Collins Dictionary Of Surnames: From Abbey to Mutton, Nabbs to Zouch
Dictionaries are usually consulted very briefly for what they have to say about a single name or word. Many would apply to them the old joke about telephone directories – they have lots of characters but not much of a story. I think they fail to do their job if that is the case. A dictionary should be a collection of stories, each one briefly told and interesting in its own right. Those stories should be written in plain English, not dressed in academic jargon. The dictionary should, as a result, be a book in which you can happily browse, never being quite sure what you will discover on the next page.
As it happens, Collins have established a tradition of reader-friendliness in their dictionaries which has proved to be very successful. In this work I have gone very deliberately down that ‘friendly’ path, to the extent of providing from time to time an anecdote, verse or quotation to accompany the linguistic facts. Those facts, of course, are often entertaining in themselves; the anecdotal material is meant to be an icing on the cake.
Surnames are not just words; they are intimately connected with people and with human behaviour in all its variety. Taken as a whole, our surnames show not only where our ancestors lived and how they earned their living; they also record the out-spoken comments our fore-fathers made on their neighbours’ physical or mental peculiarities. In our surnames we find a record of life in the Middle Ages and are allowed a glimpse into the medieval mind. Our surnames really do bring the past to life.
Since it is impossible in a book of this size to deal with the huge number of individual surnames that now exist, I have tried to provide as much practical help as possible for those who are trying to trace the origin of an uncommon name. Inevitably that will mean delving into family history, but that is always a rewarding occupation. Researching your own surname leads you back to your ancestors. They are waiting there for you to find them.
We take it for granted today that everyone has a surname, but that was not always the case. Three questions we can usefully ask, therefore, are when, why and how surnames came into being. The answers to the first two questions are closely connected, so we can treat them together.
Our remote ancestors had a single name, referred to throughout this dictionary as a personal name. The Anglo-Saxons and their Germanic cousins usually formed such names by using words that had become conventional name components. Those who make a particular study of names (onomatologists) refer to these name components as elements, and they are described as such in the entries which follow. Germanic name elements often referred to abstract qualities such as ‘fame’ or ‘strength.’ Some other favourite themes were words meaning ‘riches,’ ‘battle,’ ‘brave,’ ‘elf’, ‘beloved,’ ‘rule,’ ‘raven,’ ‘victory,’ ‘power,’ ‘friend,’ ‘wolf,’ ‘protection,’ ‘bright,’ ‘old,’ ‘peace,’ ‘gift.’ In forming a name for a child, one of the elements from the father’s name might be combined with one from the mother’s name to create a new name. It was not necessary for the two parts of the name to complement each other in meaning. Wulfram, for instance, was not meant to have an overall sense, linking ‘wolf’ and ‘raven.’ That is why it has been necessary in this dictionary to use a rather long-winded formula and say something like ‘Wolfram (one of the modern forms of the surname), descendant of someone who bore the Germanic personal name Wulfram, composed of elements meaning “wolf” and “raven.”’
As it happens, this method of creating a name from parts of other names continues in modern Britain to some extent, though it is normally restricted to minor naming systems. A typical example would be a William and Mary using parts of their names to create Wilry, say, or Wilmar as a house-name or a name for their boat. Modern formations of this type are usually known as blends.
The Anglo-Saxons do not seem to have duplicated personal names within the same community, nor did they re-use the names of distinguished ancestors. That situation changed when the Danes and Norwegians settled in Britain. They brought with them their own names, which were often similar to those of the Anglo-Saxons, but more importantly, they brought with them their own naming philosophy. As Sir Frank Stenton once expressed it, the Scandinavians believed that ‘the soul of an individual was represented or symbolised by his name, and that the bestowal of a name was a means of calling up the spirit of the man who had borne it into the child to whom it was given.’ Those words could, of course, be used of many modern parents. They name a child after an admired person in the hope that the qualities of that person will somehow be passed on to the new name-bearer.
This belief in name-magic meant that the Scandinavians deliberately re-used the names of famous chiefs or family friends when naming their children. By doing so, they had taken a step towards the modern situation where any number of children born in a particular year are likely to receive the same first name. There is nothing wrong with that system, but it makes a second name essential if an individual Daniel or Laura, say, needs to be identified more precisely.
The Normans shared the same ideas as the Scandinavians about re-using names. When they came to England as conquerors in the 11th century their ideas about naming, as well as the names they used, soon began to be adopted by the natives. The Normans had already begun to use secondary names for purposes of legal identification, especially to establish ownership of land. This useful practice became more common, and Englishmen, especially those of high social class and status, followed suit. Over the next two centuries, what had begun as an aristocratic necessity filtered down through the social classes. By the end of the 14th century, families at all levels of society had what we now call a surname. Thesaur- of ‘surname,’ incidentally, is from Latin super ‘extra,’ though some early writers on the subject insisted that surnames were really ‘sirenames.’
An important point about surnames is that they are passed on from one generation to the next. That was not necessarily the case when secondary names were first used. There was a long period during which someone’s additional name was a by-name, applying only to the person who bore it. John Baker at that time was a baker, but his son might be Robert Johnson. It was only when a man could be called Baker, even though he practised some other trade, or Johnson when his father’s name was William, that Baker and Johnson could truly be called surnames.
There was, then, a fairly lengthy surname-formation period during which surnames slowly evolved, and for purely practical reasons. But the surnames most people bear today have been in existence for some six hundred years. During that time the words that were used to form them in the first place have often changed their meanings, and most names have changed their spelling. For centuries, after all, the names were being written down by semi-literate clerks using their own ideas about how to represent the sound they were hearing. The name-bearers were usually unable to guide them or correct them since most people, at all levels of society, were illiterate. As a result, in their passage through the centuries, individual names may have taken on a wide variety of forms. The lists of variants which accompany many entries in this dictionary make that point.
Not everyone bears a surname that came into existence by the end of the Middle Ages. Many families have understandably adopted a new surname or adapted an existing one, seeing no reason why they should perpetuate the embarrassing nickname of an ancestor. It is easy to see why the names listed in Appendix 1, for instance, have become obsolete. Foundlings were given surnames by parish authorities, often in a whimsical manner, and may only date from the 19th century. Jewish families had their own naming traditions, but were often forced to adopt surnames. It is only by tracing back a family’s history that one can be reasonably sure that the surname a family now bears was that of a medieval ancestor.
Let us retrace our steps for a moment and ask how, once the need for additional secondary names had been recognized, they were formed. The easiest way to understand the process is to think of how people might be given a nickname today. A nickname (originally an ‘eke name,’ or ‘extra name’) may comment on someone’s physical appearance, such as his or her red hair. It may refer to an aspect of behaviour, such as greediness. Our ancestors were fond of commenting on where someone had originally come from, as we do occasionally when we nickname someone Paddy or Jock. They were usually far more specific, however, and described someone as from such and such a village, or as the chap who lived at the foot of the hill. They liked names of the Jones the Bread type, which commented on a man’s trade or profession. They also liked to describe people in terms of their relationships, as Richard’s or Emma’s son.
Writers on surnames traditionally refer to such relationship names as patronymics (derived from the father or male relative) or metronymics (derived from the mother or female relative). Surnames indicating trades and professions are occupational names; those which indicate where someone originally lived are either place names or locative names. Names describing some aspect of appearance or behaviour are lumped together as nicknames. These have become established terms, and they are not necessarily as good as they should be, but the four categories do give a general impression of how surnames were formed.
The simplified summary given above omits at least one vital factor which affects the interpretation of a surname - its language of origin. It may be an Old English name, Old English being a technical description of the English language before the 11th century. Between the 11th and 14th centuries, following the huge impact on it of Norman French, the language is known as Middle English. From the 15th century onwards we refer to Modern English, though as any reader of Shakespeare knows, many words have changed their meanings since his time. Because of the Scandinavian settlers, many of our surnames are based on Old Norse words. Others are French, specifically the dialect of Old French spoken by the Normans. Some names are Dutch, brought to England by Flemish craftsmen. There are also the many names which have a Celtic origin, in Scottish or Irish Gaelic, Welsh or Cornish. In modern Britain the situation is more complicated still, thanks to our multi-national society.
