The surname of BURKHEAD was derived from the Old English 'bierce' the dweller by the birch covered headland. The name is familiar to the north of England. Local names usually denoted where a man held his land and indicated where he actually lived. Habitation names were originally acquired by the original bearer of the name, who, having lived by, at or near a place, would then take that name as a form of identification for himself and his family. When people lived close to the soil as they did in the Middle Ages, they were acutely conscious of every local variation in landscape and countryside. Every field or plot of land was identified in normal conversation by a descriptive term. If a man lived on or near a hill or mountain, or by a river or stream, forests and trees, he might receive the word as a family name. Almost every town, city or village in early times, has served to name many families. Early records of the name mention John de Birkhaved, 1301 County Yorkshire. Adam Birkeued, of Yorkshire was listed in the Yorkshire Poll Tax of 1379. John Brykett of County Nottingham, registered at Oxford University in the year 1583 and George Birkhead, registered at Oxford University in the year 1599. John Byrkheved was vicar of Giggleswick. Lancashire in the year 1425. The name is also spelt Birkitt. Surnames before the Norman Conquest of 1066 were rare in England having been brought by the Normans when William the Conqueror invaded the shores. The practice spread to Scotland and Ireland by the 12th century, and in Wales they appeared as late as the 16th century. Most surnames can be traced to one of four sources, locational, from the occupation of the original bearer, nicknames or simply font names based on the first name of the parent being given as the second name to their child. In many parts of central and western Europe, hereditary surnames began to become fixed at around the 12th century, and have developed and changed slowly over the years. As society became more complex, and such matters as the management of tenure, and in particular the collection of taxes were delegated to special functionaries, it became imperative to distinguish a more complex system of nomenclature to differentiate one individual from another.
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