The Normans were Vikings who began to settle in northern France in the late 9th century. They soon adopted the French language and Christianity. In the year 1066 an army of Normans under Duke William (later called "the Conqueror") crossed the English Channel and defeated the English king Harold at the Battle of Hastings.

This had many profound effects. The aristocracy of England became Norman (the British monarchy of today is descended from William the Conqueror). The Norman French language of the aristocracy influenced the Middle English of the common people, with the result that the vocabulary of Modern English includes many words of French origin (see Anglo-Norman).

Another result of the conquest was a change in names. Many Old English given names were replaced by Norman names, like Richard, William and Henry. In other instances native Old English names were replaced by continental Germanic cognates (such as Robert and Roger).