VOSS, the Norman house of VAUX and the likely origin of the name

Vaux armsIn about the year 1120, fifty four years after the Norman conquest of Britain, Harold de Vaux, Lord of Vaux in Normandy settled with his sons Hubert, Ranulf and Robert, in Cumberland in the lake and valley region of northwestern England. The sons thereupon took the Latin name of de Vallibus, signifying “from the valleys”.

It must be remembered that until relatively recently only the educated few could write their names.  Others spoke their name in many varied accents and dialects and relied on scribes to write what they heard.

Over the subsequent years the name VAUX appears recorded in Scotland, England and South Wales as variously VAUX, VAULX, FAUX, FAUKS, FAWKS ,VAUS, VAUSE, VASE, WAUS, WAS, WASS and VAUCE.  Then in the 15th century there seems to have been a shift of spelling to VOSS.  For example in Glamorgan in South Wales it is recorded that Richard VAULX had a son Matthew, variously referred to as Matthew VAULX or VOSS, and Matthew’s brother William had a son Griffith VOSS, whose daughter was a maid of honour to Queen Elizabeth I.  This adaption seems to have occurred not just in one instance but in different parts of the country at a similar time – perhaps a modernising trend or fashion.  The name VOSS is first record recorded in Essex.

So, the historical evidence is that in Britain the name VOSS  was most likely a development of VAUX and its variations, and hence of Norman origin.  The Normans were originally Vikings from Sandanavia, which brings us back to Norway, but there is no connection with the Norwegian  VOSS/FOSS.

When someone was required to find a surname, they often chose their job (i.e. Smith, Baker etc.), where they came from (a place name), something representing their lineage (i.e. Williams) or their clan (i.e. MacIntosh).  Now it is possible that someone in Britain living near a dyke  might have styled themselves Voss, or a Norwegian living near Voss might have chosen that, and such such people might have no genealogical connection with others who had chosen the same name.

However, in my opinion the name will usually have its origins in VAUX lineages, which must have spread over northern Europe with the years and evolved many pronunciations, such as those above. When someone’s name needed to be written down, the scribe would write whatever he heard.  Some wrote phonetically to create the variants above, others simply wrote a word familiar to them.  Thus a Dutch scribe may have written VOS as in the Dutch for fox, an English FOSS or VOSS as in the dyke and in Norway VOSS as in the waterfall or town.  So, while there is an element of truth in the popular associations, its historical and genealogical origins are most likely to be found in VAUX and its variants.

One thought on “VOSS, the Norman house of VAUX and the likely origin of the name

  1. Very interesting as my paternal DNA trail shows Eastern European 63 %, British 25%, and Scandinavian 10% ethnicity, 3% Finnish !

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