Norfolk Howard

Have you recently seen a Norfolk Howard?

Maybe you have, maybe you haven’t. I have to say that I, most certainly, hope that it is the latter and that you haven’t had the misfortune to have seen one recently – or, for that matter at any time in your life.

I’ll come to why very shortly.

But first, let me take you back to the year 1862.


It would appear that, in that illustrious year, there was a spate of people becoming ashamed of their names and, as a consequence, changing them by deed poll.

Indeed, The Northampton Mercury was so outraged by the perceived snobbishness of people wanting to change their names to give them a more aristocratic ring that it felt compelled to lecture its readers in its edition of Saturday 28th June 1862:-

“To all the manifold shapes which vulgarity has hitherto assumed will be added the new variety of changing a respectable name into one of those so called aristocratic surnames, which are, as a matter of fact, found much more frequently in the columns of penny romances than in the pages of the Court Guide.

This social folly has spread with frightful rapidity, and becomes greater in each successive manifestation.”


The paper then went on to present its readers with the example of Mr Jones, a Leicestershire magistrate who decided that the humble name of Jones was insufficient to match his perceived status in society, and so he petitioned to have his name changed to St. Paul.

His attempt at self aggrandisement led to an awful lot of derision being heaped on him by newspapers across the country, including the aforementioned article which went on to observe of Mr. St Paul, formerly Jones:-

“He may, in every respect but one, be the most high-minded of gentlemen.

When, however, he announced his intention of assuming the name of “St. Paul,” he performed a feat of outrageous silliness.

Why St. Paul?

Does he wish to be confounded with a family of that name, or does he intend to show his admiration for the Apostle?

The step from Jones to St. Paul is too long a stride without effort.”

However, it was for another name changer that The Mercury reserved its – admittedly tongue in cheek – outraged criticism.


On Thursday June 26th 1862 the following announcement appeared in The Times:-

“I, Norfolk Howard, heretofore called and known by the name of Joshua Bug, late of Epsom, in the county of Surrey, now of Wakefield, in the county of York, and landlord of the Swan Tavern, in the same county, do hereby give notice, that on the 20th day of this present month of June, for and on behalf of myself and heirs, lawfully begotten, I did wholly abandon the use of the surname of Bug, and assumed, took, and used, and am determined at all times hereafter, in all writings, actions, dealings, matters, and things, and upon all other occasions whatsoever, to be distinguished, to subscribe, to be called and known by the name of Norfolk Howard only.

I further refer all whom it may concern to the deed poll under my hand and seal, declaring that I choose to renounce the use of the surname of Bug, and that I assume in lien thereof the above surnames of Norfolk Howard, and also declaring my determination, upon all occasions whatsoever, to be called and distinguished exclusively by the said surnames of Norfolk Howard, duly enrolled by me in the High Court of Chancery.

Dated this 23rd day of June, 1862. Norfolk Howard, late Joshua Bug.”

The newspaper announcement of Joshua Bug's name change.
Bug Changes His Name. Copyright, The British Library Board.


Poor old Norfolk Howard’s social pretension led to him being mocked extensively in newspapers the length and breadth of the land -indeed it would appear that the notice in The Times was, in fact, placed by somebody else as a joke!

The Northampton Mercury had this to say:-

“Joshua is not perhaps the best sounding of Scriptural names, and it is hard for a respectable member of society never to be introduced into a drawing-room without exciting recollections of what young ladies, more nice than wise, term “bed insects.” Under such a trial human nature might so easily forget sense and dignity that a slight error might claim forgiveness.

If, for instance, Mr. Bug had modestly slipped – say into the name of Buggins, or even Big, few censors could have done more than smile at man’s weakness. To throw aside the name of the Jewish hero was, at the best, a want of judgement, but, here too, excuse may be found by the charitable.

Doubtless Joshua Bug was familiarly called ” Josh,” and to desire to escape from so odious a name was a natural wish.

Had he, for a year or two, passed as J. Buggins, and then come forth as John or Joseph Buggins, we should never have denounced the innocent fraud.

But he has gone much further than the perpetration of a white lie.

The man who calls himself Norfolk Howard must be the snob of snobs.

To be ashamed of his own name is bad, but to affect a new high-sounding title, is atrocious vulgarity.

For such a criminal no plea can avail to obtain mercy.

He should be hung in terrorem as an example to all respectable men who are conscious of a sneaking wish to cease from being plain Jones or Robinson, and, as the law cannot punish his folly, let us hope that the facetiousness or confusion of his acquaintance may dub him for ever as Norfolk Bug.

Let him be fair game for all the punsters and witlings of his  acquaintance, unprotected by any of those rules either of good sense or of good taste, which he has so outrageously set at defiance.”

That told him!


The constant reportage on Joshua Bug’s Change of name to Norfolk Howard resulted in him being bestowed with a fame that spread way beyond the borders of Wakefield, and ensured that his name would have been on the lips of many a resident of the Victorian East End of London – and in a way that he could not have foreseen when he set in motion his act of self aggrandisement.

The change of name from Bug to Norfolk Howard resulted in his latter surnames becoming ingrained in the public consciousness with his first and, from the mid-1860’s to at least the early 20th century, the common slang for a bed bug become a Norfolk Howard.

Thereafter, whenever a citizen of Spitalfields or Whitechapel – or anybody the country over for that matter – found his or her or their bed infested with bugs, they would exclaim that they were plagued by “Norfolk Howards” and, in so doing, would remember the Yorkshire publican who, in trying to better the lot in life for himself and his heirs, bestowed upon his family an immortality that he could never have envisaged – or even wished for – when he put his signature to that name-changing deed in 1862!

So, in closing, I would just like to wish you all goodnight, and don’t let the Norfolk Howards bite.