This French surname of GAGNE was an occupational name for a farmer or cultivator, originally derived from the Old French GAGNEAU, meaning 'to till or cultivate'. The name has many variant spellings which include GAGNEIUR, GAGNIER, LEGAGNEUR, GAIGNEAUX and GAGNERON. 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. When the first immigrants from Europe went to America, the only names current in the new land were Indian names which did not appeal to Europeans vocally, and the Indian names did not influence the surnames or Christian names already possessed by the immigrants. Mostly the immigrant could not read or write and had little or no knowledge as to the proper spelling, and their names suffered at the hands of the government officials. The early town records are full of these mis-spelt names most of which gradually changed back to a more conventional spelling as education progressed.
It has long been a matter of doubt when the bearing of coats of arms first became hereditary and it was not until the Crusades that Heraldry came into general use. 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. Most of the European surnames were formed in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The process had started somewhat earlier and had continued in some places into the 19th century, but the norm is that in the tenth and eleventh centuries people did not have surnames, whereas by the fifteenth century most of the population had acquired a second name.
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