Anglo-Saxons
 

The Norse Origins of the Rymills

There would once have been a Swedish woman whose first name was Rimhild. It appears to be an exclusively Swedish female first name which means “border war”, with our modern word “rim” still meaning literally that – a rim, perimeter or border. The fact that her name has such an odd meaning is perhaps a testament to the fact that in the old Norse days the women could have likely been as involved in war as the men.

Looking back through Swedish royal history you can, for instance, find Knut Of Soli Sveinsson who married a woman called Rimhild. Back at the start of the 11th century the Norse surnames were not carried down in the same way as today. So when Knut and Rimhild had a son, his name became Svein Rimhildson. But his son would have had the surname Sveinson, and the Rimhildson would have been immediately lost. We therefore know that although the name may be Norse in origin, it cannot have emerged that early, because it would only have lasted one generation. The name “Rimhild” could not evolved as a surname under the old Norse rules of naming children.

Therefore at some point much later, there must have been a woman of Swedish origin called Rimhild (or a corrupted form, such as Rimilde) who had a son, and for whatever reason (such as when asked to fill in official documents) he would have written his first name followed by the name of his most important parent. This hypothetical ancestor either had no father alive at the time, or his father was less wealthy than his mother because when this originator of my surname wrote it down, he chose to be known as “son of Rimilde”. And thus the surname Rymill was born.

The earliest known record of the name as a last name is from 1201 and references Elias filius Rimilde – which literally means “Elias, son of a woman called Rimilde.” But because it has been used in this way, it is still too early to see it as the true emergence of the name. Elias’s son might have signed himself William filius Elias and again dropped the Rimilde – Similar to the Norse rules. There is also a Rogerus filius Rimilde in Norfolk in 1203 but again, not technically using the name as a surname.

There can only have been a tiny handful of women using this weird Swedish name in England at the time that surnames emerged and therefore (unlike all the Johnsons in the world) every English Rymill, Rimell and Rymal around today is almost certainly the descent of just a few women. I’d go as far as to say it might even be just the one woman who is mother to all Rymills, because you have to consider the rare circumstances of combining the rare name with a son taking his mother’s name in a patriarchal society.

In 1327 a Robert Rimell is the earliest known use of the name as a proper surname. As the name is appearing over 500 years after the Vikings (and no Swedish Vikings attacked England) I would assume Rimilde was a fairly ordinary Norse settler who came here, married and passed her name to her son when surnames were first becoming popular in the middle ages. I plan to do the Ancestry DNA test at some point which will give Y-Chromosomal and Mitochondrial clues to this story.

GMR


familytree@gavinrymill.com