This rare surname is of medieval French or possibly later, Huguenot origins. It derives from the Ancient French 'branche' which literally means a claw or foot, plus the diminutive suffix 'et', a short form of 'petit' - little. Quite why anybody should be described as 'little foot' or 'little claw' is not clear, and etymologists in both Britain and France have tried (unsuccessfully) to provide an acceptable explanation. Presumably it is a nickname, since it cannot logically be locational, and it is hardly likely to be occupational, it remains a mystery. The original surname and its variants are recorded widely in France, generally as Branche, Branquet, and Branchard, whilst in Britain the spellings are usually Branch, Brancher, Branche, and Branchet(t). The earliest English recordings are as 'Braunch' (see below), whilst Branchet seems to be found in Kent from the late 16th century, following the start of Huguenot persecution in France from circa 1525 onwards. Kent, and specifically Canterbury was the first English region to provide a proper centre for these unfortunate people. Other countries may proclaim 'Give us your halt and your lame' but it has usually been Britain that actually does it! The first recording of the name as Branchet(t) would seem to be James Branchet, at Harbledon, Canterbury, on October 27th 1591, whilst on February 17th 1739, Daniel and Elizabeth Branchitt were witnesses's at the church of St Botolphs without Aldergate, London. On November 5th 1801, Susannah Branchett married John Johncock at Broughton upon Blean, Kent. A coat of arms granted in France before 1792 has the blazon of three branches on a gold field, surmounted by a red chief. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Joanna de Braunche, which was dated 1273, in the Hundred Rolls of the county of Somerset, during the reign of King Edward 1, known as 'The hammer of the Scots', 1272 - 1307. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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