Frequency Studies and the Farthing Surname

When the U.S. Census Bureau analyzed a sample population of 6.3 million residents, they found that the Farthing surname was possessed by only one-thousandth of one percent (.001) of the study group. That is only 63 out of a total of six million three hundred thousand people. Surname dictionaries tell us however, that Farthing is a "multiple origin" surname. That is like saying that we have several unrelated surnames that just happen to have the same spelling. One would expect that a multiple origin surname would have a much greater frequency than .001%. For example, the following is a sample of English surnames that have multiple origins followed by their frequency: The surname Fair, originally used as both a personal name and a nickname, is eight times more common than Farthing. The surname Starr, originally used as a personal name, a nickname, and a sign name, is eleven times more common than Farthing. Swift, derived from a personal name and a nickname is nines times more prevalent. Spillman, derived from both a personal name and an occupational name, is three times as numerous. Elmer, a locative name as well as a personal name, is twice as common. Burnell is twice as common, Butts is eleven times more common, Bray is 15 times , Bain is 7 times, Bailey is 115 times, Sears is 14 times, Kane is 16 times, Carrol is 55 times, Fay is 6 times, Whiting is 5 times, and Carver is 15 times more common than Farthing. So, most multiple origin surnames are much more common than Farthing.

One of Farthing's origins is said to have been derived from a parcel of land that was a "ferthing" is size. Now I am not disputing the claim that some Englishmen were listed in tax rolls as being "atte ferthing" (at a ferthing) or "de la ferthing" (from the ferthing). Facts are facts, and there are several entries mentioning the ferthing in Sussex. But these surnames existed only in a small window of time (from the late 1200's to the early 1300's) and were concentrated primarily in Sussex. At this time, Sussex was experiencing a population explosion, and in fact was the most populated county in England. Clerks must have been desperate in their attempts to differentiate one individual from another and any description would do for administrative purposes, at least temporarily. In The Kalendar of Abbot Samson of Bury St. Edmunds and Related Documents, R. H. C. Davis states that the "ferdering" (another spelling for ferthing) seems "to have been made to suit the convenience of the tax-collector." Mr. Davis also writes that "it is impossible to believe that ferderings were anything more than fiscal units of assessment." One should also consider the fact that in many cases the surname used in a document was not used by the man himself. In 1290 for example, "Simon atte Hollegate" was also called "Simon de Berstrete". "John de Berstrete" was also called "John le Mercer". So "John atte ferthing" may very well have preferred to call himself something else, for example "John White", or "John Carver". This may explain why, in the early 1300's, the atte ferthings and de la ferthings dissappeared in Sussex. So far as I can tell, they were not replaced by the surname Ferthing. Keep in mind that in the latter part of the thirteenth century many surnames were still unstable and in a state of flux. This was true even for the landed classes.

But I have digressed from the results of the frequency study. If it is so that one of the origins of the Farthing surname was derived from a parcel of land, it's frequency should be close to other surnames of like character. Let's look at the surname Hyde, derived from 'a man living on a parcel of land that was a hide is size'. Hyde is 12 times more frequent than Farthing. The surname Akers, derived from 'a man living on an acre of land', is 11 times more common. The surname Furlong is twice as common. The surname Fee ('a holder of a fief') is twice as common, and Freeland ('a holder of land free from services') is also twice as common. And finally, the surname Holder ('a tenant of a parcel of land') is 14 times as frequent as Farthing.

One surname expert has written that, although the personal name Farthegn has survived as the surname Farthing, it is "more often local in origin". How do other surnames that are local in origin compare to Farthing? Gore ('dweller by the triangular piece of land') is 11 times more common. Holmes ('residence near a piece of flat land in a fen or by a piece of land partly surrounded by streams') is 5 times more common. Boucher ('dweller in a place planted with bushes') 12 times more common. Brockway ('dweller by the road near the brook') is twice as common. Sands ('dweller on sandy soil or near the sands') is 7 times more common. Sapp ('dweller by the spruce tree') is 7 times more common. Schofield ('dweller by a field with a hut') is 5 times more common. Brownell (dweller by the brown hill or corner of land') is 3 times more common. Weekley ('from the village of Weekley, Northamptonshire') is twice as common. Faircloth ('dweller in the fair hollow') is twice as common, and the list goes on and on. So, Farthing just doesn't have as great a frequency as other surnames in that category.

Farthing is also supposed to be derived from a nickname related to the coin, 'one who paid rent of a ferthing', for example. To date, I have been unable to find even one instance in thousands of English records of men paying this small amount for rent, and just one being assessed that amount for taxes. But for the sake of argument, let's say that one of the origins of the Farthing surname was a nickname pertaining to the ferthing coin. How does it compare in frequency with other surnames derived from money? There are 4 times more Pennys than Farthings. The surname Shilling is twice as common. Even Halmark ('half-a-mark') is twice as frequent. What about surnames derived from other nicknames? The surname Born, originally meaning 'one-eyed' or 'squint-eyed', is twice as common. There are just as many Cruickshanks ('crooked leg') as there are Farthings. There are 3 times more Sturgeons (a nickname from the fish) as there are Farthings. Bunch ('a protuberance on the back') has a frequency 11 times greater than Farthing. Best ('beast', 'a brutal, savage man') 16 times greater; Boggs ('inclined to bluster or brag', or 'puffed up, bold') 12 times; Sage ('wise') is 4 times more frequent. The man Ralph Bassett was raised from ignoble stock by King Henry II. His surname, meaning 'of low stature', is 8 times more common than Farthing. Like so many other surname origins, the origin of the French name enfant ('child') was forgotten and the word treated as English. Today, it's shortened form, Fant, is twice as common as Farthing. Yet, we are told that the Farthing surname has "multiple" origins.

On the other hand, if it is true that Farthing has only one origin, say, from the personal name Farthegn, a large percentage of surnames derived from only one source, a personal name, should all share about the same frequency of occurrence. On the next page you will find a sample of over a hundred English surnames that are alike in several ways: 1) they are not multiple origin surnames but are derived from only one source, and 2) that source is a personal name (not a nickname, not a locational name, and not an occupational name), and 3) they all have a frequency of one-thousandth of one percent. In addition to having the same frequency of .001%, could the Farthing surname share the other traits as well?
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