This unusual name is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and is a topographical surname for someone who lived in a "ferny hollow". The surname is derived from the Olde English pre 7th Century "fearn", fern, with "hol(h)", hollow, depression in the ground, a word which has a modern counterpart in the Scottish dialect "howe", hollow place, or depression. Topographical surnames were among the earliest to be created, since natural or man-made features in the landscape provided instantly recognisable forms of identification in the small communities of the Middle Ages. It is possible that the name Ferneyhough, or any of its modern variants, may derive from a now "lost" location, thought to have been situated in Staffordshire (near the border with Cheshire), due to the prevalence of Church recordings of the surname in that county. An estimated seven to ten thousand villages and hamlets are known to have disappeared in Britain since circa 1100, due to such natural disasters as the Black Death of 1348, in which an eighth of the population perished, or to the widespread practice of "clearing" large areas of land to make sheep pastures during the height of the wool-trade in the 15th Century. Recordings from Staffordshire Church Registers include the christening of Richard Ferneyhough on March 3rd 1613 at Kingsley. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Adam de Fernyhough, which was dated 1332, in the "Subsidy Rolls of Staffordshire", during the reign of King Edward 111, known as "The Father of the Navy", 1327 - 1377. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.

Surnames reference. 2013.

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