It is obviously essential to know what language we are concerned with when we are seeking the origin of a surname. If you were asked the meaning of the word pain you might say something like ‘bodily discomfort.’ But if the word is French rather than English, then its meaning is ‘bread.’ The situation is further complicated in the case of surname, since we need to ask, what did this word mean, in such and such a language, in the Middle Ages. As it happens, pain in Middle English often meant ‘judicial punishment,’ a meaning which has become obsolete other than in one or two fossilized phrases. For a good example of how the original language of a surname can affect its meaning, see the entry at Belcher.
The fact that surnames began life in different languages helped to confuse still further the spelling situation. If an English-speaking clerk was trying to write down something he was hearing from a speaker of Welsh, for instance, he would be completely baffled by Welsh sounds that do not exist in English. French-speaking clerks had equal difficulty with English names; Scottish and Irish Gaelic created difficulties for those who did not speak those languages. One recalls the stories of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island and being given ‘American’ names by officials who could not understand what was said to them. When asked by other officials what his new name was, one man is said to have replied: Ich hab vergessen, ‘I’ve forgotten.’ He was registered as Ichabod Fergusson. Another version of this story turns Schön vergessen ‘already forgotten’ into Sean Fergusson.
TRACING THE ORIGIN OF A SURNAME
Given these various complications, how then do we go about tracing the original meaning of a surname. A first step is to consult dictionaries such as this. No single dictionary is able to deal with the huge number of names that exist, and one should always consult as many as possible. The list that follows mentions reference works that have acted as sources for the present dictionary work and give an idea of what exists in print.
A Dictionary of Surnames, Patrick Hanks and Flavia Hodges, Oxford University Press, 1988. This is especially strong on the main European as well as British names. Jewish names are also very well covered thanks to an important contribution from David L. Gold.
The Penguin Dictionary of Surnames, Basil Cottle, Penguin Books, 1967 and later editions. Written in a very condensed style and often assuming that the ordinary reader has the same specialist knowledge as the author. Quirky remarks on many names, and well worth reading.
A Dictionary of British Surnames, P.H.Reaney, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1958 and later editions. Still available in many reference libraries, and acknowledged as a work of major importance in the field.
The Origin of English Surnames, P.H.Reaney, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967. A scholarly discursive work, essential to serious students of the subject.
A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames, Charles Wareing Bardsley, reprinted from the original 1901 edition by Genealogical Publishing Co, Inc., 1967. The author spent a lifetime studying the subject and did much pioneering work.
English Surnames, their Sources and Significations, Charles Wareing Bardsley, reprinted from the 1873 edition by David and Charles, 1969. Still highly readable.
Romance of the London Directory, Charles Wareing Bardsley, Hand and Heart Publishing, reprinted by Gryphon, 1971. Entertaining.
A History of Surnames of the British Isles, C. L’Estrange Ewen, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1931. An undervalued discursive work, with much to offer.
Homes of Family Names in Great Britain, Henry Brougham Guppy, Harrison & Sons, 1890. Uniquely concerned with the distribution of surnames by county. R.A.McKinley has shown, however, that the names in Norfolk in the 16th century were not necessarily those which still predominated in the 19th century. In other words, Guppy’s counts - treated with reverence by eg Basil Cottle - must be treated with some caution. See also Appendix 2 of this book.
English Ancestral Names, J.R.Dolan, Clarkson N. Potter, 1972. This work focuses on ‘the evolution of the surname from medieval occupations,’ an excellent idea in itself, but a great many names which have other possible explanations have been included.
Family Names J. N. Hook, MacMillan, 1982. Especially concerned with European names in the USA.
New Dictionary of American Family Names, Elsdon C.Smith, Harper and Row, 1956, 1973. This is a collation from the author’s vast personal collection of works on the subject. It suffers from accepting rather too easily the explanations of others, but can be very useful as a starting point.
American Surnames, Elsdon C.Smith, Chilton Book Company, 1969. A discursive work.
Surnames, Ernest Weekley, John Albemarle, 1916. A scholarly discursive work, written in a very condensed style. Any serious student of the subject will need to consult it.
Words and Names, Ernest Weekley, John Murray, 1932.
The Romance of Names, Ernest Weekley, John Murray, 1914.
English Surnames, C. M. Matthews, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1966. A discursive work in non technical language.
How You Got Your Name, James Pennethorne Hughes, J. M. Dent 1959. A paperback introduction to the subject.
Is Thy Name Wart? James Pennethorne Hughes, J. M. Dent 1965. A paperback dealing with some ‘odd’ surnames.
An Essay on Family Nomenclature, Mark Antony Lower, John Russell Smith, 1875. Entertaining.
Patronymica Britannica, Mark Antony Lower, John Russell Smith, 1860. A dictionary, still interesting though later scholarship disproved many of the explanations.
British Family Names, Henry Barber, Eliot Stock, 1902. Useful lists of Old Norse and Norman names.
Family Names and their Story, S. Baring-Gold, Seeley & Co, 1910. Discursive.
The Surnames of Scotland, George F. Black, The New York Public Library, 1946. A standard work.
Scottish Surnames, David Dorward, HarperCollins, 1995. An updated work.
Welsh Surnames, T.J. Morgan and Prys Morgan, University of Wales Press, 1985. ‘The primary aim of this work is not to explain the “meanings” of Welsh names,’ says the Preface. A highly technical work, not easy to read.
The Surnames of Ireland, Edward MacLysaght, Irish University Press, 1969. Fairly technical, a great many names left unexplained.
Irish Family Names, Patrick Kelly, republished by Gale Research, 1976.
A Handbook of Cornish Surnames, G.Pawley White, published by the author, 1972. A useful booklet.
Norfolk Surnames in the 16th Century, R.A.McKinley, Leicester University Press, 1969. Of specialist interest.
English Surnames Series, Yorkshire West Riding, George Redmonds, Phillimore, 1973.
Suffolk Surnames, N.I. Bowditch, Trübner & Co, 2nd edition 1861. An immensely long list of surnames from Boston and its vicinity, without explanations but often useful to check whether a surname has survived.
The Personal Names of the Isle of Man, J.J.Kneen, Oxford University Press, 1937. A scholarly dictionary.
South African Surnames, Eric Rosenthal, Howard Timmins, 1965.
Russian Surnames, B.O.Unbegaun, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1872.
Dictionnaire Etymologique des Noms de Famille et Prénoms de France, Albert Dauzat, Librairie Larousse, 1951.
Deutsches Namenlexikon, Hans Bahlow, Keysersche, 1967.
Unsere Familiennamen, K. Linnartz, Dümmlers, 1958.
Particular surnames that have inspired books in their own right include Smith (The Book of Smith, Elsdon C. Smith, and Is Your Name Smith? by Nicholas Gould). Gould also wrote little booklets about the names Davi(e)s, Williams, Brown(e), Jones and Taylor. James Finlayson long ago wrote a dissertation on the names Buggey and Bugg (see those entries).
The titles mentioned above show only the tip of the onomastic iceberg, and research is constantly in progress. At the Meertens Institute in Amsterdam, for instance, an electronic database of Dutch surnames is being prepared. No doubt computerised research is being undertaken elsewhere. Personal Names and Naming, an annotated bibliography, compiled by Edwin D. Lawson, Greenwood Press, 1987, and More Names and Naming, 1995, will again need to be up-dated in the near future.
It is necessary to say that an awful lot of nonsense about surname origins has appeared in print, and one must not innocently believe everything one reads. To give just one example, Richard Stephen Charnock, in a book entitled Ludus Patronymicus, or the Etymology of Curious Surnames, seriously explains the name Shakespeare as a corruption of Jacques Pierre. This carries the ‘game of names’ a little too far.
RESEARCHING FAMILY HISTORY
If the name that interests you has not already been investigated by a competent researcher, it becomes necessary to do some detective work. It is necessary to trace the male ancestry of the family as far as is possible. The object of the search is to discover as many different spelling forms of the name as possible, so that the sound of the name to those who were recording it can be assessed. Family history research also needs to establish where the family was likely to be living in the 14th century, which in turn indicates the language from which the name is derived.
There are plenty of books available which give advice on how to research family history. There are also professional researchers who can do the job for you, though that can be an expensive option. In most areas there is a Family History Society, and there is a national Genealogical Society. Membership of such societies is well worth while. This kind of historical research soon becomes complex, and helpful advice from others is invaluable.
Some may feel that it is worth making an intelligent guess at the origin of a surname by using deduction. Of the four classes of surnames mentioned above, three have been especially well studied. Names which reflect medieval occupations, for example, were also words which were recorded in contemporary literature. They are dealt with in a historical work such as the monumental Oxford English Dictionary and find their way into most surname dictionaries. Descriptive nicknames were also normal words, and again have been thoroughly investigated. Patronymics of the Johnson type, including Scottish and Irish Mac- names, Welsh Ap- or Ab-, are well covered in existing works.
