This is surely one of the most famous surnames in British history, although relatively uncommon. It originates from the pre 7th century Norse-Viking word "vakr" meaning watchful, and as a surname it was probably applied to the "keeper of the watch", an important post in medieval times, and possibly equivalent to todays Chief Constable. In addition the surname has always had some considerable weight because of its historical association with Hereward, the Wake, an English nobleman who held the Isle of Ely in East Anglia against the forces of William, the Conqueror. He was finally defeated in 1071, after resistance lasting some five years, and although legend has it that he escaped into Lincolnshire and remained there untul his death, this is not proven. Hereward became known as "The Wake" for his ability to stay awake and to keep one step ahead of the army of William, but this was not of course his surname. Such things did not exist for a further century with probably the first recording being that of Hugo Wach, coincidentally in Lincolnshire, in the year 1167, whilst William le Wacce was a Knight Templar or Crusader, recorded in Yorkshire in 1188, and Henry le Wake being recorded in Cambridge in 1298. The plural as Wakes is a patronymic meaning 'son of Wake'.
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