When Cecilia was born, surnames were beginning to grow popular as a way to furnish information about an individual or family. Cecilia’s surname, Penifader, stems from the word pennyfather and perhaps indicates that Cecilia’s paternal grandfather was miserly or greedy. Robert Grosseteste, a twelfth-century peasant who was so intelligent that he rose to the rank of bishop, probably earned his name as a result of being so clever (“Grosseteste” translates to “large head”). In both cases, these surnames symbolize the power that society has over the individual vis-à-vis labeling and influencing public perception of that individual.
Many peasants readily believed that these two catastrophes were manifestations of God’s wrath. In response, the people prayed with renewed fervor, hoping that God would relent and end their suffering. Ironically, crime increased dramatically during the Great Famine, ushering in a new, less trusting era.