Origins of the Name

There are two villages named Runham in East Anglia, one near Gt. Yarmouth in Norfolk has its own web site containing a bit of information about the villages history. I actually visited this village many years ago with my family, primarily to have our photo taken under the village sign. We were told during our visit that the origin of the name came from the process of taking cattle across a nearby river - they used to 'run em' across the river, leading to the name Runham. Whilst a nice story, this is unlikely to be true.

The origin of the village name is likely to be Anglo-Saxon in origin, the root 'ham' signifying a homestead or dwelling. The 'Run' is a bit more complicated, 'Runham' as it is, signifies 'the homestead or dwelling of Run', yet it is unlikely that this has always been the name. There are two likely possibilities I believe are candidates for the name - one is from the word 'hruna' meaning 'tree trunk' so it could be a shortening of the word 'hrunaham' - The homestead or dwelling with the tree trunk. However, 'Runa' is a fairly common Icelandic personal name, so it is possible that the village was a Viking settlement - 'Runaham' - the homestead or dwelling of Runa. This seems to me to be the more likely.

There is one more possibility though, in old Norse, 'Runa' means 'a charm' and is where the word 'Runes' is derived from, and in Sanskrit 'Runa' means 'a magician', so it is possible that the village was named because a 'man of magic', 'seer' or 'high priest' or similar resided there.

Whatever the root of the village's name, by the time of the Doomsday book, it was known as 'Runham'.


The expert's view

Information from the website indicates that the name Runham is likely to be derived from either the old english word 'hruna' meaning tree, or a personal name 'Runa' with 'ham' signifying a hamlet - as I had surmised above.

The root of the surname is likely to be as simple as a name given to someone from the village - After the Norman invasion of Britain, about the time of the Doomsday book, the Normans needed a formal system of identifying people of importance, so that their tax payments could be traced. The common system used was to name people after the village from which they came - so as an example, someone named William who lived in or came from Runham, who was 'rich' or 'important' enough to personnally pay taxes, would have been recorded as William of Runham', this would eventually be shortened to William Runham.

The Runham Family

The origins of the Runham Family are therefore likely to be from East Anglia, there are certainly mentions of the 'Runhams' being major land owners in the Great Yarmouth area in the 11/12th Century. Though in the more recent past, the centre of the Runham Family seems to be in several villages in the Cambridge area. In my research so far, I have found Runhams in Sawston (now in Cambridge), and Chesterton (a village a few miles south of Cambridge) going back hundreds of years. Indeed, my own Great, Great Grandfather was born in Sawston. As the bulk of my information has come from the records of the Mormons, who include the records of only those parish churches which give them permission to use them, the records are broken and incomplete, hence at this time, though there are many, many Runhams listed on the Mormons genealogy site, I have yet been unable to find a definate link to my Great Great Grandfather, nor have I been able to trace the Cambridge Runhams back to the Runham land owners of the 11th/12th Century.

The next stage of my research is to use census data from the 19th Century, and then to visit Parish churches in the area to see what links I can find. I will update this site as I find more definate information.

If you are carrying out any research into the Runham family name, drop me an e-mail and we can 'compare notes'

Doomsday Book Entry

East Flegg in the year 1086

Runham - Free (32) Unfree (10) Plough Teams (10) Salt Pans (16) Sheep (101) Meadows (27 acres)

Back to Homepage