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Wiktionary claims that the surname Hooker is occupational:

an occupation for a maker of hooks

This seems unlikely to me for several reasons. Were it true, one would expect there to be a corresponding occupational term hooker in the OED — but there is not. The OED gives "hooker" = petty thief back to the 16th century, and "hooker" = prostitute back to the mid-19th, but nothing about makers of hooks.

The name itself goes back at least to the 16th century. For example, Richard Hooker. The name "Hooke" might be related.

Is anything known about this surname? Surely it doesn't mean a petty thief or a prostitute. Perhaps a variant spelling of hawker? (The OED has no evidence of such a spelling, however.)

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  • Your local library may have a dictionary of surnames. There doesn't appear to be one available online. Oct 31, 2022 at 15:44
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    I would suspect (OED) † hucker, n. Forms: In Middle English hukker. -- Etymology: < huck v. + -er suffix1, or back-formation < huckster n. ... Obsolete. rare. -- A petty dealer; one who bargains or haggles. 14.. in T. Wright & R. P. Wülcker Anglo-Saxon & Old Eng. Vocab. (1884) I. 566/37 Auccionator et Auccionatrix, an hukker & an hukkester.
    – Greybeard
    Oct 31, 2022 at 16:46
  • @Greybeard I didn't see this before I wrote my answer, but I followed a similar trail via the Middle English Dictionary. Oct 31, 2022 at 17:26
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    "Surely it doesn't mean a petty thief or a prostitute." looks at all the roads in the UK whose names essentially boil down to "Prostitute Street" because they used to be red-light districts I dunno, it seems possible to me.
    – nick012000
    Nov 1, 2022 at 10:23
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    Alas, I thought I had read that the prostitute sense of "hooker" was related to General Joseph Hooker, but his Wikipedia article has a paragraph debunking that particular folk etymology.
    – chepner
    Nov 1, 2022 at 16:44

2 Answers 2

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Surname Database suggests three possible sources [bolding mine; minor adjustments. While naming often stretches logic nowadays and is, I'd say, usually off-topic as with song lyrics, I'd say this involves legitimate etymology]:

Hooks:

Recorded as Hook, Hooke, Hooker, Hookes, Hooks, Huck, Huke, Hocke and Huckes, this is a very early English medieval surname, perhaps even the earliest – or certainly one of that select group. It has three possible origins, although none are directly connnected with piracy or the sea, not even the Hook of Holland!

  • The first is locational from one of various places called Hook or Hooke (Old English ''hoc'') in six English counties.
  • The second was a very popular nickname for a person with a hooked nose, and also originally ''hoc'', whilst
  • the third is from the pre 7th century Olde English ''hocere'', the later ''hooker,'' and occupational for a skilled maker of hooks. These were not initially made from iron or steel, but fashioned using heating and steaming from animal bone.

The modern meaning of a call girl or boy, we understand is 19th century, and based upon ''hooking'' a person. To our knowledge it has no relevance to the origins of the surname – but anything is possible with surnames. Early examples of recordings include one Halwun Hoce in the register of Old English Bynames from the years 1050 - 1071 CE. As surnames are generally accepted as commencing in the three centuries AFTER the Norman Invasion of England in 1066, this means it really is old. Other very early examples include Geoffrey de la Hoke in the county of Devonshire in 1242, and Gervase ad Hokys of Bedfordshire in 1244, both are locational, whilst John Hook of Essex in 1327 is clearly a nickname. The very first known recording of all was that of Osmundus Hocere, in the rolls known as the Liber Elliensis of circa 975 CE. Surname holders have been granted at least twenty coats of arms. Perhaps the first is that of Sir Richard Hook, of the city of York, who served under King Edward 1st of England (1273 - 1307)....

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  • Thanks! The OED doesn't support "hocere" in connection with hooks or hookmaking. The only meaning it gives is related to contempt or scorn. Oct 31, 2022 at 16:02
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    The OED isn't comprehensive. The snag is, most other sources aren't as well edited. Oct 31, 2022 at 16:04
  • Oy, even discussing and dismissing the streetwalker misassociation is horrifying as a patently false friend. Just saying, does Biden bide his time, or was Truss supportive? Oct 31, 2022 at 16:26
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    OP does ask (in a hedged way) about the possibility, Yosef. And some insults were 'adopted' as surnames [James Pylant; Genealogy Magazine]. Oct 31, 2022 at 16:29
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    @EdwinAshworth Valid link. Maybe Abigail Van Buren got royalties from moving companies. Oct 31, 2022 at 16:43
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One possibility not represented in the other answer relates to the Middle English hukker (comp. Middle Low German hoker and Middle Dutch hoeker; think modern hawker). Basically, a Hooker or Hucker could come from someone who peddled or auctioned goods. From the Middle English Dictionary:

(a) A petty merchant, peddler, male huckster; ?also, an auctioneer; (b) in surnames.

Examples include

  • Adam le Huckere de Saunford
  • Joh. Le Hukker
  • Richard le Uckermon
  • Rob. Le Hockar
  • Nicholaus le Hukker

The surnames include examples that could morph into Hooker by switching the [u] or [o] to [oo] and reducing the double letter [kk]. Both spelling changes are plausible between Middle English and Modern English, perhaps even by the time John Hooker was active in the 16th century (Wikipedia). (Compare Middle English spellings of buke or buk to modern book.) Also, one can find genealogical entries where siblings go by both "Hooker" and "Hucker," suggesting possible fluidity between the two spellings (Ancestry.com; WikiTree).

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  • Thanks! This sense of "hawker" goes back at least to the 1500s. Oct 31, 2022 at 18:05
  • "Hooky" is also slang for stolen goods.
    – apg
    Nov 2, 2022 at 14:10

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