The village of NEWTON FLOTMAN and the surname FLATMAN

What I am discussing here is a Viking place-name and a (possibly related) Viking personal name. The mixture of Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon place-names forms a complex but fascinating subject in East Anglia, particularly in Norfolk. Grimston gives in name to a hybrid type of place-name where Norse (Grim) and Anglo-Saxon elements (ton) appear in the same word. Grimsby in Yorkshire is by contrast a wholly Norse word in origin. In Norfolk the picture is more mixed. I have already mentioned the name of Kirby Bedon (see my post of November 23 2011) where the English establishment of a church  nonetheless is described by  Norse elements Kirk, a church,  and  -by, a settlement.

Newton Flotman is the name of a village on the banks of the river Tas where it crosses the main Ipswich to Norwich road. I am sure it can be dated to the ninth century when the Danes took over the whole of East Anglia and settled large parts of it. I am referring to the second part of the name, Flotman. Flotman is composed of two Scandinavian words, flott meaning afloat and man a man in modern usage. In Old Norse the words were the same. Flottman occurs as a personal name after the Norman Conquest when it is described as an Old English name meaning “Viking”.  Although it is an English word by 1066 it obviously began as a Norse word. Newton is Anglo-Saxon and unexceptional, meaning simply a new settlement. Unfortunately in the Domesday Book the village is simply referred to as Niwetuna (Newton), which has led to the assumption that the Flotman part of the name came later, although obviously influenced by a Viking presence in the area.

My contention is that the village was already known as  Flotman from the arrival of the Danes but that the second part of the name was omitted by the compiler of the Domesday Book. Newton Flotman is another example of a Grimston hybrid place- name.

To learn why I believe that the village has been called Flotman from the the arrival of the Viking settlers in the late 9th century we must look beyond East Anglia. There is another similar place-name in North Yorkshire – Flotmanby. In that case it plainly a Norse name, with the ending –by, meaning settlement in Danish. It is in a part of the world where many Norse names exist, and where the settlers had also arrived by 900 AD. Even more relevant there is a Flottemanville in Normandy which is equally full of Norse names dating from the ninth century when they too settled there. There is no reason why Flotteman should occur in France if it is an English name, but every reason why it should occur in Normandy if it is a Norse name.

Distibution of the FLATMAN surname in the census of 1881 (blue most).

If Flotman was also a personal name in England (although originally Danish) a thousand years ago what happened to it? Perhaps it just died out; or perhaps in changed with the vowel shift to Flatman, and there are plenty of Flatmans in East Anglia. The accompanying map shows the distribution of the surname in the 1881 census. It is an almost exclusively East Anglian name centred on Suffolk with one isolated area in Somerset. Later censuses show a more mixed distribution of the name reflecting the greater social and geographical mobility of the railway age.

What evidence is there that Flatman was originally Flotman? There is the identical change of vowel in the island of Flat Holm (by chance not far from the Somerset outpost of Flatmans). This was originally Flot Holm, a Norse word meaning Sea Island. I maintain that Flatman does not come from an English word meaning a dweller on flat lands (as suggested by some experts), but from the Danish word Flotman, meaning a Viking. Suffolk, where the name is still widespread, is not particularly flat, but has a Viking past. There is only one letter between the two names, and this would explain why the personal name Flotman of a thousand years ago died out, to be replaced by Flatman.




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