Similar Names in History c.700 – c.1200

Throughout history names with similar spelling (Buggi, Bugg, Bugge, Buggie etc..) and similar meanings (people from an area of soft, boggy, marshy lands) have been found in various parts of Europe. In my early days researching the Buggy name I naively believed that it would be a simple process of tracing the name from Ireland, back to England and then to a Viking or French origin. However, when studying surnames it is important to remember the following: [1]

  • They transfer from one area to another due to migration
  • Surnames with similar spellings and meanings can develop independently of each other in different areas.
  • Surnames in different documents across different centuries were written down as they sounded to the writer or as the writer though they should be spelled.
  • Rare surnames can die-out or be absorbed into other surnames for various reasons.
  • They can form out of other surnames when descendants take the first name of a person in the family and adopt that as a surname e.g. MacMahon comes from a descendant of the O’Brien family, Mahon O’Brien.[2]
  • When transferring from one language to another the surname can be translated ‘correctly’, mistranslated or simply made up.

With that in mind here are some examples of Buggy type names/surnames from the 8th-11th centuries.

Viking Buggi 700-1100

Various studies have been done of names which appear in runic inscriptions found in Norway, Sweden and Denmark. One of the most recent, and authoritative, is the Nordiskt runnamnslexikon (Dictionary of Proper Names in Scandinavian Viking Age Runic Inscriptions) compiled by the Institute for Dialectology, Onomastics and Folklore Research in Sweden between 1999-2001.[3] The names collected for this study were taken from runic inscriptions dated from the 8th to 11th centuries. One of the entries that can be found is the name Buggi. A Swedish to English translation of this entry outlines the following:

Buggi (masculine name). Old Danish Buggi (found as a by-name), Old Swedish Bugge (found as a by-name), Old West Norse by-name Buggi. Relating to Old Nynorsk [Norse] meaning “powerful man”.[4]

As the translation outlines, slightly different versions of the same name were found in Scandinavia during the Viking Age. Beginning in the late 8th century Vikings from Scandinavia launched attacks on Britain. While the Vikings might be considered one and the same, those from present day Norway concentrated their attacks on Scotland and Ireland, while those from present day Denmark focused attacks on mainland Europe and England.[5] By the latter half of the 9th century this had culminated in invasion. In 865 the Great Viking Army seized York and by 870 over half of England was under Viking control.[6] Arnold outlines how these Viking settlers were “ploughing and providing for themselves” in Yorkshire.[7]

Evidence of this name in Britain can be found in the name of the parish and village, Bugthorpe, in Yorkshire. Place names incorporating ‘thorpe’ indicate an outlying settlement or farm, possibly on the fringes of a larger settlement.[8] The first part of the place names are Scandinavian personal names signifying ownership.[9] Mills gives the definition for the origins of Bugthorpe as ‘outlying farmstead or hamlet of a man called Buggi’ and states that it is listed as Bugethorp in The Domesday Book of 1086.[10]

French Buge

A 19th century book, The Etymology of Curious Surnames (1868), by R.S. Charnock speculated that Buggy is “perhaps from Bugey, a small territory of France, in the old prov. of Bourgogne; or from Le Bogue, a comm. and town of France, dep. Dordogne.”[11]

Le Bogue, in the Dordogne department (similar to an Irish province) is almost certainly the town of Le Bugue, which is the name given on modern maps. Le Bugue is about two hours drive west of Bordeaux, in the south west of France. Bugey is an historical region in the Ain department, which is in eastern France near Italy and Switzerland. Charnock has located it in the Bourgogne department but this is to the north of Ain.

Bugey was a part of the Dutchy of Savoy and became part of France after the Treaty of Lyon in 1601. The Bugey area is known as Bugé in a language called Apritan (or Franco-Provencal), which is associated with the area. Arpitan is spoken today in only a small few rural, mountainous parts of Italy, France and Switzerland today. The map, below, is of the Bugey area with place names in Apritan.[12] The area of Bugé can be seen in the middle containing the towns of Bélé (Belley) and Brion (Brion). The Swiss border is located at the northeast edges of Bugé near Geneva.

