William, Robert, Henry, Alice. All good, solid English names.

Actually, the names have their origins in the Norman invasion of England. The Battle of 1066 and William the Conqueror will be familiar, but not many realise the impact of the invasion on the English language – names introduced over 1,000 years ago are still popular today.

As these French-speaking, wine-drinking, castle-building conquerors swiftly took over England and intermarried with Anglo-Saxon women, it was not just newborns named in their honour.

“The ruling elite set the fashion and soon William was the most common male name in England, even among peasants. A lot of people changed their names because they wanted to pass in polite society – they didn’t want to be mistaken for a peasant, marked out with an Anglo-Saxon name.”

Look at baby name league tables today, and the Old English name of Harold languishes far below the French-derived Henry in popularity. William, meanwhile, was the second most popular name for boys 200 years ago, the most popular 100 years ago and has held its place in the top 10 in England and Wales since 2000. (Source: BBC News)

The use of surnames also has origins in the invasion:

It soon became necessary to distinguish between all these Williams and Roberts, and so the Norman tradition of surnames was adopted. As well as family names derived from one’s occupation, surnames with the prefix Fitz date from Norman times.

“Fitz comes from the French ‘fils’, meaning ‘son of’. So Fitzsimmons once meant ‘son of Simon’ and Fitzgerald ‘son of Gerald,” says Prof Bartlett, whose own first name Robert is solidly Norman in origin.

What are the origins of your name?