Home > cultural commentary > Alien, Viking, Norman, World Citizen – what’s in a name?

Alien, Viking, Norman, World Citizen – what’s in a name?

I’ve been looking at the search terms people have been using that landed them on my blog and one of the common ones is to do with the origin of the name Vagg.

I still am sometimes asked this question because it’s a relatively unusual name and doesn’t have obvious cultural, linguistic or national connotations. When I was a kid my explanation was usually along the lines that it comes from a branch of minor royalty on a planet near Apha Centauri, and my ancestors were governors of a mining colony on an asteroid who fled to Earth after a palace coup: our plans are in place and we shall soon rule the known universe again!

History is a little more prosaic. There is a family website at http://www.vagg.org.uk (I’m not a member of it) but for those who get bored quickly, here’s the skinny version.

There’s an outside possibility the name is Viking, from Vagn Akason, believed to have settled in Somerset, UK, sometime after 878. If there is any truth in this, Vagn’s action would have been quite unusual, because Somerset was well outside the area usually considered settled by the Vikings and very clearly within the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Wessex, at that time ruled by Alfred the Great (his reign was 871-899). Indeed some time earlier, in the 830s, an alliance of Vikings and Cornish had tried and failed to attack Anglo-Saxon areas in Devon, and failed.

The more likely root is Norman, with the name spelled in various ways – Vagg, Vage, Bagg, Fagg, Fagge, Fage, Fago, Faget, le Fag (phonetically B, F and V are considered close and English dialects differ in their use of them). These names occur from the 1100s in Kent and Somerset. In this case the name is, or was, perhaps trade-related – ‘fagg’ or ‘bagg’ apparently being an Old English term for a flat loaf. Whether any of these Vaggs originated as bakers is a whole other question, though. It’s equally probable they turned up as functionaries of some kind within the household of a lord and ended up being given parcels of land.

At any rate, quite a bit of family history seems to relate to the village of Chilcompton, Somerset. I’ve never knowingly been there but it looks a nice place on Google Street View. And there’s a Vagg Lane some way south of there – well, 20 miles south – at Chilthorne Domer.

After the Monmouth Rebellion (1685) apparently one Edward Vagg, being on the losing side, suffered transportation to the West Indies – the rebellion was followed by the Bloody Assizes of Judge Jeffreys and while some 320 people were executed, around 800 were sentenced to transportation. Edward Vagg is believed to have stayed in the West Indies and married there so I may well have distant relatives in the Caribbean.

As to the spread of the family after that: at various points Vaggs emigrated to Australia and New Zealand (and some moved to London which must have been just as much of a culture shock at that time).

In my own particular part of the family there’s also a story that one of my great-great-grandfathers fought in what was then Abyssinia – this would presumably have been the 1868 ‘Expedition’ ordered by Queen Victoria to rescue the British consul and other nationals following a diplomatic incident. The incident shows that it’s always a good idea to read your mail and reply to people, but the story is that this particular Vagg returned with an Abyssinian wife. There are no pictures or documents I know of to even suggest the truth of this but insofar as it would imply the family has a broad and to some extent multicultural heritage I quite like it.

There’s a lot more documented history but this is, as I say, the skinny of it. I’m sure many people have longer,  more elaborate, more illustrious and more multicultural backgrounds, but what I’ve got is what I’ve got. I don’t feel defined or constrained by this history; it’s a bunch of stories, ranging from the definitive and evidenced to the possibly completely fictitious, that it’s just good to know.

  1. Gavin
    October 4, 2011 at 2:20 am

    I think it is very likely that that name Vagg relates to the Danish Vagt Or guard,I believe this is a derivation of much older source words of western Europe that have came about to describe guarded towns or settlements.

  2. Gavin
    October 4, 2011 at 2:30 am

    These names also relate to the word garden and I believe that the name Vagner relates much more to gardening or guarding than any thing involving wheel transports which I believe is a much more recent adaption of the word.I also believe the same could be true for the words kart,or cart.

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