The English surname "Fuller" almost certainly derives from the occupation of dressing or "fulling" cloth.1 Therefore, it may be presumed with reasonable confidence that a paternal ancestor of any presently living individual bearing this name was engaged in cloth manufacture in the Middle Ages when surnames became fixed. Thus, the name probably derives from Old English "fullere" or Old French "fouleor" and, as such, descends from ancient Indo-European roots through both German and Latin forms, e.g., "fullo", "fullare ", etc. Accordingly, the name seems to have become common in the region of East Anglia, including the county of Norfolk, which was the center of English wool cloth production in the Late Middle Ages, but afterward became less important.2 Even so, trade with the continent in woolens and other commodities through East Anglian ports contributed to the prosperity of the region and rapid social and religious changes during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.3 Within this context, it has been reported that chemical analysis of medieval English silver coinage reveals the origin of the metal to have been German mines. Similarly, numerous hoards of English coins from the period have been found at various locations in continental Europe, thus, testifying to a brisk trade. Of course, textile production is currently a large scale industrial enterprise and no longer a cottage handicraft; hence, the occupation of fuller is not one that is commonly encountered at the present day. Nevertheless, in some form it remains an essential step in finishing cloth after it has been woven and in classical times involved mechanical abrasion of the fibers by trampling or beating and chemical treatment with agents such as soap or urine. For woolens, shrinkage induced by wetting was an important part of the process, which caused fabric threads to close together resulting in a thicker and tighter texture. Hence, it would seem plausible that the meaning of the name is related etymologically to the common, modern English words "fill" and "full".Source Notes and Citations:
William Fuller, born in the third decade of the fifteenth century in Redenhall Parish, County Norfolk, England, is asserted as the earliest ancestor of the "Pilgrim Branch" of the American Fuller family. Even so, nothing definite is known of him beyond family tradition; however, it would seem likely that he would have been a yeoman farmer and probably engaged in some form of sheep husbandry or woolen production. One son, John, has been attributed to William and an unknown wife. Of course, it is likely that there were additional children; however, any memory of them has faded into the mists of time. Concomitantly, it is thought that William Fuller died about the year 1492.
1. Patrick Hanks (ed.), Oxford Dictionary of American Family Names, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, periodically updated.
"1. English: occupational name for a dresser of cloth, Old English fullere (from Latin fullo, with the addition of the English agent suffix). The Middle English successor of this word had also been reinforced by Old French fouleor, foleur, of similar origin. The work of the fuller was to scour and thicken the raw cloth by beating and trampling it in water. This surname is found mostly in southeast England and East Anglia. See also Tucker and Walker.
2. In a few cases the name may be of German origin with the same form and meaning as 1 (from Latin fullare).
3. Americanized version of French Fournier."
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2. "Intensive farming and huge flocks of sheep became the basis of the area's economy and from the 14th century the manufacture of cloth, particularly Worsted, seems to have developed in the Norfolk villages before it became important in Norwich. The cloth which took its name from Worstead, was made from the long coarse wool of the sheep of west Norfolk. Worstead itself was known for cloth before Edward III brought his Flemings over to 'exercise their mysteries' but its importance dwindled with the passing of the woolen trades to the north of England, although there are still weavers houses to be seen there with tall ceilings to take the looms and cellars to store the wool." (Anonymous,"A History of Norfolk East Anglia UK", www.norfolkbroads.com/guide/history.htm, 2001.)
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3. "In the 14th cent. the English began exporting their wool, rather than depending on foreign traders of English wool. Later in the century, trade in woolen cloth began to gain on the raw wool trade. The confusion resulting from such rapid social and economic change fostered radical thought, typified in the teachings of John Wyclif (or Wycliffe; see also Lollardry, and the revolt led by Wat Tyler). Dynastic wars (see Roses, Wars of the ), which weakened both the nobility and the monarchy in the 15th cent., ended with the accession of the Tudor family in 1485." (Anonymous,"Great Britain", www.encyclopedia.com/html/section/GreatBri_History.asp, 2005.)
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4. John Simpson (chief ed.), Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, continuously updated. (Available electronically at dictionary.oed.com)
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