The surname BRITAIN was a locational name 'of Brittany' in France. The name was adopted by recent immigrants to Britain as a token of their new patriotism during the wake of the Norman Invasion of 1066. The name was rendered as le Breton in Ireland and de Bretagne in England. During the Middle Ages, when people were unable to read or write, signs were needed for all visual identification. For several centuries city streets in Britain were filled with signs of all kinds, public houses, tradesmen and even private householders found them necessary. This was an age when there were no numbered houses, and an address was a descriptive phrase that made use of a convenient landmark. At this time, coats of arms came into being, for the practical reason that men went into battle heavily armed and were difficult to recognise. It became the custom for them to adorn their helmets with distinctive crests, and to paint their shields with animals and the like. Coats of arms accompanied the development of surnames, becoming hereditary in the same way. Early records of the name mention John de Brytagn, 1273 County Cambridge, who appeared in the Hundred Rolls with many others of the name. Alicia de Britton of Yorkshire, was listed in the Yorkshire Poll Tax of 1379. Thomas Britton (1654-1714) was an English coal-merchant, known as 'the musical small coal-man'. He founded a fashionable musical club over his shop in London, which was patronized by Handel, and others. A student of the occult, he helped to form the Harleian library in the British Museum. William Britten and Anne Keene were married at St. George's, Hanover Square, London in the year 1790. John Britton and Sarah Wilks were married at the same church in the year 1796. William Britton married Anne Keen, St. George's, Hanover Square, London in the year 1790. Nathaniel Britton (1859-1934) was an American Botanist, born at Staten Island, New York. He became professor of botany at Columbia in 1891, and was the initiator and first director of the New York Botanical Garden (1896-1929).
The associated arms are recorded in Sir Bernard Burkes General Armory. Ulster King of Arms in 1884.
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