There is a large group of surnames, more frequent in English, French, German and Italian names, which are actually a compound of nickname and location. They consist of an adjective indicating size or an attractive quality as a prefix attached to a given name. GREATHOUSE is such a name literally meaning the large and important person who lived at the large house. In the Middle Ages the majority of the population lived in cottages or huts rather than houses, and in most cases this name probably indicates someone who had some connection with the largest and most important building of the settlement, perhaps in a religious house or simply the local 'great house'. In some cases it may indicate a 'householder' someone who owned his own dwelling as opposed to being a tenant. 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. In the Middle Ages the Herald (old French herault) was an officer whose duty it was to proclaim war or peace, carry challenges to battle and messages between sovereigns; nowadays war or peace is still proclaimed by the heralds, but their chief duty as court functionaries is to superintend state ceremonies, such as coronations, installations, and to grant arms. Edward III (1327-1377) appointed two heraldic kings-at-arms for south and north, England in 1340. The English College of Heralds was incorporated by Richard III in 1483-84. The arms depicted here have been quartered with GREAT and HOUSE.
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