Surnames which began as place names, the largest class of surnames, are the ones that give most problems. They may have begun as the names of small settlements or hamlets which were totally unknown fifty miles away. The place names themselves had usually themselves been in existence for centuries and had probably changed their original form. Local pronunciation of many place names, as is still the case today, often varied from what the spelling of the name might suggest. An obscure surname, then, is likely to be a transferred place name, which is why a good place to search for it is often the county by county volumes of the English Place-Name Society. These are available in any good reference library. Such a search should only be made after delving into the family history as described above. Clues as to where to begin may be suggested by Appendix 2 of this dictionary, which gives the main locations of many surnames at the end of the 19th century.
OTHER ASPECTS OF NAMES
Not everyone is concerned with trying to discover the original meaning of a surname. Many American academics now concern themselves very seriously with ‘literary onomastics,’ a branch of literary criticism which examines how and why authors name their characters. Others have been concerned with eponyms, or proper names that have become words (such as lynch, boycott). Less serious in their approach are the many who content themselves with a collection of ‘odd’ names. John Train published his findings in Remarkable Names of Real People and followed it two years later with Even More Remarkable Names of Real People. Don’t Blame the Stork, by Barbara ‘Rainbow’ Fletcher, appeared in 1981. It is crammed with‘oddities.’ A generally light-hearted approach to names is to be found in Names, by Paul Dixon, while a mixture of interesting names information is in Elsdon C. Smith’s Treasury of Name Lore. That might almost serve as a subtitle to What’s In a Name? by Leonard R.N.Ashley, and the Guinness Book of Names, by Leslie Dunkling. The latter author’s Our Secret Names discusses onomancy, beliefs in various types of name-divination, such as Numerology. Signing Off, by Homer, published by Apogee Publishing, 1980, consists entirely of entries such as ‘… We have the facts and details. Research has been completed and approved. Now, let’s go! (Signed) Serge A. Head.’
Perhaps the mention of Signing Off should serve as a hint that it is time to bring this introduction to a close. The surnames themselves are waiting in the wings, anxious to show themselves. I have often been asked, in the last thirty years, why I have made a special study of names of all kinds. I hope that this dictionary will help to answer that question, revealing how fascinating names can be.
Aaron, Aarons, Aaronson (Eng) Descendant of a man named Aaron. Traditionally explained as Hebrew ‘mountain of strength,’ but this has no evidence to support it. The biblical personage of this name is brother of Moses and Miriam.
Abadam, Adda, Addaf, Atha, Athawes, Badam, Badda, Baddam, Baddams, Badham, Batha, Bathaw, Bather, Batho, Battams (Welsh) Ab Adam ‘son of Adam.’ The variety of spellings reflects the efforts of English or Norman scribes as they tried to capture the sound of the name as pronounced by a speaker of Welsh. See ADAM.
Abbé (Fre) Occupational name of someone who was a servant in a priest’s household.
Abbett, Abbittsee ABBOT.
Abbey, Abbie (Eng, Scot) Occupational name of a worker in an abbey or someone who lived near an abbey.
Abbis, Abbisonsee ABBS.
Abbot, Abbett, Abbitt, Abbotson, Abbott (Eng) Descendant of Abraham, or servant in an abbot’s household. The frequency of the surname also suggests that it was a nickname for someone who was thought to resemble an abbot in appearance or character.
Abbs, Abbiss, Abbison, Abson (Eng) Son of Abel or Abraham.
Abe (Scot) Descendant of a man named Ebenezer, Hebrew ‘stone of help.’ In the Bible Ebenezer is the name of a place where there are several confrontations between the Israelites and Philistines. The stone referred to in the name is a memorial of Israel’s victory. Ebenezer was used as a given name by the Puritans.
Abel, Abell, Abells, Abelson, Able, Ableson, Abletson, Ablett, Ablin, Ablott (Eng) Descendant of Abel, Hebrew ‘vapour, smoke,’ used to mean ‘vanity.’ In the Bible Abel is the younger son of Adam and Eve whose offering is pleasing to God. His brother Cain is jealous and kills him.
Abercrombie, Abercromby (Scot) From Abercrombie, a parish in Fife, Scotland, so-named because it is at a confluence of a river, the name of which is based on a Gaelic word meaning ‘crooked,’ found again in surnames such as CAMERON and CAMPBELL.
Aberdeen (Scot) Descendant of someone who originally came from the Scottish town of this name. The earliest meaning of the place name was ‘mouth of the river Don.’
Able, Ableson, Abletson, Ablett, Ablin, Ablottsee ABEL.
Abrach (Scot) Descendant of someone who originally came from Lochaber, Scotland.
Abraham, Abrahams, Abrahamson, Abram, Abrams, Abramson (Eng) Descendant of a man called Abraham, a Hebrew name explained in the Old Testament as ‘father of a multitude,’ though Hebrew scholars believe it means ‘the Father loves.’ Abraham was originally called Abram ‘the Father is on high.’ He was the first of the Jewish patriarchs.
Absalom, Absolem, Absolom, Absolon, Ashplant, Aspenlon, Aspland, Asplen, Asplin, Aspling (Eng) Descendant of a man named Absalom, ‘my Father is peace.’ In the Old Testament he is the third son of David and is famous for his beauty and hair. He is eventually killed by Joab when his hair is caught in an oak tree.
Acker, Ackerman, Acreman, Akerman (Eng) Occupational name of a ploughman, worker in a field.
Acket, Acketts, Acklingsee HAKE.
Ackroyd, Ackeroyd, Acroyd, Akeroyd, Akroyd, Aykroyd (Eng) A mainly Yorkshire name, indicating someone who lived in a ‘clearing amongst oak trees’.
Acton (Eng) Someone who came from one of the several places so-named because it was a ‘settlement near oak trees.’
Adam, Acheson, Adames, Adams, Adamson, Adcock, Addey, Addis, Addison, Adds, Addy, Ade, Ades, Adie, Adkin, Aiken, Aitchison, Aitken, Atkin, Atkins, Atkinson (Eng, Scot) Descendant of a man named Adam, from a Hebrew word meaning ‘of red earth.’ The biblical Adam dies at the age of 940. See DUCK.
Adda, Addafsee ABADAM.
Addyman (Eng) Occupational name of Adam’s servant.
Afel (Welsh) Probably a form of ABEL.
Agass, Agass, Aggas, Aggis, Aggiss, Aggus, Agus, Aguss (Eng) descendant of Agace (Agatha), Greek ‘good’.
Agate, Agates (Eng) Someone who lived at or near a gate, but descendant of Agatha is also possible.
Agget, Aggett, Agg, Agge, Agott (Eng) Descendant of Agnes or Agatha.
Aggis, Aggiss, Aggussee AGASS.
Agnes, Agness (Eng) Descendant of Agnes, Greek ‘good’.
Agus, Agusssee AGASS.
Aimsmith, Ainsmithsee SMITH.
Airrless, Arliss, Harliss (Eng) Nickname for an ‘earless’ man, presumably one whose ears were hidden by long hair.
Aitchison, Aitken, Aitkens, Aitkinsee ADAM.
Akeroyd, Akroydsee ACKROYD.
Alabastar, Alabaster, Albisser, Allblaster, Allyblaster, Arblaster (Fre) An arbalest was a cross-bow. The surname could refer to a maker of cross-bows or a soldier who used this weapon.
Alban, Alabone, Albon, Albone, Alborn, Allbond, Allbones, Allebone, Alliban, Allibon, Allibone, Aubon (Eng) Descendant of Alban, a Latin name of uncertain meaning. It was the name of the first British martyr.
Albert, Alberts, Albright, Allbred, Allbright, Aubert (Eng) Descendant of a man named Albert, a Germanic name composed of elements meaning ‘noble’ and ‘bright.’
Albon, Albone, Albornsee ALBAN.
Alderson (Eng) Descendant of an ‘older son.’
ALDERTON (Eng) Someone who came from one of the several places so-named because it was the ‘settlement of Aelfweard’s or Ealdhere’s people,’ or because it was a ‘settlement amongst alder trees.’
Aldington (Eng) Someone who came from one of the several places so-named because it was ‘Ealda’s settlement.’
Aled, Allart, Allet, Allett, Allott (Welsh) Resident near the River Aled.
