Found in a number of different spellings including Spieght, Spight, Spaight, and Speight, this unusual surname was originally recorded only in Yorkshire. Its origins lie with the Olde English and Saxon word 'Speoht' which describes a 'Wood Pecker' and it is one of a medieval group of surnames which derive from nicknames associated with creatures. These nicknames were given to people whose personal characteristics were believed to match the specific animal or bird or even fish in question. Examples include Hawk, Eagle and Sparrow. Sometimes the surnames were also job descriptive, many people called Hawk or Hawker actually trained these birds, although quite what 'Wood Pecker' meant is uncertain. What is certain is that if the name had been uncomplimentary, it would (like for instance Snail), have disappeared, and in anycase there is a Coat of Arms granted of an extremely warlike style. This has a silver field, a black fess charged with three pheons, and the crest of a hand holding a gold pheon. The pheon is the heraldic version of a spear head, and it is believed to imply power and speed of action. Examples of the recordings include John Speht (also spelt Speght) of Wakefield in 1313, and Elizabeth Spight of Dewsbury in 1540. Johis Speghte appears in Kirkburton, near Huddersfield in 1548, and for many years this village was an epi-centre of the original spelling form. A further example is that of Elizabeth Speight, who married James Burnett at Doncaster on September 29th 1596, in the reign of the first Elizabeth. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of William Speyt, which was dated 1297, The accounts of the Duchy of Cornwall in Yorkshire, 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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