Dictionnaire Etymologique des noms de Famille outlines that the name Buge is a derivative of Bugue which come from the ancient Occitan language name Bugua.[13] The Occitan language was primarily spoken in the area of France south of Bugé, towards the Mediterranean coast.

Domesday Book 1086

Following the Norman conquest, Britain was threatened again with invasion from Denmark and the recently installed Norman King William needed to raise money to pay a mercenary army.[14] As a result a land register for taxation purposes was completed, and finished, in 1086. This is known as The Domesday Book and is one of the most important and earliest records of names in existence. It is held at the National Archives in England. Translators of the text have given Buggi to names that appear a number of times. In the original language this is the name Bugo, which appears four times, and the name Buge, which appears once in the text. Mentions of Bugo are divided between Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire and Buge is located in Nottinghamshire.[15]

The translation for units of measurement are as follows:[16]

Bovates: One-eighth of a Carucate

Carucate: An area of land that could be ploughed by eight oxen.

Geld: This was the English land-tax.

Manor: This was an estate, varying in size

Furlong: The length of a furrow, usually 40 perches, with one perch usually being 14-18 feet long.

Colwick, Nottinghamshire

Buge is written about in relation to this area. Colwick is located on the eastern edge of present day Nottingham city. The entry for Colwick is under the heading of ‘The Land of the Thegns’. This was a man of noble status with different ranking of thegns depending if they were subordinated to the king or a lord.[17]

This entry has been translated as: “In Colwick, Aelfric 3, and Buggi 2 [had] 5 bovates of land taxable. Land for 1 plough. They hold it themselves from the King. The have 2 plougs; 1 Freeman, with 1 bovate, and 6 villagers and 1 smallholder with 2 ploughs. Meadow, 31 acres; underwood, 8 acres. Value 25s 4d.”[18]

Hawton, Nottinghamshire

Bugo is written about twice in Hawton, which is near the western border of Nottinghamshire, with Lincolnshire. Hawton is under the heading of ‘The land of Ralph De Limesy’. Ralph de Limesy was one of the followers of William the Conqueror and was rewarded with numerous lordships for his military services. Eight of these were in Nottinghamshire.[19]

Martin translated this as: “in the same place Buggi, Regnvald, Thorfridh and Buggi had 6 ½ bovates of land to the geld. [There is] land for 2 ½ ploughs.”[20]

Coddington, Nottinghamshire

Bugo is also mentioned in Coddington, which is under the heading of ‘The land of the Bishop of Lincoln’.

This is translated as: “In the same place Buggi had 1.5 bovates of land to the geld. Land for 1/2 plough. It is waste. Bothild holds it, and it is worth 2s. There are two acres of meadow.”

Hooton Levitt, Yorkshire

The last reference for Bugo is in Yorkshire under the heading of ‘the land of the Count of Mortain’. Robert, the Count of Mortain, was a half borther of William the Conqueror. He was given huge amounts of land after the conquest, including 196 manors in Yorkshire alone.

Martin translates this as: Buggi had 1 manor of 3 curates and 6 bovates of the geld, where there could be 2 ploughs. Now Count Robert had in demense 1 plough; and 8 villans and 3 bordars with 3 ploughs, and 1 mill [rendered] 28d. The whole [is] 6 furlongs long and as much broad. Now it is worth 20s.[21]


[1] I would like to thank Mike Buggy who left the following comment (submitted 1 October 2010) on a now deleted page which discussed a Viking origin for the Buggy name:

