"state of wakefulness," Old English -wacu (as in nihtwacu "night watch"), related to watch; and partly from Old Norse vaka "vigil, eve before a feast," related to vaka "be awake" (cf. Old High German wahta "watch, vigil," Middle Dutch wachten "to watch, guard;" see wake (v.)). Meaning "a sitting up at night with a corpse" is attested from early 15c. (the verb in this sense is recorded from mid-13c.). The custom largely survived as an Irish activity. Wakeman (c.1200), which survives as a surname, was Middle English for "watchman."