Alefounder, Alfounder (Eng) Occupational name for a man whose task was to inspect and supervise the work of brewers.
He was also known as an ale-conner. Since he was obliged to sample each vessel in which the ale was kept he was likely to show signs of wear after a time. A poem of James I’s reign says:
A nose he had that gan show,
What liquor he loved I trow;
For he had before long seven years
Been of the towne the ale-conner.
Alexander, Alshioner, Callister, Callistron, Elesender, Elshender, Elshenar, Elshener, MacAlaster, MacAlester, MacAlister, MacAllaster, MacAllister, MacCalister, Sandars, Sandeman, Sander, Sanderman, Sanders, Sandeson, Sandieson, Sandison, Saunder, Saunders, Saunderson (Eng, Scot) Descendant of Alexander, or someone known by a diminutive of that name. The Scottish Mac- forms are from the Gaelic MACALASDAIR. Elesender, Elshender etc., represent regional Scottish pronunciations. Callister and Callistron are Manx forms. Alexander is the Latin form of Greek Alexandros ‘he who protects men.’ It occurs in the New Testament, but was mainly associated in medieval times with Alexander the Great, the 4th century king of Macedon.
Alfild, Alfilda, Alfyld (Eng) Descendant of Alfille, an Old English personal name composed of the elements ‘elf-war.’
Allan, Allansonsee ALLEN.
Allbond, Allbonessee ALBAN.
Allbred, Allbrightsee ALBERT.
Allen, Alan, Allan, Allanson, Allenson, Alleyne, Allin, Alline, Allinson, Allis, Allison, FitzAlan, Halison (Eng, Scot) Descendant of Alan, a Celtic personal name of obscure origin, though usually linked to Gaelic ailin, from ail ‘rock.’ However, French first-name dictionaries often explain Alain as belonging to the Alans, a nomadic tribe originating in Scythia. They were conquered successively by the Roman emperor Justinian and by the Visigoths. A Breton saint of this name made the name popular amongst many of the followers of William the Conqueror. It was then taken up in great numbers in Britain.
The Irish comedian who began life as David Tynan O’Mahoney changed his name to Dave Allen simply because he wanted a name that would appear high on any list of available entertainers. Various studies, in fact, have purported to show that children whose surnames begin with a letter which is near the beginning of the alphabet do better than those who have an initial letter near the end. The theory is that names which are always amongst the first to be called out attract the attention of the teachers. The phenomenon, if it is one, was dubbed ‘alphabetic neurosis’ by the Chicago Tribune July 13, 1967: ‘If your last name begins with the letters between S and Z you are twice as likely to get ulcers as other people. The rates on heart attacks are three times as high and these people are supposed to be more morose and introspective. One doctor claims that the ulcers result from the strain of waiting for your name to be called. Aplhabetic neurosis can shorten your life by as much as twelve years.’ Monica Dickens makes a character in Mariana comment: ‘Mary wished her name did not begin with S. It was so much worse to have to wait one’s turn, with one’s confidence ebbing away every minute.’
Allerton (Eng) Someone who came from one of the several places so-named because it was a ‘settlement near alder trees’ or ‘settlement of Aelfweard’s people.’
Allet, Allettsee ALED.
Alliban, Allibon, Allibonesee ALBAN.
Allin, Alline, Allinson, Allis, Allisonsee ALLEN.
Almack (Eng) This is a name which would certainly puzzle surname scholars, but Arthur Bush explains, in his Portrait of London: ‘About the middle of the 18th century a Scotsman named William Macall married the Duchess of Hamilton’s lady’s maid. Being a man of ambition he came to London to make his fortune, but, finding that political reasons made Scotsmen unpopular in the capital at that time, he disguised his ancestry by inverting his name; and so Macall became Almack. He opened his rooms, known as Almack’s, in 1765 in King Street.’ MACALL itself also occurs as MACCALL, MACCAULL, MACKALL. The name means ‘son of Cathal,’ a Gaelic personal name meaning ‘war-wielder.’
Dr Johnson mentions another Scotsman who disguised his nationality by becoming David Mallet. His real name was Malloch, a nickname for a man with bushy eyebrows.
Altham (Eng) Descendant of someone who originally came from the Lancashire place of this name, so-called because of its ‘water-meadow with swans.’
Ambler (Eng) Occupational name for an enameller. In rare instances there may be a reference to someone who ambled about.
Amery, Amory, Embery, Embrey, Embry, Emburey, Emerick, Emerson, Emery, Emory, Hemery, Imbery, Imbrey (Eng) Descendant of someone who bore a Germanic personal name, variously spelt Amalric, Emaurri, Haimeri etc., composed of elements meaning ‘bravery’ and ‘power.’
Ancel, Anceler, Ancelle (Fre) Occupational name of a serving-maid.
Anchor, Anchorita, Anchoritesee ANGHARAD.
Ancoret, Ancret, Ancrete, Ancrite, Ancrittsee ANGHARAD.
Andrew, Anders, Anderson, Andras, Andress, Andriss, Andrewes, Andrewson, Andro, Andrews, Aunderson, Bandra, Bandrew, Bandrey, Bandro, Dand, Dandie, Dandison, Dando, Dandy, Danson, Drew, Enderson, Gillanders, Kendrew, MacAndrew, Tancock, Tandy (Eng, Welsh, Scot, Irish) All forms derive ultimately from Andrew, a Greek name meaning ‘manly, warrior-like,’ or one of its pet forms. GILLANDERS refers specifically to a devotee of St Andrew. Forms such as BANDRA are from Welsh ab Andrew, ‘son of Andrew’.
Pamela Andrews was one of the most famous young women of the 18th century, thanks to Samuel Richardson’s novel Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded. In the book (which is unintentionally hilarious) Pamela protects her virginity at all costs from her would-be seducer, who is also her employer. Virtue is rewarded when he eventually proposes marriage. The underlying message of the novel as Henry Fielding saw it, (roughly speaking, ‘don’t sell your virginity too cheaply,’) prompted him to write Shamela, followed by a novel called Joseph Andrews in which Joseph, supposedly Pamela’s brother, has to defend himself against the advances of his female employer.
Angharad, Anchor, Anchorita, Anchorite, Ancoret, Ancret, Ancrete, Ancrite, Ancritt, Angarad, Angharat, Anghared, Ankaret, Ankret, Ankrift, Ankritt, Enkret (Welsh) Various spellings, by mainly English clerics, of the Welsh feminine name Angharad ‘much loved one.’ The surname indicates a descendant of a woman so-named.
Angliss, Angless, Anglishsee ENGLISH.
Ankelsmith, Ankersmithsee SMITH.
Ankret, Ankrift, Ankrittsee ANGHARAD.
Annable, Anable, Annaple, Anniple, Hannibal, Hanniball, Honeyball, Honeybell, Honiball, Honneybell, Honniball, Hunnable, Hunneyball, Hunneybell, Hunnibal, Hunnibell (Eng) Descendant of Annable, a woman’s name which was originally Amable or Amabel, from Latin amabilis, lovable. Other forms of the name were Annaple (Scottish), Annabella, Arabella, Mabel.
Anwyl, Annwell, Annwill, Annwyl (Welsh) Descendant of Anwyl, which has the basic meaning ‘dear one.’
Appleby, Appledore, Appledram, Appleford, Applegarth, Applegate, Applegath, Appleshaw, Applethwaite, Appleton, Appletree, Applewhite, Appleyard (Eng) Someone who originally came from one of the many places so named, in each of which there was originally an ‘apple farm or orchard’. Apple and Appleman also occur, indicating a grower/seller of apples. Ablewhite is another form of Applethwaite. Apley, Appley and Apperley probably refer to a wood with wild apple trees.
Archer (Eng) Occupational name of a bowman.
The Archers, ‘an everyday story of countryfolk’ centred on Dan and Doris Archer, has been broadcast since 1950, making it the longest-running BBC radio-serial.
Argue, Argument (Fre) Professor Weekley plausibly suggested in his Surnames that Argument is a form of the common French place name Aigremont, indicating someone who originally came from that place. Argue is likely to be from a similar source, eg one of the many French places which begin with an element such as Aigre or Aigue.
A firm of solicitors in Sligo, Ireland, has attracted a certain amount of publicity at various times because of the partners’ names - Argue and Phibbs.
