Recorded in a number of spellings including Wife, Whife, Whiff, and the diminutives Whiffen, Whifen, Whyffen, and Whiffin, this is a very unusual medieval English surname. Deriving from the ancient pre 7th century word "wif" meaning woman, with 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 Whiff who maried Izabell Leedam at Harrow on the Hill, Middlesex, on January 21st 1558, Joan, the daughter of Richard Whiffen, who was christened at Knockholt, Kent, on September 12th 1574, Richard Whyffen christened at Ash by Wrotham, also Kent, on April 9th 1581, and the smartly named Packington Wife who married Elizabeth Parslowe at St Dunstans in the East, Stepney, on September 21st 1600. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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