This French, English and Jewish surname of BRISON was originally derived from a personal name, probably of Celtic origin (Latinized as Britus), which was borne by a 5th century saint, who succeeded St. Martin as bishop of Tours. It consequently had a certain currency in France in the early Middle Ages and in England after the Norman Conquest of 1066. The name has many variant spellings which include BRESSER, BRESSON, BRICK, BRIESSE, BRISSON, BRIX and BRITZ. When traditional Jews were forced to take family names by the local bureaucracy, it was an obligation imposed from outside traditional society, and people often took the names playfully and let their imaginations run wild by choosing names which corresponded to nothing real in their world. No one alive today can remember the times when Jews took or were given family names (for most Ashkenazim this was the end of the 18th century or the beginning of the 19th) although many remember names being changed after emigration to other countries, such as the United States and Israel in recent years. During the 17th century surnames were brought to Britain, North America and southern Africa by French Huguenot exiles. The Huguenots were French Protestants, and in 1572 large numbers of them were massacred in Paris on the orders of Queen Catherine de'Medici. Many of the survivors sought refuge in England and elsewhere. Although the Edict of Nantes (1598) officially guaranteed religious toleration, persecution continued, and the Edict was revoked by Louis XIV in 1685. It was then the trickle of emigration became a flood. Many migrated to England, while others joined groups of Dutch Protestants settling around the Cape of Good Hope. Others sailed across the Atlantic to establish themselves in North America. The earliest French hereditary surnames are found in the 12th century, at more or less the same time as they arose in England, but they are by no means common before the 13th century, and it was not until the 15th century that they stabilized to any great extent; before then a surname might be handed down for two or three generations, but then abandoned in favour of another. In the south, many French surnames have come in from Italy over the centuries, and in Northern France, Germanic influence can often be detected.
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