Arkwright, Artrick, Hartrick, Hartwright, Hattrick (Eng) Occupational name for a ‘maker of bins, meal-chests.’ Many names ending in -wright are of this type, eg BOATWRIGHT, CHEESEWRIGHT, PLOWRIGHT, SHIPWRIGHT, WAINWRIGHT, WHEELWRIGHT, but in some cases this ending has replaced an original -ric, -rich, etc., in Old English personal names. Thus Godric has become both GOODRICH and GOODWRIGHT; Aethelric is concealed in ALLWRIGHT, ALLRIGHT, OLDWRIGHT; Bealdric survives as BOLDWRIGHT, BOLDRIGHT.
Arlington (Eng) Someone who came from one of the several places so-named because it was ‘Alfred’s or Aelfrith’s settlement,’ or ‘the earl’s settlement.’
Armour, Armor, Armsmith (Eng) Occupational name of an armourer.
Armstrong (Scot, Eng) Nickname for a strong man. The variant Strongitharm is also found.
A character in Sir Walter Scott’s Guy Mannering tells a stranger: ‘The folks hereabout are a’ Armstrongs and Elliots, and so the lairds and farmers have the names of their places that they live at - as for example, Tam o’ Todshaw, Will o’ the Flat, Hobbie o’ Sorbietrees … and then the inferior sort o’ people, ye’ll observe, are kend by sorts o’ by-names, as Glaiket Christie, and the Deuke’s Davie or Tod Gabbie, or Hunter Gabbie.’
Arnold, Arnald, Arnason, Arnatt, Arnaud, Arnhold, Arnison, Arnot, Arnott, Arnould, Arnson, Arnull (Eng) Descendant of Arnold, a Germanic personal name meaning ‘eagle rule.’ The name can also refer to an ancestor who came from one of the English places named because of a nearby ‘eagle hollow.’ The Scottish place name Arnot derives instead from Gaelic ornacht ‘barley.’
Arrowsmith, Arousmyth, Arowsmith, Arrasmith, Arsmith, Arusmyth (Eng) Occupational name of a maker of arrow heads.
Arrowsmith is a novel by the American writer Sinclair Lewis, about the life of an idealistic doctor, Martin Arrowsmith. Lewis was offered the Pulitzer Prize for the novel but turned it down.
Ash, Aish, Asch, Asche, Ashall, Asham, Ashby, Ashcroft, Ashdown, Ashe, Ashenden, Asher, Ashfield, Ashford, Ashley, Ashman, Ashton, Ashurst, Ashwell, Ashwood, Ashworth, Aysh, Daish, Dash, Dashwood, Daysh, Esh, Naish, Nash, Nayshe, Rasch, Tasch, Tesche, Tesh (Eng) Dweller near an ash tree or trees, or someone who originally came from one of the many English places named for its ash trees.
Ashton, Ashurst, Ashwell, Ashwood, Ashworthsee ASH.
Aspig, Aspolsee GILLESPIE.
Aspland, Asplen, Asplin, Asplingsee ABSOLOM.
Aston (Eng) Someone who came from one of the several places so-named because it was an ‘eastern settlement.’
Atberry, Atburysee BURY.
Atha, Athawessee ABADAM.
Atkin, Atkins, Atkinsonsee ADAM.
A private in the British Army became generically known as a Tommy or Tommy Atkins in the early years of the 19th century, when Thomas Atkins was used as a specimen name on Army forms in the same way that Richard Roe and John Doe were used on legal documents. No one has ever managed to trace a particular Thomas Atkins whose name was borrowed. Kipling has a poem called ‘Tommy’ in which occur the well-known lines:
Oh, it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ ‘Tommy, go away’;
But it’s ‘Thank you, Mr Atkins,’ when the band begins to play.
Atlee, Atleysee LEE.
Atoc, Attacksee OAK.
Attle, Attleesee LEE.
Attoc, Attocksee OAK.
Auld, Auldsonsee OLD.
Austin, Augustine, Austen (Eng) Descendant of a man named Austin, the day to day form of Latin Augustinus or Augustus ‘increasing.’ The name was much used in the Middle Ages because of the fame of St Augustine of Hippo, and in England especially, because of St Augustine of Canterbury.
Bacchus, Bacher, Backhouse, Backouse, Backussee BAKER.
Badam, Badda, Baddam, Baddams, Badhamsee ABADAM.
Bailey, Bailie, Baillie, Baily (Eng, Scot, Irish) Occupational name of an official, a bailiff, or an indication that the original name-bearer lived near a bail, the outer wall of a fortification. Bailey ‘berry wood’ in Lancashire was also the source of the surname for many families.
Bailhache, Ballachey, Ballechett, Ballhatchet, Baylehache (Eng) An English name, but formed from the Old French words baille hache ‘give axe.’ The occupational name of an executioner.
Baker, Bacher, Baiker, Baxter (Eng) Occupational name of a communal baker. He might also be described as a ‘worker at the bake-house,’ giving rise to surnames such as Bacchus, Backhouse, Backouse, Backus, Bakehouse. The Old French boulengier ‘baker’ led to Bullinger, Pillinger, Pullinger. See DUCK.
Baldrey, Baldrick, Baldridge, Baudrey, Baudrick, Boldright, Boldwright, Boldry, Bowdery (Eng) Descendant of Bealdric, a Germanic personal name composed of elements meaning ‘bold’ and ‘power.’
Baldwin (Eng) Descendant of a man named Baldwin ‘brave friend.’ The assumption that the first element of this name meant ‘bald’ led to its occasional use In Ireland for a personal name which means ‘bald, tonsured.’ See MILLIGAN.
William Hone relates in his Every-Day Book that ‘on the twentieth of May, 1736, the body of Samuel Baldwin, Esq., was, in compliance with an injunction in his will, immersed, sans ceremonie, in the sea at Lymington, Hants. His motive for this extraordinary mode of interment was to prevent his wife from “dancing over his grave,” which this modern Xanthippe had frequently threatened to do, in case she survived him.’
Balismith, Balysmythsee SMITH.
Ball, Bald, Balls (Eng) Nickname for a bald man, or indicating an ancestor who lived near a boundary mound.
John Field, in English Field Names, cites many instances of The Ball as a field name. Such names often give clues to surname origins, preserving as they do earlier senses of words. Field names such as Eighteenpennyworth, Fivepenny, Halfpence, Twenty shilling field, Twopenneworth, indicating the value of the land, may also explain some puzzling ‘money’ surnames – see PENNY.
Ballachey, Ballechett, Ballhatchetsee BAILHACHE.
Ballaster, Ballester, Ballister, Balster, Bolister (Eng) Occupational name for a crossbow-maker or a soldier armed with one. There is a connection with the word ballistics.
Balsillie (Scot) Descendant of someone who originally came from the Scottish village of this name, near Leslie In Fife. It is probably from Gaelic baile-seilich ‘willow-tree farm.’
Bandra, Bandrew, Bandrey, Bandrosee ANDREW.
Banks, Banker, Bankes (Eng) Descendant of someone who lived near a river bank or on sloping ground. In an Irish context Banks can be the Anglicized form of the Gaelic Bruachán ‘corpulent,’ also found as O’Brogan.
Bannister, Banister, Bannester (Eng) Occupational name of a basket weaver.
Barber, Barbour (Eng) Occupational name of a barber, who spent as much time trimming beards as cutting hair. He was also the local doctor and dentist, hence the description:
His pole with pewter basons hung,
Black, rotten teeth in order strung,
Rang’d cups that in the window stood,
Lined with red rags to look like blood,
Did well his threefold trade explain,
Who shaved, drew teeth, and breathed a vein.
Barebone (Eng) The Little Parliament in Cromwell’s time was headed by Praise-God Barebone, His name is variously recorded as Barbon, Barborne, which suggests that his ancestors came from Barbourne, in Worcestershire, a place named for its ‘beaver stream.’
Barebone’s given name Praise-God was a typical Puritan slogan name of the 17th century. Two of Praise-God’s brothers had the names Jesus-Christ-came-into-the-world-to save Barebone and If-Christ-had-not-died-for-thee-thou-hadst-been-damned Barebone. The latter was known to most of his contemporaries as Damned Barebone, partly because of his immoral behaviour. A special study of such given names was made by Charles Bardsley and published as Curiosities of Puritan Nomenclature.
Barham (Eng) Descendant of someone who originally came from one of the places so-named because it was a ‘hill homestead.’ The Kentish place of this name was instead ‘Biora’s homestead.’
