GenealogyMagazine.com - Weaselhead, Devil and Drunkard: Surnames Originating as Insults
An article by James Pylant. Surnames developed gradually and casually in the Middle Ages, not through a formal or legal system. In a growing population, there was a need to distinguish people with the same common first names within a village or town, and last names came about as a means of sorting who was who on the tax lists. But oftentimes our ancestors were saddled with surnames originating as uncomplimentary nicknames.