TikToker Explains How Black Death Made Surnames Commonplace

by : Niamh Shackleton on : 15 May 2021 17:25
TikToker Explains How Black Death Made Surnames Commonplace jdraperlondon/TikTok/PA

A TikToker has explained how people in England came to get their surnames, and it’s all down to the Black Death.

According to J. Draper, known as @jdraperlondon on TikTok, surnames weren’t really a thing before 1400 and only rich people had them to show off who they descended from.


Draper further explained that peasants in those days didn’t technically need a surname as they were likely to live in the same village their whole life.

But what if someone had the same name, I hear you ask? She explained, ‘If there are two people named John in your village, you can just say, “John, Ilbert’s son” or “That’s John from Wescott” – he doesn’t need to pass that down to his son.’

Black Death tiktoker jdraperlondon jdraperlondon/TikTok

However, after the Black Death claimed thousands of lives, there weren’t enough people to work the land anymore meaning the harvest was vulnerable to rotting.


With this in mind, landowners apparently took matters into their own hands and started scouting people from other places to come work for them and would offer them good money to leave their hometowns.

Draper continued:

People started moving around more for work and now it’s much more common that you’re going to need to distinguish yourself from other people with the same name. Hence, by 1400, pretty much everyone in England has a surname.

Watch the video here:


Shared by Draper just five days ago, the video has already generated almost 290,000 likes, along with hundreds of comments largely made up of people commenting their own fun facts on surnames.

One person wrote, ‘During the Ottoman Empire, we didn’t have surnames until its collapse in 1918. It’s been difficult trying to find ancestors for that reason.’


Meanwhile another person said, ‘In Scotland we have Mc or Mac, which means son of. So McNeil is actually son of Neil’.

I guess you learn something new every day.

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Niamh Shackleton

Niamh Shackleton is a pint sized person and journalist at UNILAD. After studying Multimedia Journalism at the University of Salford, she did a year at Caters News Agency as a features writer in Birmingham before deciding that Manchester is (arguably) one of the best places in the world, and therefore moved back up north. She's also UNILAD's unofficial crazy animal lady.

Topics: Viral, history, TikTok