Barker (Eng) Occupational name for a tanner, who used tree bark when converting hides into leather. But many Barkers have an ancestor who was a shepherd, the name having absorbed Bircher.
Barnes, Barne, Barns (Eng) Descendant of someone who lived near or worked in barns, which were originally places for storing barley. Barnes is also a place in Surrey, named for its ‘barns,’ where some bearers of the name may originally have lived. The name can also mean descendant of Barne, a personal name representing Old English beorn ‘young aristocrat’ or Old Norse bjorn ‘bear.’ In an Irish context Barnes is likely to be an Anglicized form of the Gaelic personal names Bearán ‘spear,’ (found also as Barrane, Barrington, Barron, O’Barran, O’Barrane) or Bardán ‘bard,’ (found also as Bardon).
Barnet, Barnett (Eng) Descendant of a man named Bernard, or someone who came from a place named Barnet. The place name indicated a place where the vegetation had been ‘burned’ away.
Baron, Barron (Eng, Scot) A nickname for someone who acted in a haughty way; in Scotland a title used for a land-owner.
Barr, Barrs (Eng, Scot, Welsh, French) Descendant of someone who lived by a town or castle gate. He could instead have come from Barr in Ayrshire or Renfrewshire, or from Great Barr in Staffordshire, or from places in France such as Barre-en-Ouche, Barre-de-Semilly. Other possible explanations of this name are ‘maker or seller of bars or stakes,’ and nickname for a tall, thin man.
Barras, Barrasfordsee BARROW.
Barrell (Eng) Occupational name of a cooper, maker of barrels or casks, or a nickname for someone who was barrel-shaped. Occasionally a form of Barwell, a place in Leicestershire, and indicating someone who originally came from there.
Barrington (Eng) Someone who came from one of the several places so-named because it was ‘Bara’s or Beorn’s settlement.’ For the meaning in Ireland see BARNES.
Barronsee BARNES and BARON.
Barrow, Barby, Barras, Barrasford, Barrowby, Barrowden, Barrowford, Barrows, Barugh, Barway, Barwise, Berrow (Eng) Descendant of someone who originally came from one of the many places named for its ‘barrow,’ a word meaning either a grove of trees or a long low burial mound.
Bartholomew, Baitson, Barson, Bart, Bartie, Bartle, Bartleet, Bartlet, Bartleman, Bartlett, Barty, Bason, Bate, Bates, Bateson, Batt, Beatson (Eng) Descendant of a man called Bartholomew, an Aramaic name which occurs in the Old Testament. It means ‘son of Tolmai,’ itself another biblical name occurring as Talmai.
Film buffs associate the name Bates with Psycho, the Hitchcock film based on a novel by Robert Bloch. Anthony Perkins played the part of Norman Bates, killer of a young woman in a much-imitated shower scene.
Barton (Eng) Someone who came from one of the several places so-named because it was a ‘settlement where barley was grown.’
The name seems to have appealed to writers: George Eliot writes about Amos Barton in Scenes of Clerical Life and the heroine of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton bears that name. For several years (1946–1951) the adventures of Dick Barton, ‘Special Agent,’ captivated the British radio audience.
Bartrick, Brightrich (Eng) Descendant of Beorhtric, an Old English personal name composed of elements meaning ‘brightruler.’
Barugh, Barway, Barwisesee BARROW.
Basham, Barsham, Bassham (Eng) Descendant of someone who originally came from one of the places so-named because it was ‘Bar’s homestead,’ Bar being a personal name meaning ‘wild boar.’
A Mr Basham of Guernsey who was an osteopath once attracted a certain amount of media attention.
Bass, Bassettsee FISH.
Bastard (Eng) Descendant of an illegitimate child. For obvious reasons bearers of this name tend to change it in modern times. The word itself is avoided because it has become a term of abuse.
Dickens was still able to have Oliver Twist referred to as ‘a bastard child,’ though he went on to say that the word was a reproach to whoever used the word rather than the person at whom it was aimed.
R.D. Blackmore comments in Lorna Doone that ‘others were of high family, as any need be, in Devon – Carews and Bouchiers, and Bastards.’
Bate, Bates, Batesonsee BARTHOLOMEW.
Batha, Bathaw, Bather, Batho, Battamssee ABADAM.
Battersby (Eng) Someone who came from a place so-named because it was ‘Bothvarr’s village.’ The -by in such names is common in places where Scandinavian invaders settled. It represents an Old Norse byr ‘village, homestead.’ Other typical English place names that became surnames are BOOTHBY, BURNABY, BUSBY, CATESBY, CONINGSBY, DANBY, DERBY, DIGBY, DIMBLEBY, FRISBY, GOADBY, HORNBY, KEARBY, KIRBY, RIGBY, ROKEBY, SAXBY, SELBY, SLINGSBY, SOWERBY, SWINDERBY, THIRLBY, WELBY, WHITBY, WILLOUGHBY. Occasionally, however, surnames ending in -by have a different origin. See, for example, LIBBY, TUBBY.
Baudrey, Baudricksee BALDREY.
Beadle, Beaddall, Beadel, Beadell, Beadles, Beddall, Beddell, Bedell, Bedle, Beedle, Biddell, Biddle, Biddles, Buddell, Buddle, Buddles (Eng) These are all linked to a ‘beadle,’ who would have been a junior law official during the surname-formation period. One of his jobs was to make public announcements.
Mr Bumble, the beadle in Dickens’s Oliver Twist, also takes it upon himself to name the foundlings. ‘We name our foundlin’s in alphabetical order. The last was a S – Swubble: I named him. This was a T – Twist: I named him. The next one as comes will be Unwin, and the next Vilkins. I have got the names ready made to the end of the alphabet, and all the way through it again, when we come to Z.’ This explanation evokes an admiring ‘Why, you’re quite a literary character, sir’ from Mrs Mann.
Beak, Beake (Eng) Nickname for a man with a big nose.
Beaker, Beakerman, Beakers, Beekerman (Eng) Occupational name for a potter who made drinking vessels.
Bean, Beane, Beans, MacBain, MacBayne, MacBean, MacVain (Eng, Scot) As an English name, Bean could indicate someone who grew and sold beans, but there was a Middle English word bene which meant ‘pleasant, kindly’ which could have led to Bean as a complimentary nickname. As a Scottish name Bean, MACBAIN etc. refer to a descendant of Beathan ‘life’, a Gaelic personal name. See GAVIN.
Beard, Beartsee WHITBREAD.
Beaton, Beeton (Eng) Someone who originally came from Béthune in Normandy.
Beaulieu, Beaulieux, Bewley (Fre) Someone who came from one of the many French places so-named because it was considered to be a ‘lovely place.’
Bewley indicates the pronunciation that became normal in England, a fact commented on by J.C. Keyte in Minsan: ‘Vernon Beaulieu - and you must pronounce it “Bewley” if you please, or have a half-hour recitation on philology.’
Beavan, Beavand, Beaven, Beavinsee EVAN.
Beavis, Beaves, Beevis, Beves, Bevis, Beviss, Bovis (Eng) A nickname for a ‘handsome son.’ French beau fils now means ‘son-in-law,’ but this meaning came too late to account for the surname. The latter could, however, indicate someone who originally came from Beauvais or Beauvois. There are several places with such names in northern France.
Beddell, Bedell, Bedle, Beedlesee BEADLE.
Bedward, Bedwartsee EDWARDS.
Bedworth (Eng) Someone who originally came from the place of this name in Warwickshire, so-called because it was ‘Beda’s homestead.’
The name is treated rather harshly in J.I.M. Stuart’s novel A Memorial Service, where a conversation runs: ‘Here’s a damned impertinent letter from God knows who - calls himself Piddlebed, or some such.’ ‘Bedworth,’ I said. ‘Bedworth, Bedpan - I don’t give a fart for the fellow’s name.’
Belcher, Belshaw, Belsher, Bewcher, Bewshaw, Bewshea, Bewsher, Bowsher (Eng) This seems to have become confused with a common medieval term of address, roughly equivalent to ‘fair sir,’ found as BEAUSIRE, BOWSER, BELSIRE, though it began independently as Norman French bel chere ‘fair face.’ No one has ever suggested that Belcher might occasionally have something to do with eructation, though medieval nicknames were not concerned with politeness. This is presumably because the name was usually pronounced Belsher. Also, the Old English verb bealcian ‘to belch’ is not recorded as a noun until the 16th century. However, the voidance of wind from the lower region is certainly commented on in English surnames such as PETARD, PETTER, PETHARD and the French names PETAIN, PETON, PETOT. It would be surprising if someone’s habit of belching frequently was not commented on by his medieval contemporaries.
