The Bednall Archive


Last updated 25/11/2008

Annex 1


Sources of Surnames

Names originated in a variety of ways of which the most common were:

1.         by derivation from a personal name, i.e. Jackson, Simpson, Richardson, Alkin, Christopher, James;

2.         from the occupation or trade of a medieval ancestor, i.e. Smith, Baxter, Cooper, Webster, Tailor, Sharman, etc.;

3.         from personal characteristics, i.e. Strong i' the Arm, Short, Elvin, Blackamore;

4.         from topographical features, i.e. Hill, Attewell, Bottom, Bywaters;

5.         from place names, i.e., Dudley, Nottingham, Acton, Ashley, Buxton, Leicester.


The rarer forms are generally those which derive from Saxon or Norman family names such as Orme, Untan, and Harcourt or from the lesser known names of places which were settlements in the middle ages but have since been  abandoned or, if they survive, are now farms, hamlets, or small villages.  The Bednall, Badnall, Beadnell group of names fit into the latter category, being (as defined by Beaney)  "local surnames derived from particular towns, villages or estate".   There are, however, no references to these names in Beaney’s "English Surnames", or in C.W.Bardsley's  "Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames"- except for the  incorrect assertion in the latter that Badnall was a modern corruption of Bagnall.

 The Importance Of Locative Surnames 

According to some authorities the rules of Norman primogeniture gave particular importance to locative surnames and forms the foundation for most such names in Britain. The author claims that it was very uncommon for other family member to also use that same surname during the lifetime of the father. 

On the father's death the eldest son would inherit all, including the right to the surname both in England and Normandy or Brittany. The younger sons usually adopted the locative surnames of their own new domains which can make it difficult to trace relationships between father and younger sons.  On the eldest son's death, the rights went to his sons or in the absence of progeny to the next youngest son of the father. The son inheriting these rights would then change his surname from the one which he had previously been using to that of his father. Locative surnames were as important, legally, as the knight's seal, and became his domain name. They were proof of his entitlement to his holding, his new domain. Most younger sons would never get to use the family surname. The prefix “Fitz “ was believed to be a sign of bastardy but a more plausible explanation might be that it was given to a younger son who did not hold a domain. and could not, therefore, use his father's surname until after the father's death, if then. Later this son might marry a woman who was a heiress and take the name of her domain or might acquire a domain of his own by deed of gift, purchase or other means which would or could be the source of a new surname. Hence, Fitz may for many have been a temporary surname.


The Meaning of Bednall, Badnall, Beadnell Names

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place Names (Ekwall 4th Edition) gives the following information concerning the meaning of the name and its early known forms: 

Badenhall Staffordshire ; Bada's Halh - Bada's nook or remote place or valley .Early forms-Badehal - in the Doomsday Book circa 1185, and Badenhale-Book of Fees 1242;


Bednall Staffordshire; Beda's Halh-  Definition as for Badenhall.  Early forms -Bedehala in the Doomsday Book 1185, Bedenhale in  the Subsidy Rolls of 1327;


Beadnell Northumberland; Beda's Halh-     Beda's flat (alluvial) land by the side of a river.  Early forms-  Bedehal in the Pipe Rolls of 1161, Bedenhale in the Pipe Rolls of 1177;


In the Place Names of Northumberland and Durham (Cambridge Archaeological and Ethnological Series-Allen/Mower 1920) Beadnell's early forms are given as:-  Bedehall (1160), Bedenhala (1176), Bedenhall (1251) and Beednal in 1273. The derivation is given as "Bedwine's healh-KCY Phonology" and the author continues- "at first sight one would take this to be identical with Bednall in Staffordshire or Beadanhalan (B.C.S.936) with the first element being generally significant of the Old English Beada or Beda but it is impossible to believe that the suffix -an- could thus have survived in Northumbria@. N.B. B.C.S, signifies Birch, Cartulorium Saxonicum. 

A further place name from which the Bednall/Badnall personal name may have been derived is that of Battenhall in the parish of St.Peters without Worcester, in the Oswaldslow Hundred of Worcestershire.  The "Place Names of Worcestershire" -English Place Name Society- gives the following meaning and early forms of the name: 

Battenhall Worcestershire;   ..."Bata's nook v healh. The personal name Bata is only recorded as a nickname in Old English and in Batcombe....  Early forms of the name are:

                Batenhale in a lease circa A.D.969, B.C.S.1240; see also Feet of Fines A.D.1304 and PRO Patent Rolls 1335;


Oldebatenhale-Index to Charters & Rolls in the British Museum, B.D.1365;


Battenhull-PRO Letters & Papers   1542;


Batenhall -PRO Letters & Papers    1545;


Batnold Wills                      1557.


The Bednall/Badnall/Beadnell etc names seem therefore to have their origins in place names derived from Old English personal names  - Bada, Beda or Bata-  associated with a topographical feature - a sheltered or secret place, corner of a field or, in Northumbria, a flat or alluvial piece of land within the loop or a bend in a river.




