It turns out there are lots of family names related to the making and shooting of bows and arrows – some of them very common names, and some more obviously associated with bows and arrows than others.

For a start, you have to make your bow, and Bowman fits well there. By the time family names came along two different kinds of bowmen were making two kinds of bows – the bows that fire arrows, and instruments called bows used in the wool industry to untangle wool. The name comes from both sources.

The name Bowe arose in several different ways. In some cases, it’s an occupational name and comes from a maker of bows. In some others, it’s a place-related name, meaning someone who lived near a bridge. It turns out those are related. The old Saxon word ‘boga’, meaning ‘bow’, ended up also being used for bridges, since the arch shape of the bridge was thought to look like a drawn bow.

Just as a farmer is someone who farms and a baker is someone who bakes, the ‘er’ style ending was added to ‘bow’ to produce ‘bowyere’ – someone who makes bows. Over time that became the names Boyer, Bowyer, and Boayer. It’s also one source of the name Bower.

Sometimes these names were also given to people who sold bows, rather than made them.

And Stringer? Yes, that’s the guy who made the string for the bow. It was sometimes also used for makers of other kinds of string or rope, but the string for a longbow was the work of a specialist, and that’s often the source of the name.

So who makes the arrows? Technically the Arrowsmith is the metalworker (smith) who specialises in making metal arrowheads and the Fletcher makes the tailpieces, or fletchings. In practice, both of these names ended up being used to refer to people made arrows, and sometimes people who sold them. So why are there so many more Fletchers around today than Arrowsmiths? There are two probable reasons. First, while fletcher comes from the Old French word ‘fleche’ meaning arrow, and therefore means a maker of arrows, the Normans also introduced the occupation of ‘fulcher’ to England. Fulcher comes from words meaning ‘people’s army’, and the fulcher was responsible for supplying the army.  While Fulcher is also still around as a family name, many fulchers (as in the job) became known as fletchers, either because of variations in dialect or creative spelling. On top of that, fletchings were sometimes made of animal hide rather than feathers, so sometimes the people who worked with the animal hides ended up being called fletchers.

So who uses the bow and arrow? Bowman gets another run here – it described either makers or users of bows. Archer doesn’t need much explanation, though as a name it was applied to someone who did the job as a professional, not just anyone who picked up a bow.

The same is true of Shooter – a name given to a professional bowman or marksman. Like all these names, it predates formalised spelling, so it’s possible that anyone called Chuter, Chewter, Chooter, Schewter, Shuter or Shotter might be descended from a shooter.

Which brings us to Butt, along with Butts and their offspring Butson and Butting (both meaning ‘son of But’). So, who or what was But? The butt was the archer’s target at practice, and Butt came to be either an alternative name for the archer, who aimed at the butt and then had to pull his arrows out of it, or the name of someone who lived near the targets on an archery range (which doesn’t sound like a great place to live).

But surely this name should be Targett instead of Butt? Targett is certainly a family name, but it would only be related to a target if it was very recent. The word target comes from the Old English ‘targe’, meaning shield, so a person called Targett or Targetter was probably a maker of shields. The first recorded use of ‘target’ as something to be aimed at when shooting did apply to archery, but it didn’t occur until 1757, by which time family names were well established.

Can you think of any other family names related to bows, arrows and archery? If you can, please let us know so that we can include them here.