Bell, Beller, Bellman (Eng, Scot) Bell is a common name because it is derived from many sources. John atte Bell, who is mentioned in a medieval document, lived near a public bell or at the sign of the bell. John le Bel would have been a ‘handsome’ fellow, but other Bells were descended from an Isobel, or were bell-ringers, or made bells.
Bellingham (Eng) Descendant of someone who originally came from one of the places so-named because it was ‘Beora’s homestead’ or ‘homestead on or near a bell-shaped hill.’
Bellis, Bellisonsee ELLIS.
Belshaw, Belsher, Belsiresee BELCHER.
Bennett, Bendick, Benedict, Bennedick, Bennet, Bennet, Bennetts (Eng, Scot) Descendant of a man named Benedict. This was the name of several saints, the most influential being the 5th century monk who founded the Benedictine Order. Professor Reaney remarks that the Latin name Benedictus ‘blessed’ was invariably used in the Middle Ages in its colloqial French form Beneit, which led directly to Bennett. He wonders therefore whether surnames such as Benedict and Benedick, which clearly derive directly from the Latin word, were not nicknames for someone whose favourite saying was ‘Benedicte!’ ‘bless you!’ Speakers in the Middle Ages used a wide variety of oaths, such as ‘God wot!’ ‘by my troth!’ ‘for God’s sake!’ Several of these ‘oath names’ became English surnames. Bennett is the English form of this name, Bennet is more usual in Scotland.
Benson, Bennison, Bennson (Eng) Descendant of a man named Benedict, see BENNETT. However, Benson is also an Oxfordshire place name ‘Banesa’s settlement’ from which the ancestors of some families of this name may have come.
Bentham (Eng) Descendant of someone who originally came from one of the places so-named because it was a ‘homestead on bent (reedy) grass.’
Bernard, Barnard (Eng) Descendant of a man named Bernard. This is a Norman form of a given name that existed as Beornheard in Old English. The first element means ‘bear,’ the second is ‘hardy, brave.’
The St Bernard dog commemorates Saint Bernard of Menthon (923–1008), who founded hospices on what are now known as the Great St Bernard Pass and Little St Bernard Pass in the Alps. The dogs were kept at the hospices to help rescue lost travellers.
Berry, Berrymansee BURY.
Berry, as those who bear the surname well know, is one of those names which attracts punning comments. The tradesman named Berry who sent a bill to a Mr Mathews received the following message:
‘You have sent in your bill, Berry, before it is due, Berry; your father, the elder, Berry, would not have been such a goose, Berry; but you need not look so black, Berry, for I don’t care a straw, Berry.’
Thomas Tryon writes, in his novel Lady: ‘Miss Berry’s first name was Mary, but she was too nice for me to make use of the obvious euphony of her names. Some of the guys from the feed store would walk by hollering “Mary Berry’s got beriberi,” or “Mary Berry loves Harry Carey,” but Miss Berry, whose hearing might have been better, would only nod and smile.’
Bevan, Bevans, Bevens, Bevinsee Evan.
Beves, Bevis, Bevisssee BEAVIS.
Bewes (Eng) Someone who came from the Norman town Bayeux. A Welsh family would instead look back to an ancestor who was a Hugh; ab Hugh being ‘son of Hugh.’
In Tess of the D’Urbervilles, a novel in which Thomas Hardy makes much of varying forms of surnames, the author mentions that ‘the Debbyhouses, who now are carters, were once the De Bayeux family.’ He also has a character state that: ‘our little Retty Priddle here, you know, is one of the Paridelles - the old family that used to own lots of the lands for miles down this valley.’ Retty, however, is a dairy-maid. The Durbeyfield - D’ Urberville variation is of considerable importance to the story. These Hardy names are not easy to find in directories and may have been his inventions.
Bewshaw, Bewshea, Bewshersee BELCHER.
Biddell, Biddle, Biddlessee BEADLE.
Bigg (Eng) Nickname for a big, strong person.
Bigger (Eng) Possibly a variant of BICKER, an occupational name for a bee-keeper.
Mrs H. Bigger of Wantage, Berks, wrote to a newspaper to say that she was not amused when she was pregnant to hear the oft-repeated remark: ‘I see you’re getting a little bigger.’
Bigod, Bigotsee PARDOE.
Bill, Billmaker (Eng) Occupational name of a sword-maker or one who made bill hooks, used for pruning.
Billington (Eng) From one of the places bearing this name, so called originally because it was a ‘settlement on a sword-shaped hill.’
Binder (Ger) Occupational name of a barrel maker.
Bindless, Bindloes, Bindlosssee CATCHLOVE.
Bingham (Eng) Descendant of someone who originally came from the place in Nottinghamshire, so-named because it was ‘Binna’s homestead.’
Bircher (Eng) An occupational name, but not of an educationist, as Weekley remarks in his Surnames, a joke which might well be lost on modern children. The origin is French berger, ‘shepherd’.
Bird, Bride, Burd, Byrd (Eng) Occupational name of a birdcatcher, especially finches. Since burde in Middle English referred to a young girl, the surname may in some instances have begun as a nickname for someone thought to have girlish qualities. See DUCK.
Birdseye (Eng) At first glance this name appears to be a variant of BIRDSEY, referring to someone who lived on a ‘birds’ island.’ However, no such English place name appears to exist, and the surname is in any case found in America rather than Britain. The name is likely to be a translation of a German locative name: the Langenscheidt German-English Dictionary, for instance, glosses Vogelaugenholz as ‘bird’s eye wood.’ Professor Weekley, however, in Surnames, thought that ‘the compounds of the physical eye are numerous and have not hitherto been recognized as such.’ He cited BLACKIE, a nickname for someone with black eyes, and the analagous BRIGHTEY, BROWNIE, DOVEY, GOLDIE, GOLDNEY, GOOSEY, HAWKEY, LITTLEY, SHEEPY, SILVERY, SMALLEY, WHITEY, WILDEY, where the second element in each case is ‘eye.’ Birdseye, for Weekley, fitted easily into this group.
A man named Victory Birdseye was a New York senator in 1827.
Clarence Birdseye (1886–1956) founded the Birdseye Seafoods company in 1923. He used to relate to anyone who would listen that one of his ancestors had been a page boy to a queen and used to go hunting with her. One day a hawk swooped towards the queen, whereupon the page boy shot an arrow into its eye. The queen immediately named him Birdseye and the family had been ‘stuck with it’ ever since.
Birtwistle (Eng) Descendant of someone who originally came from a place so-named because of ‘birds gathering at the junction of a stream.’
Bishop (Eng) Occupational name of a bishop’s servant, or nickname for someone of ‘ecclesiastical appearance,’ as Bardsley expresses it. He goes on to say: ‘Nevertheless, most of our Bishops owe their title to the custom of electing a boy-bishop on St Nicholas’ Day.’
The Rev. Thomas Bishop of Johannesburg has said that ecclesiastical names run in his family. ‘My great-grandfather was a Mr Church. He married a Miss Dean and their daughter married a Mr Bishop.’
Black, Blacke, Blackman, Blake, Blakeman (Eng) A nickname based on the Old English word blac, which in modern English has become both ‘black’ and ‘bleach.’ The Old English word perhaps had the sense ‘absence of colour.’ The nickname could therefore have been applied to a person of dark complexion or black hair, but it could equally well have been given to someone who was very pale.
The detective Sexton Blake is the hero of countless stories for boys, written by nearly 200 different authors. He has been described as ‘the poor man’s Sherlock Holmes,’ whom he physically resembles. He also lives in London’s Baker Street.
Blackbeard, Blackbird (Eng) Nickname for a man with a black beard. See WHITBREAD.
Blackburn, Blackford, Blackpool, Blackwall, Blackwater, Blackwell, Blacon (Eng) Descendant of someonewho originally came from any of the places so-named, each one close to a ‘dark stream, pool or spring’. Blakemere is a similar name.
Blackett (Eng) Nickname for a man with a black head of hair.
Blacksmith (Eng) Occupational name of a blacksmith.
Blackwall, Blackwater, Blackwell, Blaconsee BLACKBURN.
Bladesmith, Blades, Bladsmith (Eng) Occupational name of a cutler.
Blair (Scot, Irish) Descendant of someone who originally came from one of the places so-named. Gaelic blár means ‘(battle)field.’