The Bednall Name and its Variants

Names have changed considerably over the centuries and even today the name is frequently misheard, misread and mistyped leading to such mis-spellings as: Bednall; Badnall; Bendall; Bedwall; Beilnall; Be-nall; Bedhall; Beghall; Brednall; Bednal; Bedwell and Bodnall, Of these mis-spellings the most common were found to be Bedhall; Bedwall; Bendall and Begnall and it is evident that over the years the names of some members of Bednall/Beadnell, etc. families would have been inadvertently changed as a result of misunderstanding, mishearing, mispronunciation on the part of the officials of the church and state with whom they had to deal. Thus telephone directories may contain many Bednall/Beadnells, etc. concealed behind Begnall; Bedwell; Bendall and Bagnall names not to mention those for whom the parson's or clerk's tardiness, coupled with his poor memory, caused a name to be entered in the parish registers as Beedlam or Beedland rather than as Beadnall.


Such errors were most likely to occur when a individual (particularly one who was poor and illiterate ) migrated to another part of the country where the name was unfamiliar and the dialect different. In the many centuries when the level of adult literacy was low, an individual unable to read or to spell his or her own name would be unable to correct a clerk or priest (even if he had the opportunity) who incorrectly wrote Bagnole, for Badnall or Beadlam for Beadnall. In any case, before the advent of a generally accepted dictionary and the subsequent greater standardisation of the language, English spelling was very flexible. In some dialects (Staffordshire for example) vowels such as a) and (e) were interchangeable.


Early Forms

Many examples can be given of the way in which personal names changed or varied. In 1284 William de Badenhale held 1/10 of a Knight's Fee at Badenhale in Staffordshire of the Bishop of Chester but his name was also spelt as Badinghale in other documents of this period (Feudal Aids 1284 to l381). His son or grandson's name was entered as John de Badenhal in the Subsidy Roll of 1333. Ninety years later, in 1422, a John Baddenale of Coldemesse near Badenhall is sued by Thomas Swynerton (Plea Rolls, De Banco 8 Henry V) and the following year John's death is entered in the Court Roll of the Bishop of Chester's manor of Eccleshall.


In the 17th century extract from the court rolls John's surname is spelt Badnall. This suggests that the modernisation of the surname dates from the late 15th and the early l6th centuries a supposition which finds some support in Final Concords of Elizabeth's reign where the name of Bednall village in Penkridge, Staffordshire is sometimes given as Bedenhall and at others as Bednall otherwise Bedenhall. Generally surnames became fixed in the 14th century and early 15 century although some were fixed at much earlier dates. However, greater changes could occur as in the case of the Staffordshire Bednalls when one member of a family, probably a younger son, left home to seek a fortune in a neighbouring large town such as Leicester or Coventry. He would have been known by his “de Bedenhale“ surname while he lived in Leicester but as  “de Leicester” when he returned to his home town or village. Individuals might also change their names following marriage to a heiress whose was inheritance was substantial. One good example of this concerns Nicholas de Overton or Orton, one time Verderer or chief magistrate of Cannock, who became known as Nicholas de Bedenhale following his marriage to Agnes, Lady of the Manor of Bednall, sometime before 1258 (Pleas of the Forest of Kinver and Cannock, PRO 32/187). Such changes became rarer as the 14th century progressed. 

 Changes in the 17th  -19th  centuries

The above section has outlined some of the name changes which occurred in the period from the 13th to the 16th centuries but it would be wrong to assume that changes did not take place after this, they could and did.

One example of the changes that could occur in the 17th and 18th centuries is that which affected the descendants of William Badnall of Hanbury, Staffordshire. In the late 17th century William and his two sons, William and Christopher, moved from Hanbury to live in or near Spath and Stramshall, Uttoxeter, Staffordshire. They were all literate and wrote their surnames quite clearly as Badnall. When children were baptised or buried, however, their names were generally entered in the registers of the parish church of Uttoxeter as Bednall and only occasionally as Badnall or Badnal. Even the officials who filled in the marriage bond which William Badnall (II) of Hanbury entered into prior to his marriage to Sarah Stubbings at Uttoxeter in 1705 got it wrong as the bond clearly shows. William senior's (I) grandson (another William III) may or may not have been literate but in the period when his wife was bearing children i.e. 1733 to 1749 approximately, his name was entered in the parish registers as either Bednall or Bednal. When his wife died in 1780 her name was entered in the burial register as - Beadnell - and the same mis-spelling was used when William's own death was recorded in 1796. This mistake may have been influenced by the fact that one of Uttoxeter’s leading inhabitants in the 1760s-1770s was Christopher Beadnell, a Yorkshireman whose ancestors came from Northumbria.

The gravestone of William III shows that at least the second mis-spelling was avoided by the mason who, no doubt guided by William’s daughter Sarah Blood, carved the name William Bednall. The names of William (III)’s grandchildren were entered in the parish register of Hanbury, Staffordshire either as Bednal or Bednall. The former spelling was applied to his grandson John when he married in 1793 and later on when the births of John’s children were recorded in the Hanbury register of baptisms. This single final L variant of the Bednall name was carried to Manchester in 1824 by John's son ( a successful shoemaker) and is still evident in the Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Stockport area today. This example quite clearly shows how over a period of 120 years the name of one branch of the Badnall family became by turns Bednall, Beadnall and Bednal.

A.W.Bednall, Macclesfield 1986-2008