As we don't have a history section (Scott?), I'll post this in the main forum.
From "The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England including the Rural and Domestic Recreations, May Games, Mummeries, Shows, Processions, Pageants, and Pompous Spectacles from the Earliest Period to the Present Time", by Joseph Strutt, who certainly knew how to entitle a volume, published in a new edition of 1834 (the original edition was 1801, and as he died in 1802, the new edition seems to have just had an enhanced index).
In a chapter called "The Norman Minstrels".
"...; the jugleours, who in the middle ages were famous for playing upon the vielle, accompanied the songs of the trouvers. The vielle was a stringed instrument, sounded by the turning of a wheel within it, resembling that which we frequently see about the streets played by the Savoyards, vulgarly called a hurdy-gurdy. These jugleours were also assisted by the chanteurs: and this unison of talents rendered the compositions more harmonious and more pleasing to the auditory, and increased their rewards, so they readily joined each other, and travelled together in large parties. (1).
(1) Fauchet, Origine de la Langue et Poesie Francoise, 1581, liv. i. chap. viii. fol. 72.
This is interesting from a couple of points. I am not sure how much of the 1581 text that he is using, but even if you discount the use of the hurdy-gurdy by Norman minstrels, or ascribe the vielle to a different instrument altogether, what he says about his own period is interesting.
It is quite an early reference to the Savoyards, and he also states that it is 'vulgarly' called the hurdy-gurdy, suggesting a rather base and distasteful origin of the term, and that it is also commonly called something else, otehrwise he would almost certainly just say that it was a hurdy-gurdy.
I would be interested to hear if anyone has any further observations on this, while I go and tear my hair out trying to find an obscure sixteenth century french book....