Surnames were not in everyday use at the time of the Conquest, although some surnames were used in the Domesday Book.  More often an individual was identified by the first name and by being of or from a certain place.  Therefore the chance of identifying an ancestor from that era is nearly impossible since several families, although probably intertwined by marriage as might happen in a village, would use the same place name.  The challenge is even more difficult because members of the same family were sometimes known by the name of their trade or by some other designation.  To confuse the researcher delving into those early records where surnames were not hereditary, there are a number of cases where sons from the  same privileged family used different surnames, using the names of the estates inherited.  Another designation came by appending son to the father's first name in the case of a son who did not inherit land. 

It appears that by the middle of the twelfth century there were social forces operating in favor of the view that persons of some rank should bear a designation other than their baptismal names.  After 1160 when Henry II enfranchised the land, the use of hereditary surnames increased.  Nevertheless the unsettled use of consistent surnames makes it a very difficult matter to trace antecedents of any family further back than the thirteenth century, particularly for the lower and middle classes. 

In conclusion, the use of a common surname in the early years is no proof in itself of consanguinity.  Vice versa, the use of different surnames does not prove a lack of kinship.

The Statute of Additions passed during the reign of Henry V in the first quarter of the fifteenth century gave the initial full legal recognition to English surnames. In 1464 during the reign of Edward !V, the insufficiency of a given name to distinguish an individual led to the first statute which required the adoption of surnames. 

Orders by chancellor Cromwell for Henry VIII at the time of the English reformation in the 1530s which required the church to keep parish registers for births, marriages, and deaths contributed to the use of lifetime surnames as well as to the establishment of reliable written records for the researcher.  Although those records are quite valuable today, the people of that day resented the intrusion, believing the crown had ulterior motives.

With all of the difficulties with records and names, only forty to eighty families have been able to lay valid claim of knowing their line to the Conquest without introducing some conjecture along the way.


Usage of Prepositions with Surnames:


Beginning about the mid-13th century, the use of the Anglo-Saxon preposition atte in conjunction with the surname increased.  The term usually implied residence more than possession.  The use of the French or Latin de was used more often to indicate possession rather than residence.  This probably was attributable to the fact that those of French descent or who were politically allied with the Normans were the landholders, while the Anglo-Saxons had been largely displaced in that role.


The Sydnor Name

Originally spelled in the Domesday Book as

The “S” was at rare times written as a “C.”  Sometimes, the initial vowel was reduced from sound to writing as “e.”  The “d” was from time to time shown as “t.”  Occasionally, the “n” was either given or copied as “m.”  Sometimes the final vowel was given as “e” or “ou.”[1]

By the seventeenth century, Sidnor evolved to Sydnor.

Fortunatus Sydnor, the American emigrant in 1665 or 1666, originally used Sidnor for the first few years in Virginia.  Thereafter changing the “I” to a “y”

The name Sydnor has never been confused with Sydney or Sidney, a name that was derived from St Deny, the patron saint of France.


The Derivation of the Name


The phonetic equivalents of Sydnor are found in two European countries other than England.  These are discussed below.  The name Sydnor and its phonetic spellings probably derive from two fundamental roots of the Indo-European language.[2]


sed: put down.  This root has developed in three ways: (1) to put down the buttocks--stop, sit, dwell; (2) to put down the foot--walk, go; and (3) to put down the fists or weapons--yield.


ner: below; to the left;  towards the left facing the sunrise, hence north.


These original Indo-European words were used to define material objects or specific events that impinged directly upon the senses or immediate emotions.  Both root words, sed and ner, have been used separately and frequently as parts of placenames in all of the regions of the world which use the descended languages from the Indo-European.  How the specific combination as used in England evolved is not known.  Whether the English place name was imported from France, Germany, Poland, or some other part is uncertain. 

Many of the early variants of Sydnor derive from phonetic spellings.  (It is said that Shakespeare, a man with some skill with words, signed his own name five different ways.)  Since reading and writing were not useful skills for most of the population, few learned the skills.  Except where one was a member of the clergy or practicing law for example, first names, and surnames as first used in the 13th and 14th centuries, were left to whatever phonetic spelling skills were known to a clerk after hearing a person pronounce it.  Thus, for example in English, there are the frequent substitutions of i for y and y for i; d for t and t for d; o, ou, and e.

The scribe had to deal with a wide range of dialects.  Missing teeth and wills taken from a deathbed added to variety.  Another source of disorder, aside from the errors of tedium, came from the several times a document was copied by hand before being set in the form we might find it today.  For those who have read the medieval and early English scripts, the miracle is the accuracy that does exist.

In searching records, one must check indices for a number of variants due to the use of phonetic spelling, the lack of standard spelling, and scribal misciphers. Sydnor, Sednor, Sedenore, Setnor, Setenore, Sidnor, Sydgore, Sygnor, and  Syndre are all possibly variants from the same root.  Even Senor occurs as a scribal error.

There are good reasons for ignoring Syder, Sigor, Siggor, Sidney, Sydney, Seten, Setene, Sidham, and many others which have a different genesis and thereby lines of descent.  For instance, Sydney is English for St Denis who is the patron saint of France.  Snider or Snyder, the plague of modern Sydnors, is not a problem because it is not found.

None of the surname Sydnor is known among those living in England today. 


[1]           Perhaps the reader can appreciate the time required to check each index, then extrapolate that to the thousands that were searched.

[2]                  The Origins of English Words, A Discursive Dictionary of Indo-European Roots;, Joseph T. Shipley  (1984); also .r.The Place Names of Sussex;, ed. A. Mawer & F. M. Stenton (1929), .r.English Place Name Society;, v.6, p.339 and v.15, p.xxxxi.