This very interesting medieval surname has a confused origin. Like the personal name and subsequent surname Jacob, it has its origins in the Hebrew given name "Yaakov". This was Latinized first as "Jacobus", and then in the period known as "The Dark Ages" upto the 11th century a.d., as "Jacomus". The actual meaning of the name is also a matter for some dispute. Traditionally the name is interpreted as coming from the word "akev", meaning a heel, but has also been interpreted as "he who supplanted". Both of these meanings are influenced by the biblical story of Esau and his younger twin brother Jacob. Jacob is said to have been born holding on to Esau's heel, and took advantage of Esau's hunger to persuade him to part with his birthright "for a mess of pottage". For a name with such indistinct origins, it has proved to be a great success story, there being over seventy different spellings of the surname. This range from James, Jayume, and Jamie, to Giacomo, Cominetto, Motto, and Gimson! The personal name was widely used throughout Europe from the earliest times, whilst the hereditary surname is one of the first ever recorded anywhere in the world. The first recordings are to be found in England, because England was the first country to adopt both surnames and registers. Examples from early charters include Christiana Jemes of Cambridge, in the Hundred Rolls of the year 1279, and whilst one of the first settlers in the new colony of Virginia, was Lewis James, who left London, England, on August 21st 1635. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Walter James, which was dated 1187, in the Pipe Rolls of the county of Gloucestershire. This was during the reign of King Henry 11, known as "The church builder" 1154 - 1189.

Surnames reference. 2013.

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