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About the study
According to Wikipedia the origin of the name is almost certainly Norman, but the details are disputed.
One version is that it derives from 'Mortemer', site of the Cistercian Abbaye de Mortemer at Lisors near Lyons-la-Fort and close to Rouen in Normandy. The land was granted to the Cistercians by Henry II in the 1180s. Finding the land to be a marshy-land of the Lyons Forest around the running Fouillebroc Stream, the monks dug out a large drainage lake and built the Abbaye de Mortemer. The ruins and lake can still be visited, and the later 16th century Abbey hosts tours.
There are two possible explanations: first, a small pond must have already existed before the land was given to the monks and have already called Mortemer like the two other Mortemer, because the word mer 'pond' was not used anymore beyond the Xth century. This word is only attested in North-Western France and of frankish or saxon origin mari / meri 'mere', 'lake' (in Cambremer, Blingemer, etc..); mort(e) 'dead' is also quite common to mean 'stagnant' (in Port-Mort 'the port with stagnant water', Morteau 'dead water', etc.). Second, the monks could have given the name Mortemer to their drainage lake to remember the other Mortemer for any kind of reason we don't know, making a pun at the same time with Mer Morte 'Dead Sea'.
Certainly the historical English connections go back as far as William the Conqueror, that particular line possibly dying out with Edmund Mortimer 5th Earl of March d1425.
Historical occurrences of the name
Probably the best known and most notorious Mortimer is that of Roger Mortimer 1st Earl of March who rather fancied King Edward II's Queen Isabella and after helping to dispose of the Edward became for a time de facto ruler of England. He however aroused anger from other barons and in October 1330 was arrested and executed at Tyburn. For more information see Mortimer History Society link below
Other notables are the family of John Mortimer of 'Rumpole' fame and his wife Penelope Mortimer nee' Fletcher, which also include his father Herbert C Mortimer, a divorce barrister and two of his children Emily and Rosie. Further back we have found the painter John Hamilton Mortimer (1740 - 1799) and John Mortimer (1658 - 1736) author and landowner whose son Dr Cromwell Mortimer (1702 - 1752) was also an eminent doctor
To coincide with the commemoration of WW1 the study has generated a number of Family Trees relating to those Mortimer's who served and who died. This is not complete by any means but the study seeks correspondents who are interested or may have additional information.
From the 1901 census records there were some 6542 Mortimers in England with a further 633 in Scotland and 295 in Wales.
According to an ONS database there are some 10557 as of September 2002. This makes it the 721st most common name in England and Wales.
Distribution of the name
A significant amount of data has been collected but has yet to be downloaded to the ONS Guild archive as this name study is still in its infancy. BMD data has been collected up to 2010 and complete births for all years 1837 to 1983. The study is currently working on completing Births for the remaining years for upload to ONS Archive.
A total of 114 Family Trees have been mapped containing some 8552 persons and 2644 marriages. The total number of registrations since 1837 collected is Births 32928, Marriages 23011, and Deaths 24620