Surnames were first introduced in Britain after the Norman Conquest of 1066. However, many surnames evolved or formed long after then. Frecknall is one of those surnames. In fact, no record of the surname Frecknall has been found before the eighteenth century.
Many British surnames such as Hill or London were of locative origin, that is derived from a place where someone came from or lived. Others may have been occupational (e.g. Draper and Smith), patronymic (Richardson and MacDonald), or derived from nicknames (Brown and Short). Some surnames seem to fit in none of these categories. To break down the surname Frecknall, we see it contains the suffix "-nall," a settlement ending, which indicates that the surname was a locative one. The first part of the name, "Freck", does not seem to have any simple meaning. The answer to the true origin no doubt lies with the spelling of the surname in the eighteenth century and earlier.
Spelling & Variants
From the beginning of parish records until the later part of the eighteenth century, the surname Frecknall existed in the form Frignall. Frignall evolved into Fricknall during the mid 1700s. The reason for the transition of the 'g' to the 'ck' is uncertain, but if the name is spoken casually, there is hardly a difference in the pronunciation. Given poor literacy levels, this spelling change is unremarkable. These spellings overlapped for some time, but by the time the first census was taken in 1841, there is only one instance of the spelling Frignall, namely Elizabeth Frignall, a widow who lived in Carlton, Nottinghamshire. The spelling Fricknall was quite short lived, emerging as early as the 1730s, but having died out for the most part by the late 1830s in favour of the spelling Frecknall. This change is also unsurprising, since there is hardly an audible difference between Fricknall and Frecknall.
The modern spelling of the surname is Frecknall, as has been so for well over a century. The spelling Frecknall seemed to emerge in the 1830s. Of course, there have existed many alternate spelling variants of the name, from Fracknell to Freeknall to Frecenhall. To this day, spelling of the surname is varied. Each year, our relatives receive Christmas cards addressed to "Mr. and Mrs. Fretwell," showing that even in an age of high literacy surname spelling can still be varied.
The Guild of One-Name Studies distinguishes between variants and deviants. Variants are defined as surname spellings used by individuals themselves (e.g. signatures) or by officials on a consistent basis. Deviants are random or inconsistent spellings, perhaps arising from enumeration or transcription errors. Here are a selection of Frecknall variants and deviants:
Where does that leave us?
Knowing that the surname Frecknall evolved from earlier spellings such as Fricknall and Frignall is certainly a step towards understanding where the name comes from, but unfortunately we have yet to discover any clear evidence for its origin. There are a number of hypotheses, but considering the geographic distribution of the surname the most likely theory is that Frecknall shares its etymology with the now extinct surname Frescheville. For more information about this theory please see The Frescheville Connection?