The Furminger Name


What does the name Furminger mean ? Probably the most common question asked of any surname and often impossible to answer. Furminger is not an obvious profession name like Smith or Cooper and there does not seem to be any old English words similar. I am often asked if its French or German but always reply, no its English......but to be honest I do not really know.

During my research of Furminger's I can definately say that there were Furminger's in England from the late 16th Centurary (circa 1560) beyond this its all speculation, but maybe one day I will find an answer.

There have been many corruptions in the spelling of the name over the years and it is difficult to say what is or was the correct spelling. If the following information about the Furmager name is correct, then how this name became corrupted to Furminger is still to be discovered.

Some examples of the spellings are:

Furminger Furmager Firmager
Firminger Furmage Firmager
Firmagier Furmedge Furmidge
Firmage Ferminger Furmenger
Firmanger Fermanger Firmenger

Earliest recorded variants of the name:-

Henry le Furmagier (Pipe Rolls, Kent 1198 )

William le Furmager (Assize Rolls, Yorkshire 1219)

The origins of the name are yet to be discovered but the most commonly accepted explanation is that it is derived from the old English word 'furmager' OF fro-, formagier 'cheesemonger' (used as fromage by the French).

The results of my latest research confirm my suspicions about this "accepted" theory being probably incorrect.

I always had trouble accepting the Cheesemonger theory, mainly because the spread of the Furminger name (including its varients) never seemed sufficient to account for the large numbers of Cheesemongers there must have been.

From some text I recently found, which suggest the name is Jewish*, has the following sentence "A "furmager" or "fermager" is a tax "farmer", paying the king a fee for the right to collect the tax in a given area. He kept the taxes for himself with all monies above the original fee being his profit for the venture."

* Rather than being a Jewish word/name it is more likely that it is a (corrupted) Norman/French word used to hide the Jewish origins of the person/family.

It is my understanding that prior to the Norman conquest in 1066, all Jews in England were under sentance of death. England being a catholic country at the time would be following the Papal line with regard to Jews.

Any Jews brave enough to be in England in this era would have gone to any length to keep their origins secret.

William the 1st was allegedly more sympathetic to Jews and post the conquest either lifted the death sentence or took measures to encourage them in to England. But no doubt most Jews would still have been wary and likely changed their names to hide their true identity.

If the "Tax farmer" interpretation is correct it seems likely that William may already have had Jews in his employe and continued this when he became King of England.

A document, No. 372 which belongs to the year 1233 the year of Hilary Blund's first Mayoralty, contains a personal declaration by Deulecresse in which he sells the rent received from William Bozun to Martin Rof, who, in return was to pay him annually a pair of white gloves or the sum of threepence. For this transaction Martin gave Deulecresse the sum of £2, which the Jewish bailiff handed over to Joseph of Bristol, *9i.e. who, as representative of king Henry, had come at that time to Exeter with royal letters "to compel the Jews to pay debts owing to our lord, the king".

l0. The principal Christian witness to this deed, mention of whose name fixes the date, is the Mayor, Hilary Blund, was in office in in 1271 after having been previously bailiff for three years and later, Mayor for four subsequent years between 1255 and 1259.

*9i.e. Joseph Furmager, one of the leaders of Bristol Jewry. See my paper on "Pre-Expulsion Bristol." Trans. XII. Trans =Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England. The Jewish Historical Society of England (JHSE) published this book (Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England? Volume XII).

Contact details for JHSE are on web page http://www.jhse.dircon.co.uk/html/contact_us.html