Random Fact – English Use of Aliases

Last year, I spent some researching one of my English lines: the Webbs. It is one of those lines that I had few expectations of, but it turned out to be quite interesting! As with most research, what I found only left me with more questions, and I believe I have done all that I can do from the U.S. That only means one thing: a research trip to England!

My random fact concerns my Webb family and some surname patterns that make research trickier. Several generations of my Webb family used Nichols alias Webb as their surname. I thought that was so peculiar! As this was the first time that I had run into alias used in this manner (as opposed to nefarious reasons), I wanted to learn more. Why was this being done? How does the name Nichols factor into the family?

After the Medieval period ended, surnames began to develop and so did the use of aliases as surnames. There were several reasons for “alias” to be incorporated in a last name.

1. Using a father or grandfather’s forename as a surname as a way to pass on “family” names. This can also be seen in surnames like Robinson, Robertson, Davidson, etc. Instead, someone might use alias to indicate this: Richard Thomas alias Henry. Henry might be the name of his father or grandfather.

2. Illegitimacy could be another reason for using alias. The child could be known by both her father and mother’s surname: Sarah Hodgkin alias Turner.

3. Inheritance could be another factor. If land was inherited from the mother’s side of the family, an alias could be used to display that fact.

4. Remarriage could also result in using an alias. The children, especially if young, could adopt their step-father’s name as part of their surname.

At this time, I have not found any evidence supporting any of the above reasons for using alias in the Nichols alias Webb family. But again, there may be some English documents that I do not access to here in the U.S. that could she some light on the situation.

The Nichols alias Webb surname has been used in the towns of Tonbridge and Leigh in Kent since at least 1600, when a John Webb alias Nichols used it in his will. The first generation of my family was a John Nichols alias Webb, the elder who was still living in 1657. John the elder’s children  – Margaret, William, John, Thomas, Giles, and Richard – all used the Nichols alias Webb surname. My ancestor, Richard, married Dory Chamberlyn in 1640, and their marriage produced at least three sons – John, Thomas, and Richard. Richard the younger married Jane Crouch in 1663, and his surname was recorded in the parish register as Nicholas alias Web, another variation of both surnames. Their marriage was the last record (that I have found) in which his surname was written using alias. The surname was written simply Webb when his children were baptized in neighboring Leigh. The use of alias in surnames was falling out of use in the mid 17th century, so it is no surprise that Richard the younger and his family ceased using it.

Nichols alias Webb Family Tree 

There was quite an extended family of Nichols alias Webb members living in Tonbridge and Leigh in the 17th century. I have been able to put some of the branches together (including mine), but as of now, I have not been able to connect all of the branches to a common ancestor. Here is the family as I have it now:

1. John Nichols alias Webb, the elder

  • Living on 20 May 1657. Named in the will of his son, John the younger.
  • Wife: unknown. Presumed dead by 20 May 1657.
  • Children: Margaret (married John Baker), John the younger, William, Thomas, Giles, and Richard.

2. John Nichols alias Webb, the younger

  • 31 Jul 1652. Named as the heir of Thomas Nichols alias Webb, a cousin of John the elder.
  • Wife: Hester
  • Children: Margaret, married William Fuller.
  • Will: 20 May 1657: named father John the elder, wife, daughter and son-in-law, brothers Thomas, Giles, and Richard, and sister Margaret Baker. Land in Leigh and Tonbridge.

2. William Nichols alias Webb

  • Wife: Anne Carpenter
  • Children:
  • Will: 6 June 1650: named wife Anne, brother-in-law Edward Carpenter, Thomas Carpenter son of Edward, brother Richard Webb, Richard’s 3 sons Thomas, Richard, and John, sister Margaret Baker, and kinsman Andrew Headley.

2. Giles Nichols alias Webb

  • Heir: 20 May 1657: brother John
  • Wife: Eleanor Medhurst. Married 23 January 1642 in Tonbridge, Kent.
  • Children: Ann, Eleanor, Margaret, and Elizabeth.

2. Richard Nichols alias Webb

  • Heir: 6 June 1650: brother William
  • Heir: 20 May 1657: brother John
  • Wife: Dory Chamberlyn. Married on 27 January 1640 in Tonbridge, Kent.
  • Children: Thomas, Richard, and John.
  • Death: Probably dead before the Hearth Tax of 1664. In Leigh, a “widow Webb” was listed. However, the widow could be Eleanor, Giles’s wife.
William Nichols alias Webb left his land in Tonbridge to his nephews Thomas, Richard, and John.

3. Richard Nichols alias Webb

  • Heir: 6 June 1650: uncle William Nichols alias Webb.
  • Wife: Jane Crouch. Married 17 June 1663 in Tonbridge, Kent.
  • Children: Margaret, John, Richard, and Bettris.

When Margaret married, her surname was simply “Webb,” and the use of alias finished. Although the use of so many names and aliases can be confusing, it is also helpful because it can help establish family connections between multiple generations and over several towns. I am hoping that with more research, I will be able to unravel the mystery of the Nichols and Webb components of the surname and to create a more complete family tree!