C. M. Matthews (1966)
A fairly common name that has puzzled many writers and is almost certainly a nickname is Barratt or Barrett. It has over 500 examples in the London directory and can be found frequently in medieval documents. The earliest example on record is that of Gamel Baret (or Bared), a Yorkshire landowner in the Domesday Book. Gamel is a Norse word meaning old which was often used as a personal name (surviving as Gammell, Gamble or Gamlin), and if this man's nickname was also Scandinavian it may have come from the Norse barthr meaning beard. However there is little sign of this word recurring in this two-syllable form, either as a common noun or name. Some other origin must be responsible for the crop of Barats (often spelt Barate) that appears in several southern counties in the twelfth century. The only word that can account for them is the Old French barat which signified cunning, trickery and fraud, and is now obsolete except in the legal term "Barratry". This is a curious meaning for so common a name; however, there are grounds for believing that its earlier significance was of a better nature, in fact something like business efficiency, but a deceitful note crept into it, causing it to fall into disfavour and become obsolete, though not before it had given rise to many nicknames.
The great majority of Barratts or Barretts belong to this type of meaning. Some few may go back to the bearded Viking from Yorkshire, some very few may be descended from the Norman Christian named Beraud (there is no real evidence of this), but most were examples of this colloquial word for a sharp dealer, which came into fashion just at the right time to make surnames and then it disappeared again from use.
In a letter from Mrs. Matthews she writes; As to the nickname Barat or Barate which appears quite often in England in the 12th century and which I still believe is the principal origin of this name, it seems to have been one of those vogue words, popular for a short time and then forgotten. Its period of being "in" just happened to coincide with the most fortunate period of surnames, among the better class. This was a French word and so the name would be found first among Normans whether they went to Ireland or stayed in England. The same goes for the Christian names Beraud or Berard.
In England, of course, they became completely anglicised and the name was spelt in many ways in the middle ages.
As to "alias" you must think of the period when surnames were being formed and used, but not yet completely fixed. Up to, say, 1400 many people would be called sometimes by one name and sometimes by another. Names have never been regulated by law. By about 1500 the custom of everyone having one surname only and keeping it was generally established, but for a long time there were exceptions. When a man bought land or had his name on a legal deed the lawyer would be sure to put down any alternative name that he might possibly be known by somewhere.
Barrett Beginnings #2
A Newsletter Edited by Dan E. Barrett
Halsted's History of Kent states that the ancestor of the Barrett family is recorded in the Battle Abby Roll as one of those who came over with William, the Conqueror. There is evidence, however, of even greater antiquity; one etymologist says that the name is a person one of Teutonic origin. In the course of history the name has had veried spellings, such as: Barret, Barrit, Barritt, Barratt, Barrot, Barrett and Barretti ... the last of which is the Italian form of the name.
Records of the 12th Century list Barretts in England in Suffolk, Bedford, Cambridge and Norfolk Counties. They are in Ireland in the Counties of Limerick, Cork and Dublin. There are several branches of the Barrett family in England ... all apparently are related to the Belhouse line. The ancestor of this line is the one who is said to have come over with William the Conqueror. The immediate founder of this line was John Barrett of Hawkherst, Kent.
During the reign of Henry IV he married Alice Belhouse who inherited her father's seat, Belhouse (now Belhus) as well as extensive manors in Essex in the Parish of Avely. Their descendants continued to live there for many generations; some of those in the male line uniting with great houses as that of Somerset (Earls of Worcester) and that of Tufnell and Belham (Lords of Chicester).
This line became extinct with Sir Edward Barrett, Lord Newburgh, a representative Chancellor of the Dutchy of Lancaster, who died in 1644 without issue. He bequeathed the manor and estate of Belhous to Richard Lennard, son of Lord Dacre, upon condition that he use the name and arms of Barrett, whereupon Richard Lennard took the arms of the ancient house which are described thus: "Party per pale, barry of four, counterchanged, argent and gules." He also assumed the name of Barrett-Lennard which family is still in existence.
It is recorded that Thomas Barrett lived in Cambridge, Warwickshire, England during the early part of the 17th Century. He was the immediate progenitor of those younger branches of the family which were seated in Kent and Staffordshire. There is also mention of a John Barrett in old records of Blythborough, Suffolk from the reign of Henry VI to that of Henry VIII.
The forebear (in the Barrett family) of Elizabeth Browning was one Hearcey Barrett who was related to the Belhous line. He went as an officer in the conquering army of Admirals Penn and Venables (sent by Cromwell) to Jamaica, West Indies. When the troops disbanded in 1660 he settled in Withywood, now known as Vere, Jamaica where he became one of the most successful planters on the island. Several generations later, his descendants moved back to England.
Notable in Great Britain, the Barretts were among the first settlers in America. The first to arrive, according to extant records, was Margaret Huntington (nee Barrett), a descendant of the John Barrett above. She settled in Roxbury, Mass. with her children in 1633, her husband having died on the voyage from England. Thomas Barrett emigrated sometime between 1633-1640, settling in Braintree, Mass. where he resided with his wife, Mary, and their children until 1663 when they purchased land in Chelmsford, Mass.
It is believed that they had five children, but there are only three names registered: John, Joseph and Thomas Jr.. There were two girls: Mary who married Sidrath Thayer and Margaret who married Joseph Parker, who are thought, by many family historians to be daugthers of Thomas, the immigrant. Among other settlers in Massachusetts were: Humphrey Barrett who came in 1639 and settled in Concord; James Barrett who resided in Charleston and John Barrett who settled in Marlboro.
There is a throry, not proved, that all these Barretts were related. There was a group of three brothers and a sister: William, John, Thomas and Lydia who came from Norwich, England. Lydia married Bartholomew Cheever.
Barrett Beginnings #6 -- Did Barretts arrive in England with William the Conqueror?
A Newsletter Edited by Dan E. Barrett
The day after the Battel (the Battle of Hastings, 1066) very early in the morning, Odo, Bishop of Baieus, sung Masse for those who were departed. The Duke, after that was desirous to know the estate of his battel, what people he had therein lost and who were slain. He caused to come unto him a clerk, that had written their names when they embarked at S. Valeries, and commanded him to call them all by their names, who called them who had been at battell, and passed the seas with Duke William.
Those who fought under the ducal banners of Hastings took every possible means to have their names included on the lists so as to be well thought of and remembered by future generations. The names were written on the role and hung in the Abbey of Battel. After the Battle of Hastings, Duke William ordered that an Abbey be built on the battle site. The afore mentioned muster roll was lodged in the Abbey and became known as "The Role of Battle Abbey".
Several people made copies of the roll some of which for some reasons or other added names to it. Holinshed in his copy included the name "Barrett". The preference as to which copy of the roll should be considered authentic should be that of John Leland as he saw and transcribed the original. Leland's copy included the name "Baret". In his chapter concerning families which entered England from foreigh countries the author writes: "The greatest import of French names and families since the conquest, was at the revocation of the Edict of Nantes; hence date Ducarels, Bernonvilles, Chamiers, Palairets, Guardots, Laprimaudayes, Tessiers, Barrats, Romagnes and many others.