Quick! What do these celebrities--Will Smith, Elizabeth Taylor, Tina Turner, Monica Potter, and Bradley Cooper--all have in common? Hint: It's something medieval....
Each bears the last name of a medieval/early modern occupation. (Smith and taylor/tailor are self-explanatory, but a turner operated a lathe, a cooper made barrels, and a potter, well, potted).
I was thinking about this--how many early modern guilds are still represented in surnames today--as I was doing research for my second novel, From the Charred Remains (2013).
I had come across the occupation of “cordwainer.” Cordwainer? I knew this was an occupation, like a tinker, or a wainwright (wheelmaker) or a hooper (another name for barrel-maker), but I have to admit, I never thought to look this one up.
The cordwainer crest
Any guesses?..... No?
Well, it turns out a “cordwainer” is a shoemaker.
The term originated in medieval Cordoba in Spain, a region controlled by Muslims who excelled, among other things, in the production of high-quality specially-tanned leather. (See the goats in the guild crest?)
cordwainers at work
The French referred to those who made shoes from this leather as cordonnier, which became “cordwainer” in England (you know, after that little Norman invasion of England in 1066).
According to the website for the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers--yes, the medieval guild still exists today as a charitable group!—the cordwainer must be distinguished from the cobbler. The cordwainer only worked with new leather, while the cobbler could only work with old. (Indeed, cobblers could get in a lot of trouble if they were found with new leather).
mmm...leatherless cobbler pie
And the more important question of all?
What does any of this have to do with blueberry cobbler?
(Only that early American settlers used to make pie from any foodstuffs on hand-- cobbling it together as a cobbler would piece together shoes...Maybe Will Smith likes blueberry cobbler too, I don't know.)
What do you think? Do you know of any surnames--celebrity or otherwise--that have an interesting history?
Historian. Mystery writer. Researcher. Teacher. Occasional blogger.