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About the study
English surnames originate from five main sources:
Occupations e.g. Smith, Cooper, Sawyer
Personal characteristics or nicknames e.g. Short, Brown, Wise, Young
Geographical features e.g. Hill, Bridge, Wood
Place names e.g. London, Burton
Patronymic names e.g. Richardson (son of Richard), Hickman (meaning Hick's man)
Dadford is evidently a place name, with early written references using the prefix 'de' meaning 'of' in French. The name is recorded as 'de Dadford', 'de Dodford' (or other deviations thereof) literally meaning 'of Dadford' or 'of Dodford'.
There are several possible sources for a place name of Dadford; the Buckinghamshire village bearing the same name (Grid Ref. SP 67 38), the village of Dodford in Northamptonshire (Grid Ref. SP 61 60) and the villages of Great and Little Dodford in Worcestershire (Grid Ref. SO 93 73). Both the Buckinghamshire village of Dadford and the Northamptonshire village of Dodford are referred to as 'Dodeforde' in the Domesday Book of 1086. The Worcestershire villages appear to be of later origin. Early written records tend to support the Buckinghamshire village of Dadford as the most likely origin of the surname, based upon the geographic locations referred to in the records.
The Buckinghamshire village of Dadford is generally considered to have taken its name from 'Dodda's ford', literally meaning 'Dodda's shallow river crossing'.
Dodda appears to have been an Anglo Saxon chief, or at the very least, someone of importance. In 833, the death of 'Dodda the Ealdorman' (chief magistrate of a shire or cluster of shires) is recorded in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle. The medieval village of Great Doddington or 'Dodda's Tun', meaning 'the stockaded home of the people of Dodda', also attributes its origin to Dodda. Given that Great Doddington is a mere twenty or so miles north east of Dadford, and even closer to the Northamptonshire village of Dodford, a link between them, and Dodda's influence on the area, seems highly plausible.
The name Dodda, including similar names such as Dodd, Dodde or Dudde, may itself derive from the Olde English, pre 7th Century, personal byname or nickname Dodda or Dudda. These in turn may derive from a Germanic root 'dudd or 'dodd' meaning 'something rounded', and could have been used to denote a short, rotund man. These names have also been found to mean 'the hairless or close-cropped one', from the Olde English 'dod', meaning 'to make bare or cut off'. Dod is also the old Norse word for 'bare hill' and may be taken to mean someone who held land associated with a bare hill, or to have designated a man with a bald head.
An alternate possibility suggests that the name Dodda derives from an old word for a bush or a bushy-tailed fox, although it is more likely that the name relates to the fox itself with the first to use the name being sly or elusive in behaviour, or perhaps having fox-like features.
There is a rather compelling legend associated with the Dodd surname name from the North East of England which may be relevant:
Legend has it that the Dodds were descended from Eilaf, an Anglo-Saxon monk who was one of the carriers of St Cuthbert's coffin who fled from Lindisfarne at the time of the Viking raids in the 9th century. It is said that Eilaf pinched some cheese from his fellow monks who prayed that that the culprit be revealed by turning him into a Dodd - a fox. Prayers were answered and for a short while Eilaf was turned into a fox. From that day on Eilaf and his descendents were known as Dodd.
Whatever the origin, the name Dodd and its derivatives were quite widespread during the Dark Ages and early medieval period. It is found as a root in place names throughout England and on the fringes of Wales and Scotland. The Dodd name is found most frequently in the North East of England, from Northumberland to Lincolnshire. The Anglo-Saxon linguistic roots remain strong in that part of Britain to this day. These areas were also heavily settled by Danish and Norwegian Vikings in the ninth and tenth centuries, suggesting that the Dodd derivatives are primarily of Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian descent as opposed to Briton / Celtic descent.
Another, although more unlikely possibility, is that the village of Dadford derives its name from Dodder (Cuscuta epithymum). Dodder is an annual, parasitic plant. In late spring, a slender Dodder stem emerges and entwines itself, always anti-clockwise, around the nearest host plant. Dodder has no green chlorophyll, and therefore cannot photosynthesise. Once the Dodder is established, the lower part of the stem withers and falls away, leaving the Dodder to depend solely on its unfortunate host from which it takes sugar and other nutrients through suckers that penetrate stem and branches. Dodder growth is rapid, and it quickly engulfs host and adjacent plants in a tangled cloak of incredibly fine Dodder threads, colouring the landscape with a wine-red mantle.
Dodder has long been the subject of contempt which is reflected in alternative, country names such as 'hell-weed', 'devil's guts', and 'strangleweed'. Indeed, John Pechey in The Complete Herbal of Physical Plants (1694), pulls no punches at all, contemptuously saying of Dodder: 'This fawning parasite, and ungrateful guest, hugs the herb it hangs upon, with its long threads and reddish twigs; and so closely embraces it, that at length it defrauds the hospitable herb of its nourishment, and destroys it by its treacherous embraces.'
Dodder finds mention in the Materia Medica written by the Greek physician Dioscorides around the 1st century AD. The ancient physician states that the Dodder was used in the ancient world in a herbal combination with honey to purge out 'black bile' from the body and as a herbal aid to dissipate melancholy humors in the body. The Dodder was also used as a medicinal herb in the Middle Ages in Europe, the European herbalist Nicholas Culpeper in his writing in 1652 recommended the use of the Dodder 'to purge black or burnt choler' from the body. Dodder plucked from the thyme it was parasitizing was, according to Culpeper, the most effective in treating such problems. Dodder has been recorded in many parts of England, including Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire. It is therefore possible that that the name 'Dodder's ford' became synonymous with a crossing on the river where the plant grew in abundance.
The true origin of the surname will unfortunately never be known. We can say however that by 1086, the Buckinghamshire village of Dodeforde (later Dadford) was established, and by 1200, surnames apparently originating there, had begun to appear in the written record.