Recorded as Rat, Ratt and Ratter, this is a rare and confusing medieval English surname. Its derivation is from the Olde French word 'raton' probably introduced into the British Isles at or just after the famous Norman Conquest of England in 1066. Thereafter for some two hundred years, French was the official language of England, and in diplomatic circles that remained the case until the Napoleonic Wars 1795 - 1815. At this time the British gave up their claim to the throne of France which they had held for four hundred years, apparently so that they could thereafter insist on only speaking English! This surname at first glance would seem to be occupational for a rat catcher, as in the recording of Margeria le Ratonner in the Subsidy Tax rolls of the county of Suffolk in 1327. However as tax was paid only by the wealthy, either Margeria was a supremely successul rat catcher or more likely it was a nickname for a lady with highly developed merchanting skills! Seven hundred years later it is not easy to tell. Even earlier, in the rolls known as the Testa de Neville for the year 1272, we have the recording of Jordan le Rat, which was obviously a nickname. According to the famous Victorian etymologist Canon Charles Bardsley writing in the year 1880, in medieval times to call somebody a rat was not regarded as uncomplimentary, the rat being praised for its stealth and cunning. It seems surprising then that they bothered with rat catchers!
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