Copyright © 2013, updated 2019 Jane E. Wilcox, Forget-Me-Not Ancestry, Albany, NY www.4getmenotancestry.com.
In the early 2000s I researched the origins of surnames in England and of the surname Wilcockson in particular to include in a chapter of my book on the origins of Puritan William Wilcockson of Biggin by Hulland, Derbyshire, and his wife Margaret probably Harvie of Ilkeston, Derbyshire who immigrated to New England in 1635. The following is my research for that chapter as prepared in 2013, with DNA evidence added in 2019, debunking the Welsh nobility origins myth that was presented by Thomas Wilcox in his two 20th century genealogies and showing that the surname Wilcockson in England is polygenetic.
Also with the Normans came a huge increase in the number of people giving their children names that the Normans used–names such as Walter, Ralph, Robert, and Hugh. These names were actually of Germanic origin. These Norman names superceded Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-Scandinavian names, such as Ethelbert, Beowolf, Aelfwine, or Eadnoth. A few of these Anglo names–like Edward and Alfred–retained their popularity through the centuries. By the fourteenth century, 64 percent of the recorded male names in England were either Henry, John, Richard, Robert or William—all brought to England with the Normans.
It wasn’t until the twelfth century, about 100 years after the Norman conquest, that second names really took hold—especially in southeastern England; however, the second name by which a person was known was not always consistent. One John could be known alternately as “John, son of Hugh” or “John who lives by the oak” or “John of Derby”. This continued for the next several centuries through the Middle Ages—surnames were constantly changing. And even into the fifteenth century, some people didn’t even use surnames for themselves.
The use of surnames started earlier and advanced more rapidly in the south and east of England; later and slower in the north and west. This pattern of south and east to north and west for surname use was also followed when surnames started to become hereditary—meaning the surname was passed on from one generation to the next. The upper class started this practice first and they were followed by the common folk. People in London in the southeast had hereditary surnames in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The rest of the southeast was gaining them by the fourteenth century and the northwest later on. And yet, even in the sixteenth century there were people who did not have a hereditary surname.
The origins of some surnames can be traced to a single person, and all people with that particular surname descend from that one person. This is called a monogenetic surname. A polygenetic surname is one that has several places of origin. For example, the surname Williams derives from a person’s first name: William. There were many people named William in England, and so one family who took Williams as their surname may have lived in northern England, and another family in southern England may have independently taken Williams as their family name. This means there were two Williams families, and they were not related to each other.
 David Hey, The Oxford Guide to Family History (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1993), 38.Posted on by Jane Wilcox