Some questions just come out of left field.
My son’s been mildly obsessed with Robin Hood, ever since we first watched the Disney animated Robin Hood movie. Not to the same degree he’s obsessed with Star Wars, mind, but it’s still his go-to cartoon movie. I could imagine any number of questions coming out of that film – Why the characters aren’t wearing pants, perhaps. Or why are they animals. I even got one of the questions I expected: “Why is Prince John putting them in jail?” But I never expected to get asked:
“Dad? What’s Robin Hood’s last name?”
Seriously. If I’d even considered that as a question, I’d have expected him to think “Hood” was the character’s last name. Heck, I even tried that as an answer.
“His last name is Hood.”
“No it’s not, daddy. That’s not a last name.”
Go figure. So, it’s off to the internet. And the short answer to the question is that he probably doesn’t have one, because there probably isn’t a historical Robin Hood. As Stephen Knight and Thomas Ohlgren write in the introduction to Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales:
It remains an item of faith, or perhaps obsession, among many modern commentators that Robin Hood too was a real person, and they believe that enough careful attention to the records will produce a real Robin Hood who might, like the equally obscure King Arthur, be the real figure behind the myths — or legends, as such historians would want to call them. It is true (and usually ignored by the modern historians) that the earliest references to the hero all assume he was a real person amplified in story, an English Wallace, it might seem, especially because the earliest chroniclers who mention Robin are all Scottish….
That idea of antiquity and the prolific appearance of the name do not, however, suggest that there was one “original” Robin Hood, but that by then the name refers generally to someone who was in some way outside or against the law as it was being imposed.
Interestingly enough, however, there are sources that provide him with a name. For example, there’s Joseph Ritson’s Robin Hood: A collection of all the ancient poems, songs and ballads, now extant, relative to that celebrated English outlaw:
ROBIN HOOD was born at Locksley, in the county of Nottingham, in the reigh of King Henry the Second, and about the year of Christ 1160. His extraction was noble, and his true name ROBERT FITZOOTH, which vulgar pronunciation easily corrupted into ROBIN HOOD. He is frequently styled, and commonly reputed to have been, EARL OF HUNTINGDON; a title to which, in the latter part of his life, at least, he actually appears to have had some sort of pretension.
BBC History weighs in as well, with the following quote from Robin Hood and his Historical Context:
On 25th July 1225, the royal justices held an assize at York. When the penalties were recorded in the Michaelmas roll of the Exchequer, they included 32s. 6d. for the chattels of one Robert Hod, fugitive. The account was carried forward into the following year, when he had acquired the nickname of ‘Hobbehod’, and indicates that he had been a tenant of the archbishopric of York.
The article notes, however, that the evidence for this is flimsy. John Major, the historian who presented the argument, used dating described by the author as “purely arbitrary”. However, it does fall nicely within the reign of King John, so that’s one bit of evidence in favor of Robert Hod being Robin Hood’s real name. (And incidentally, don’t you love how historians snipe at each other?)
Robin Hood may or may not have been real, and his name may or may not have been Robin Hood. But real people were certainly happy to adopt his name as their own. As the BBC article goes on to discuss:
The King’s Remembrancer’s Memoranda Roll of Easter 1262 notes the pardoning of the prior of Sandleford for seizing without warrant the chattels of one William Robehod, fugitive. This case can be cross-referenced with the roll of the Justices in Eyre in Berkshire in 1261, in which a criminal gang is outlawed, including William son of Robert le Fevere, whose chattels were seized without warrant by the prior of Sandleford.
This William son of Robert and William Robehod were certainly one and the same, and some clerk during transcription had changed the name. It follows that the man who changed the name knew of the legend and equated the name of Robin Hood with outlawry.
The article further notes that “there are numerous cases in the C13th & C14th of outlaws deliberately taking on the pseudonyms of Robin Hood and Little John, and it seems likely that the original Friar Tuck who got accreted to the legend was one Robert Stafford who was active in Sussex between 1417 and 1429.”
So Robin Hood’s real name may have been Hod. Or Fitzooth. Or nothing at all. But, whatever it was, he’s still famous.