Surnames became widely established in England in the fourteenth century. What was the context in which the Hodgson surname evolved? How was it formed? To answer these questions we have to examine both the possibly etymologies of the name and the likely locations in which the Hodgson surname originated. This webpage shows that the Hodgson surname originated in areas where Norse Vikings invaded in the tenth century and argues that the name is of Norse origin. (To access a debate on this thesis, click HERE.)
From the ninth century to the eleventh century, Britain was harried by Viking raiders and invaders. Among these Vikings, the Norse came from Norway and the Danes from Denmark. They differed slightly in terms of their language and culture. The Danes invaded Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, whereas the Norse settled in Ireland and northwest Scotland, before arriving on the northwest coast of England in the tenth century.
A number of Victorian authorities noted the possibility that the Hodgson surname could be derived from the Norse personal names Oddi, Oddr or Oddgeir, associated with Norse Viking invaders of Northern England (Barber 1903, Bardsley 1901, Ferguson 1858).
However, the Norse origins of the Hodgson surname were later disregarded, in favour of the view that it is derived from ‘son of Roger’ (Reaney 1958), possibly through the related nickname or diminutive ‘Hodge’. Roger is a Norman French name and this explanation would imply that the Hodgson surname derived directly or indirectly from names introduced by the Norman invaders of England in 1066. Others have suggested that the Hodgson surname may derive from Hrodgar - which is the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of Roger - and it thus originates from descendants of the Anglo-Saxon invaders of the fifth and sixth centuries.
Percentages of Marriages to a Hodgson Male in Northern England, 1539-1700
(Map reproduced from G. M. Hodgson, Hodgson Saga, Martlet Books, 2005, 2008.)
The main problem with proposals that the Hodgson surname has Norman or Anglo-Saxon origins is that the patterns of settlement of these groups do not correspond with the actual distribution of Hodgson surnames in pre-industrial times, nor even as they are still distributed today.
For maps showing the distribution of the Hodgson surname in 1881 and 1998 click HERE.
The Normans arrived in the South of England in 1066, and settled there in relatively greater numbers. The Anglo-Saxons came from across the North Sea, and populated Eastern and Southern regions of Britain more than others. In Northern England, the Anglo-Saxons were more numerous on the east side of the Pennines, where the core of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria was located.
For maps and information on the evolution of Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Viking and Norman kingdoms in Britain click HERE.
In terms of percentages of the population, the Hodgson surname is most common in Cumbria, in the Northwest of England, which was colonised by Norse Viking invaders in the tenth century. These Vikings came originally from Norway. They had previously settled in Ireland but were temporally ejected by Irish tribes in 902 (Baldwin and Whyte 1985, Wainwright, 1975, pp. 131-61). For a discussion of how many Viking invaders there were
Patterns of Norse and Danish Settlement in Northern England in the Eleventh Century
(Data derived from place-names. Map reproduced from G. M. Hodgson, Hodgson Saga, Martlet Books, 2005, 2008.
Historical atlases confirm a similar pattern of Norse and Danish settlement.)
There is a close correlation between the population density of the Hodgson surname and the pattern of Norse settlement in the eleventh century (Hodgson, 1993). Furthermore, recent DNA evidence confirms a relatively high percentage of Norse blood among male Hodgsons (Hodgson, 2005, 2008). This percentage of Norse blood among male Hodgsons is as high as in the Shetland and Orkney Islands, where the Norse are known to have settled in large numbers.
The evidence clearly suggests that the Hodgson surname has Norse roots. It is thus likely to derive from Oddgeir-son or Hrodgeir-son. Oddgeir as a first name is still in use in Norway today. For information on its meaning and pronunciation click HERE.
The Scandinavians used occasional and temporary filial names many centuries before the establishment of permanent surnames along the male line. Hence, from the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries, names deriving from Oddgeir, Oddr or Oddi, such as Oddgeirson, Oddgson, Oddson or Odesun, were found among the Norse cultural remnants in the North of England. Names such as Oddgson became locally familiar as second names, and as early as the tenth century.
A possibility I overlooked earlier is that Hodgson derives from the Norse name Hrodgeir, which is related to the name of the Old English king Hrodgar in the ancient tale of Beowulf. Here the leading ‘H’ in Hodgson is acquired directly from the Norse. But as far as I am aware there is no indication by etymologists of a possible derivation of Hodgson from Hrodgeirson. It is nevertheless an attractive alternative hypothesis.
When surname transmission began in the fourteenth century, surviving second names such as Oddgeirson, Oddgson,
Hodgeson or Hodgson would be passed more systematically from father to son in the modern manner, as family names. Subsequently the fixed surname would be passed on through the male line to all succeeding generations. Eventually Oddson, Oddgeirson or Hodgeirson would have become transformed to Hodgson.
In areas such a Cumbria and Lonsdale, the Norse language survived for centuries after the Norse invasions (Bugge 1921). Forenames such as Oddgeir would have been much more common than Roger or Hodge. Most Hodgson families originate from Norse area. While we cannot rule out the possibility that some Hodgson surnames derive from Hodge, the majority derive from Oddgeir, Oddr, Oddi or Hrodgeir.
From how many Vikings are modern Hodgsons descended? For a discussion with estimates click HERE. For further detailed information and supporting evidence see G. M. Hodgson (2005, 2008) Hodgson Saga, published by Martlet Books.
Baldwin, John R. and Whyte, Ian D. (eds) (1985) The Scandinavians in Cumbria (Edinburgh: The Scottish Society for Northern Studies).
Barber, Henry (1903) British Family Names: Their Origin and Meaning, second edition (London: Elliot Stock).
Bardsley, Charles W. (1901) A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames (London: Henry Frowde).
Bugge, Alexander (1921) ‘The Norse Settlements in the British Islands’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 4th Series, Vol. 4, pp. 173-210.
Falkus, Malcolm and Gillingham, John (eds) (1981) Historical Atlas of Britain (London: Grisewood and Dempsey).
Ferguson, Robert (1858) English Surnames and their Place in the Teutonic Family (London: George Routledge).
Hodgson, Geoffrey M. (1993) The Hodgson Surname: Its Norse Origin and Cumbrian Location (Standon, Hertfordshire: Martlet Books).
Hodgson, Geoffrey M. (2005, 2008) Hodgson Saga (Standon, Hertfordshire: Martlet Books).
Moore, R. L. (ed.) (1981) The Hamlyn Historical Atlas (London: Hamlyn).
Reaney, P. H. (1958) A Dictionary of English Surnames, first edition (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul).
Treharne, R. F. and Fullard, Harold (eds) (1963) Muir’s Historical Atlas: Ancient and Classical, sixth edition (London: George Philip).
Wainwright, F. T. (1975) Scandinavian England: Collected Papers, ed. H. P. R. Finberg (Chichester: Phillimore).