This famous surname has a very unusual origin. It is medieval English and was originally recorded almost entirely in Cheshire, Lancashire, and Yorkshire. It is almost certainly a descriptive nickname, although the translation is open to argument. We know from experience that surnames which contain the element 'bon' in their earliest recordings (see below), invariably refer to a persons legs, be they long, short, fat, thin, etc. In fact some ten percent of all English surnames have a personal nickname origin, and many are extremely Chaucerian, i.e. blunt and crude! In pre 7th century Olde English 'rhath' can mean short or stubby, and therefore it is possible that this surname refers to one with short legs. The early Victorian etymologists when faced with surnames which had a meaning that might cause offence, (although they don't seem to have caused offence to the original name holders), would fudge the issue or ignore the name altogether, hopefully we have moved on a little. What is certain is that this name is one of the earliest on record, examples being found regularly from the 13th century, whilst in the 18th century the family were famous shipowners in Liverpool. The Coat of Arms most associated with the surname has a blazon which includes an ermine field charged with a fesse between two red roses in chief and a Roman fasces (a log) in base, and the crest of a Lions head. Examples of the surname recording from the earliest times include Robert Rathebune of Cheshire in 1297, Richard Rathebun in the Subsidy Rolls of Yorkshire for 1327, and Peter Rathbone of Brereton, Cheshire, who died there in 1592. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Richard Rathebune, which was dated 1275, in the pipe rolls of the County of Worcester, 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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