This is an extraordinary English surname. Recorded in the spellings of Wife, Wiffe, Whife and Whiff, and the diminutives Whiffen, Whifen, Whyffen, and Whiffin, it is of Olde English pre 7th century origins. Deriving from the ancient word "wif" meaning woman, and the base form of "wife", meaning a married woman, it is far from certain how the word became a surname. The apparently male matching surname is Husband, however the original use this word was as a farmer, one who "husbanded" the land. It would therefore seem that if the same logic applies "wif" originally described a woman who performed the duties of keeping the house, the same description being applied to the later "wife". An alternative suggestion is that the original surname may have been a nickname for a widower, one who had to take over the role of the wife, as the diminutives forms translate as "Little wife" or more logically "son of Wife." The early church registers indicate that the name was prominent in the county of Kent, although why this should be so, is again unclear. Early examples of the surname recordings taken from surviving church registers include: John Wiffe who married Izabel Leedam at Harrow on the Hill, on January 21st 1558. Joan Whiffen, who was christened at Knockholt, Kent, on September 12th 1574, Packington Wife, married ar St Dunstans, Stepney, on January 21st 1600, Mary Whiff, who married William Hewes, at the church of St Mary Abchurch on December 4th 1655, and Richard Whife, who married Elizabeth Hadin at St Botolphs church, Bishopgate, on January 11th 1756, these latter recordings all being in the city of London. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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