The following information about the Barber Family of Fressingfield, Suffolk, England is gathered from The Bohun of Fressingfield Cartulary, Edited by Bridget Welss-Furry in the series Suffolk Charters XIX. Bohun kept track of the transfers of various lands (and related families) in Fressingfield, many of them about his own family, but also including other ‘prominent’ families of the area.
I am descended directly from James Barber, born in Fressingfield in 1434. The book gives earlier records, back to the late 1200s. I am certain that these older Barbers are relatives, but as yet I have not been able to link to them with any certainty. There is one interesting record of a Barber (le Barber) who has an alias (le Tanneur) leaving me to wonder: am I a 'barber' or a 'tanner' in terms of the trade or occupation that gave rise to the name. I think 'Barber' still, but you never know . . .
The book gives information and tells what it was like, in part, in the late medieval period in Suffolk, England. Apparently Edmund Bohun was the son of a prosperous yeoman from Fressingfield. He managed to get into places of administration and attending power in London. He was able to acquire lots of land around Fressingfield and elsewhere in Suffolk.
He died without a son and so left his land (and his coat of arms) to nephews. Bohun's cartulary describes the properties which he aquired through the years. It shows what local society was like, and describes the dealings of local farmers and yeomen as they bought and sold land among themselves.
I am fascinated by the fact that my last name, over various years, was spelled in a variety of ways, such as: - Barber, Barbur, Barbour, Barbourgh, Barburgh, le Barber le Barbur, le Barbour, etc.; Bober, Bobir, Bobur, Bobyr.
The names below are each unique, even though a number of 'John Barbers' are given one after another. 'Barber' transactions, or presence as witnsses to land transactions, include the following:
Hugh Barber (witnessed land exchange in Fressingfield).
James Barber (of Fressingfield)
John Barber (land of; land formerly of, messuages formerly of, witness, etc.)
John Barber (land of, of Fressingfield, and Isabel his wife, witness; the elder, witness; etc.),
Another John Barber (the younger; land of; son of Roger; of Fressingfield, witness, etc.)
Still another John Barber, and another John Barber (lands, messuages, formerly of, witness)
Unamed Barber (messuage)
another Richard Barber (of Fressingfield, wheelwright)
Robert Barber (witness, the younger)
Robert Barber (son of Hugh, of Fressingfield; land of, pightle of; of Fressingfield, witness, etc.)
Ropbert Barber (brother of Roger; of Fressingfield; witness)
Robert Barber (land of; witness)
Barber, Roger (brother of Robert; of Fressingfield)
Petr Bobyr (Peter) (land formerly of)
Robert Bobyr, and Agnes his wife; land of; pightle of; uncle of Roger and Robert Barbour; of Fressingfield; of Fressingfield, and Agnes his wife; witness,
Sara Bobyr (messuage of)
The book notes on page 60 the following, in passing: “Among the dozen, Robert Bobyr, his brother-in-law or nephew, Robert Barber . . .(+7 others), came from established Fressingfield families. Bobyr had no children and left his lands to his Barber nephews; . . . “
Did the name die out? Indeed not. My ancestor Robert Barber left for Canada in 1836. There were many Barbers still all over this north east area of Suffolk. A Barber (George) from Fressingfield was the primary founder of the village of Medfield, Massachussetts; he may have named it after the village of the same name just to the NE of Fressingfield, near his Suffolk home.
The book further comments: “Among the well established group, only Barber and Dade had descendents (i.e. in Fressingfield), or at last individuals of the same name, who remained prominent in the village until the latter part of the following century” - (ie. the 1400’s) and much later too.
But here's the quote that makes me wonder if an ancient Barber (Robert the elder) could have chosen as his last name (or others knew him as, and would have chosen for him) - the name Barber - or the name Tanner.
In this regard in a footnote, the author states that “Robert le Tanner had between a frequent witness to charters between c 1290 and 1309, appearing on the last with his son Robert, and in 1299 had granted a piece of land to Thomas Kembald. His son Robert occurs as Robert de Fressingfield and as Robert le Barber the younger, so the elder Robert may also have been known as Robert le Barber, an interesting variety of trades if these names are indicative. A Robert le Barber had witnessed a 1307 charter. The son Robert (Barber) alienated a curtillage next to his croft in 1314 to the rector Philip de Thorpe and by 1317 this croft had passed to Richard Edward. Thorpe obtained quitclaims of the curillage from Alice, widow of Thomas Mannock and John de Metfield, who may have been kinsfolk, but whether Margaret Perleman was the widow of Robert (Tanner / Barber) the father or Robert (Barber) the son, and whether these Roberts were ancestors of the prominent Barber family which appears frequently until the end of the following century, is unknown.)
So, here's Robert le Barber, alias: Robert le Tanner (lands and buildings, formerly of; of Fressingfield; witness; his son Robert; witness; his son and heir, Robert de Fressingfield).
Again, the Robert de Fressingfield just mentioned is the son of Robert le Barber (aka Robert let Tanneur) the elder and he is thus also Robert le Barber the younger. Robert (junior) might have been known as Robert le Tanneur (Tanner) but it seems that was not so, and the 'Tanner' name was not to continue. The name of Barber did.
Names seem somewhat fluid at this time, only gradually become more normalized and permanent. A name could indicate where a person was from (i.e. Robert de Fressingfield), a trade (i.e. barber, barber-surgeon, tanner) or something about them, perhaps a physical characteristic (Little John, Hortop - another name for Miller - also Whitehead, for as a miller one would have had a 'hoary head' - white not with frost but with the dust of grain and mill).
People didn't name themselves; they were named by others, based on something like the above explanations.