmen paying a ferthing in tax. In the vill of Hemmingford, c. 1255, each virgater and crofter owed a ferthing per annum for wardpenny. Is it possible that a man could receive his surname from the fact that he paid a ferthing in taxes? The main reason that surnames developed was to enable a man to be distinguished from his neighbors. If all of the man's neighbors were paying the same fixed amount in tax, what would be the purpose in naming him John "Ferthing"? Also, the uniqueness of this tax is reduced when it is taken into account that it was just one of several different types of taxes paid by each townsman. Needless to say, of all the tax payers in Hemmingford, not one had the surname Ferthing.
Yet, it must be tempting for surname specialists to give little thought to surnames such as Farthing and to move on to other, more challenging names. "Monetary" surnames such as Penny, Halpenny, and Shilling are in this category. Take the English surname Shilling for example. In his A Dictionary of English Surnames, P. H. Reaney wrote:
"Apparently a nickname from OE scilling 'shilling'. There is no evidence for a personal name as suggested by Bardsley and Harrison."
But he was so wrong! Shilling was used as a personal name long before it was used as a nickname related to a coin. In the English poem Widsith, written before 700 A.D., the title character tells us that his travelling companion is named 'Shilling'. A man by the personal name of 'Shilling, presbyter' signed charters in Wessex during the eighth century as did a 'Shilling, prefectus'. A man named 'Shilling' also witnessed an eighth century Mercian charter. So, the first use of Shilling was not as a nickname but as a personal name hundreds of years before the shilling coin was ever minted.
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