Nobody can be completely certain as to the origin of the surname Norfolk but there are several interesting theories.

There are several theories that could possibly account for the origin of the surname Norfolk, though some are more likely than others. One is that the name derived from references to Scandinavian invaders, i.e. Norse-folk; another is that the name literally meant "folk from the north" and was used to differentiate between them and the "folk from the south", as was possibly true in the case of people living in the counties we now know as Norfolk and Suffolk. But theories such as these only really apply to whole communities of people and not to individuals.


In the case of the concentration of Norfolks that developed in Yorkshire, historian RWS (Bill) Norfolk noted that the name Norfolk seems to appear in Yorkshire in the mid 12th century, and there is evidence from this time of groups with this name living at York, Middleham, Wakefield, Kirby Fleetham and Scarborough. He thought it probable that the progenitor was a feudal tenant of the great baronial family of Warenne on that family's estates in Norfolk and at some time early in the twelfth century he left there and moved to the Warenne's other great estates in Yorkshire. Once there, he began to be called "of Norfolk" and in due course that became his surname. (The Warenne family came over to this country from Normandy with William the Conqueror and were rewarded for their service to him in the Conquest with the grants of large estates in both Norfolk and Yorkshire.)


The name is found spelled in a number of ways: Norfolk, Northfolk, Nortfolc, Norff, Norfax etc, but until the early fifteenth century it was always preceded by the word "de", thus clearly indicating that the people of this name had originally come from the county of Norfolk. It should be remembered that standardisation of spelling only began to really take hold in the 18th century. Until 1732, almost all legal documents were written in Latin and both place names and surnames have changed over time, in many cases because those responsible for written records simply wrote down what they heard - or thought they heard.