A broad and miscellaneous class of surnames, nickname surnames could refer either directly or indirectly to a characteristic of the original bearer of the name. They can describe the bearer's favored style of clothing, appearance, habits, or character.
Often nicknames described attributes that were traditionally assigned to animals. In the pre-Christian era, many pagan gods and demi-gods were believed to be a mixture of animals and humans, such as the Greek god Pan who was the god of flocks and herds and was represented as a man with the legs, horns and ears of a goat. In the Middle Ages, anthropomorphic ideas, which attributed human qualities and form to gods or animals, were held about the characters of other living creatures. They were based on the creature's habits. Moreover, these associations were reflected in folktales, mythology, and legends which portrayed animals behaving as humans. A modern example of anthropomorphism is the cartoon character Bugs Bunny, who is a rabbit with human characteristics.
Nicknames often described the time or season of the birth, baptism or conversion of the original bearer. In addition, numerous nicknames referred to various religious festivals, medieval name days, or the particular day of the week when feudal services were fulfilled.
Nickname surnames were frequently the result of a spontaneous reaction to a particular occasion or event.
- ^ Swyrich, Archive materials