By David Hey
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Examples of the latter include the Dukes of Norfolk and Northumberland and Lord Leconfield, though these are respectively by male descent Howard, Smithson and Wyndham. The Percys were one of the greatest and longest-lasting of the Norman baronial families. The particular settlement that gave rise to the surname has been disputed, for several places in northern France share this name, but it is now accepted that Percy-en-Auge (Eure) is the correct identification. William de Percy (c. 1030-96) was the founder of the English dynasty, who were given the responsibility of securing the frontier against the Scots.
The Norman Barons By the twelfth century it had become a matter of prestige to claim an ancestor who had fought at Hastings. Much later, to say that £my ancestor came over with the Conqueror' became a social cachet, on a level with American claims to have an ancestor who came over on the Mayflower. Such claimants are apparently undisturbed by the burden of proof. Nor is it clear why anyone should wish to claim descent from such violent men, a foreign army of occupation who for several generations preserved a separate identity from the English.
The time is opportune for the vast numbers of people who have an interest in a particular surname (usually their own), or in all the names of the families in a chosen locality, to make a contribution, either by proving the dictionaries right or by suggesting other explanations for the 'homes' of family names. Members of the Guild of One-Name Studies, who try to trace every person bearing the distinctive surname that they are interested in, are well placed to make constructive suggestions. Meanwhile, the study of surname distributions has attracted the attention of geneticists.