The German surname RANKIN was a nickname for a person with dark hair or a swarthy complexion, originally rendered in the Old German RAM (soot). It was also a shortened form of any of various Slavonic personal names such as RANOSLAV and RANOMIR, with the first element RANO (meaning early). The name is also spelt RAHNCKE, RANTKE, RANKE, RAHNSCH, RANISCH and RANUSCH. Surnames having a derivation from nicknames form the broadest and most miscellaneous class of surnames, encompassing many different types of origin. The most typical classes refer adjectivally to the general physical aspect of the person concerned, or to his character. Many nicknames refer to a man's size or height, while others make reference to a favoured article of clothing or style of dress. Many surnames derived from the names of animals and birds. In the Middle Ages ideas were held about the characters of other living creatures, based on observation, and these associations were reflected and reinforced by large bodies of folk tales featuring animals behaving as humans. The first hereditary surnames on German soil are found in the second half of the 12th century, slightly later than in England and France. However, it was not until the 16th century that they became stabilized. The practice of adopting hereditary surnames began in the southern areas of Germany, and gradually spread northwards during the Middle Ages. A notable member of the name was Leopold von RANKE (1795-1886) the German historian, born in Wiehe in Thuringia. He studied at Halle and Berlin and in 1818 became a schoolmaster at Frankfurt-an-der-Oder. His heart was set on the study of history and a work on the Romance and Teutonic peoples in the Reformation period, procured his call to Berlin as professor of history. The word Heraldry is derived from the German HEER, (a host, an army) and HELD, (champion): the term BLASON, by which the science is denoted in French, English, Italian and German, has most probably its origin in the German word 'BLAZEN' (to blow the horn). Whenever a new knight appeared at a Tournament, the herald sounded the trumpet, and as competitors attended with closed vizors, it was his duty to explain the bearing of the shield or coat-armour belonging to each. Thus, the knowledge of the various devices and symbols was called 'Heraldry'. The Germans transmitted the word to the French, and it reached England after the Norman Conquest of 1066.
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