I’m afraid I don’t really agree with your findings, well structured though they are. It may be a little oversimplistic, wishful thinking or romantic even, to try to attribute basic ‘working’ European surname to such common sources. A very large number of European surnames are derived from a variety of sources such as geography, craft, trade, place, features, clan, kinship, family groups, events, etc etc. It was not unusual for large groups or social classes to have no surname at all but to be part of some local kinship, tribe, clan or such grouping. This means that parallel developments of name groups among totally unrelated peoples in many different places are very common. Added to this there are many homonyms and synonyms across all languages so that like sounding words and names are often thought to be somehow connected even when their sources are totally separate and unrelated.
As an example, the modern names Bugg, Bogey, Bugge may indeed well be all related to the Nordic/Viking root word (which I believe actually may have also given us “Bogeyman!”). There are also similar names in Italian, Dutch, Belgium, and French, but their sources are separate. There has never been any real mystery with the Irish name Buggy, unless one wants to create one. The common variant is not related to the various similar sounding names in England but is from the Irish word for ‘soft’ (Bog). Many of the people who settled in soft, marshy, fertile river lands, most commonly, but not exclusively, between the Suir, Nore, and the Barrow were considered “of the marshlands” (The O’Bhogaigh…pronounced Buggy). Like all of their neighbours, they considered themselves as a whole under the protectorate of one of the minor kings of the area. Not only were they not necessarily related to each other they also were not related to other Irish river valley dwellers areas elsewhere, some of whom were also called O’Bhogaigh. There is nothing unusual about this method of naming as it occurs elsewhere also (Demery, from DeMarais…of the bogs….is the equivalent name in French). In English and the other anglo saxon languages we have surnames like Rivers, Hill, Marsh, Field, Woods etc. Again no common ancestral source or relationship can possibly be inferred from such general geographic terms. Granted the Normans did bring some variation to this but the variation is of rather a specific and traceable type. The majority of Buggys in England came originally from Irish stock (I for example have ancestors who went to England in the 1700′s and 1800′s). The biggest clusters in the UK census, such as those in Middlesex, and a few E and NE counties had Irish roots…I have looked at them over the years. There are a few whom I cannot account for….I too am aware of the medieval English Buggys which come up in records, rolls, and searches, such as old William, and the odd priest, or local official, but these are very rare indeed. I would find it totally normal that many similar sounding names from unrelated sources are twisted, reformed, localised, and mutated over the years…..it happens with most other words including names and proper nouns across old English and it would be impossible to assume that any Buggy/Bugge/Bugi etc type words would suffer the same fate.
Perhaps its a personal view, but I would suggest that it is important not to attribute or force a history which may not really exist…..not all Hills/Marshes/Fields are related and neither should we expect Buggys or their similar sounding names to be. We have to accept that with common working type group or family names across Europe, you can quite easily have the same sounding name but from totally diferent sources. Your OWN personal ancestry is really all that counts.

Mike Buggy

[2] Grenham, John. 2010. The Origins of Irish Surnames. Available at http://www.irishtimes.com/ancestor/magazine/surname/index.htm : accessed 5 January 2011

[3] Peterson, Lena. 2005. Dictionary of Proper Names in Scandinavian Viking Age Runic Inscriptions. Available online at http://www.khm.uio.no/forskning/publikasjoner/runenews/nor_2003/dicpropn.htm: acessed 19 March 2010

[4] Ward, C.L. (2001) English translation of Nordiskt runnamnslexikon. p.21

[5] Arnold M. (2006) The Vikings: Culture and Conquest. London: Continuum Books. p82-84

[6] Ibid. p.4

[7] Ibid. p. 92

[8] Rogers, K.H. (1991) Vikings and Surnames. Indiana: William Sessions Ltd. p.88

[9] Arnold M. (2006) The Vikings: Culture and Conquest. London: Continuum Books. p.95

[10] Mills, A.D. (2003) The Oxford Dictionary of British Place-Names. Oxford: OUP. p.85

[11] Charnock, R.S. (1868) Ludus Patronymicus or The Etymology of Curious Surnames. p.12

[12] Aliance Culturela Arpitanna. Year Unknown. available online at http://www.arpitania.eu/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=115 : accessed 5 January 2012

[13] Morlet, M.T. (1997) Dictionnaire Etymologique des noms de Familie. French and European Publications. p.148

[14] National Archives. Year Unknown. Discover Domesday available online at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/domesday/discover-domesday/: accessed 10 January 2010

[16] Martin, GeoffreyHaward (2003) The Domesday Book: A Complete Translation. London: Penguin Books. pp.1431-1435

[17] Ibid. p.1435

[18] All translations except the Martin translations have been taken from the University of Hull eDocuments on The Domesday Book. Available at https://edocs.hull.ac.uk/muradora/objectView.action?parentId=hull%3A730&type=1&pid=hull%3A461 Accessed March 18th 2010

[19] Savage, S. (1830) History of the Hundred of Carhampton. Bristol: William Strong.

[20] Martin, G.H. (2003) p.776

[21] Ibid., p.809.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s