Blake, Blakemansee BLACK.
Blanton This appears to be an English place name, but no trace of the place concerned can be found. The surname nevertheless appears amongst the 2000 most frequent names in the USA.
Bligh, Bly, Blye, Blythe (Eng) Nickname for a happy person, but see BLIGHT.
Blight (Eng) G. Pawley White, in his Handbook of Cornish Surnames, says that this is a nickname from Cornish blyth ‘wolf.’ It can have the alternative forms BLIGH and BLYTH.
In Our Mutual Friend Dickens comments: ‘The office door was opened by the dismal boy, whose appropriate name was Blight.’ Block, Blocker, Blogg, Bloggs (Eng) Occupational name of a maker of blocks, eg for book-binding, shoe-making, hat-making. The wooden blockhead of the hat-maker led to use of that term for a stupid person, and this may be the meaning of the surname Block.
Joe Bloggs, as the name of the average ordinary man, is also Joe Blow in American sources, or Joe Do(a)kes. In one of her blues numbers Billie Holiday sings: ‘But just let me walk out of the club one night with a young white boy of my age, whether it was John Roosevelt, the President’s son, or Joe Blow.’ This name was originally applied to a horn-blowing musician, then extended to any man. Joe Soap is similarly a name applied to a ‘dumb’ person, a mug, or any very ordinary person. In 1969 the Guardian said that: ‘Socialists have become over-eager to find out what Joe Soap is doing in order to tell him not to do it.’
Dickens’s Blockitt may belong here. In Dombey and Son occurs: ‘Mrs – ?’ ‘Blockitt, Sir?’ suggested the nurse, a simpering piece of faded gentility, who did not presume to state her name as a fact, but merely offered it as a mild suggestion.’
Bloom, Blomer, Bloomer, Blumer (Eng) Occupational name of an ironworker, who ran the liquid metal into moulds.
James Joyce changed the signification of Bloom for countless readers of his Ulysses by making it the name of his central character. The novel deals with the events of one day in 1924, June 16th, a date remembered annually by Joyce fans as ‘Bloomsday.’ During her long stream-of-conscienceness monologue, Molly Bloom comments ‘bloomers. I suppose they’re called after him I never thought that would be my name Bloom when I used to write it in print to see how it looked on a visiting card or practising for the butcher and oblige M Bloom you’re looking blooming Josie used to say after I married him well it’s better than Breen or Briggs …’ ‘Bloomers’ are in fact normally said to have been named for Mrs Amelia Bloomer, a writer on women’s suffrage and unjust marriage laws. Eric Partridge tells us, in his Name Into Word, ‘that female knickerbockers owed nothing to Mrs Amelia Bloomer except the fact that it was she who, circa 1850, started the earlier fashion from which the dress designers developed the latter.’ Mrs Bloomer herself, it seems, habitually wore a short skirt and long loose trousers, gathered at the ankles.
Blower, Bloor, Bloore, Blow, Blowers, Blowes, Blows (Eng) Occupational name of a man who operated bellows, or in some cases, a HORNBLOWER.
Bly, Blye, Blythesee BLIGH.
Boal, Boaler, Boalessee BOWLER.
Boatwright, Boatright, Botwright (Eng) Occupational name for a maker of boats.
Bodin (Swedish) The Swedish form of BOOTH.
E.V. Cunningham makes a character in Lydia say: ‘Bodin - it doesn’t mean a blessed thing, does it? As a matter of fact, it’s another of those small appellative lies that we indulge in so frequently in America. My husband was half-Jewish. His father’s name was Bodinski, and the old man changed it.’
Bold (Eng) Nickname for a courageous man, or from residence in a place called Bold. The place-name derives from an Old English word bold ‘dwelling, building.’
Boldright, Boldwright, Boldry, Bowderysee BALDREY.
Bole, Bolersee BOWLER.
Bolister (Eng) Probably a form of BALLASTER.
Boll, Boiler, Bolles, Bollmansee BOWLER.
Bolton (Eng) Someone who came from one of the several places so-named because it was a ‘settlement with houses.’
Boltsmith (Eng) Occupational name of a man who made crossbow bolts.
Bone, Bonn, Boon, Boone, Bown, Bowne, Bunn (Eng) A nickname for a ‘good’ person, from French bon. Also forms of a Norman name which is sometimes spelt BOHUN, though the pronunciation remains the same. This form rightly hints at a connection with the French place name Bohon, indicating an ancestor who came from there.
G.B.Shaw has a class-conscious waiter in You Never Can Tell who comments: ‘My own name is Boon, sir. By rights I should spell it with the aitch like you, sir, but I think it best not to take that liberty, sir. There is Norman blood in it, sir, and Norman blood is not a recommendation to a waiter.’
Bone also attracts comment in John Wain’s A Travelling Woman: ‘He tucked her name away in his memory: Barbara Bone. He surmised that her maiden name had been something more elegant than Bone.’
Booth, Boothe, Boothman (Eng) Someone who lived in a small hut, or bothy. He would probably have been a shepherd.
While this explanation applies to most bearers of these names, one young lady called Booth was given that name because she was found abandoned in a telephone booth.
Boothby (Eng) Someone who came from a place so-named because it was a ‘settlement with huts.’
Boothe, Boothmansee BOOTH.
Bosanquet, Bosanketh (Cornish) Bos- in such names (usually transferred Cornish place names) means ‘dwelling.’ The second element of Bosanquet is probably the personal name Angawd. Similar Cornish names include Boscawen, Bosence, Bosustow, Bosisto, Boswarva.
Bossom, Bosence, Bosson, Bossons (Eng) Occupational names, forms of bo’sun or boatswain. A Sussex family named Bossom might look instead to an ancestor who came from Bosham ‘homestead of Bosa’s people.’
When a Mr Bossom became an MP, Neville Chamberlain is said to have remarked: ‘An odd name! Neither one thing nor the other!’
Boswall, Boswell (Scot) Descendant of someone who came from Beuzeville, Normandy.
Botler, Bottel, Bottlesee BUTLER.
Bottom, Botham, Bottams, Bottoms (Eng) Someone who lived in a broad valley. See also LONGBOTHAM.
Boudet, Boudin, Boudon, Boudot, Boudeausee BUTTON.
Boule, Boules, Boullersee BOWLER.
Bouquet, Bouquain, Bouquin, Bouquot, Bouquerelsee BUCKET.
Boutflour, Boughtflower, Bulteflour (Eng) A miller, literally a man whose job was to ‘sift flour.’
Bowen, Bowing, Bowinssee OWEN.
Bowler, Boal, Boaler, Boales, Bole, Boler, Boll, Boiler, Bolles, Bollman, Boule, Boules, Bouller, Bowie, Bowles, Bowlman (Eng) Occupational name of a maker/seller of bowls (used for drinking). Possibly also a nickname for someone who drank a great deal from bowls.
Bowman, Boman, Beauman (Eng) Occupational name of an archer.
Bown, Bownesee BONE.
Bowser, Bowshersee BELCHER.
Bowsmith, Bowersmith, Bowyer, Boyersmith (Eng) Occupational name of a maker/seller of bows.
Boyd, Boyde (Scot, Irish) Traditionally explained as a reference to the island of Bute, or derived from a Gaelic word for someone with yellowy hair, but no one can be sure of its meaning.
Boys (Fre) Descendant of someone who was a dweller in a wood.
Brace, Brass (Eng) Occupational name of a maker of armour, specifically that which protected the brace, the two upper arms. In some instances the name refers instead to a maker of breeches. A worker in brass was more likely to become a BRASHER, BRASIER or BRAZIER.
Dickens refers in The Old Curiosity Shop to ‘the legal gentleman, whose melodious name was Brass.’ He goes on to joke: “The dwarf glanced sarcastically at his brazen friend.’
Bracegirdle (Eng) Occupational name of a belt-maker, which girdled a man’s breeches.
Bracer, Braisher, Brasher, Brasseur (Eng) Occupational name of a brewer, from French brasseur. But Brasher can also mean ‘brass-worker.’
Bradley (Eng, Scot) Descendant of someone who came from any one of the many places so-named because of a ‘broad clearing, or wood.’ Similar place-names which became surnames, where Brad -in each case means ‘broad,’ include Bradbrook, Bradbury, ‘fort’, Braddock, ‘oak’, Braddon, ‘hill’, Bradfield, Bradford, Bradshaw, ‘thicket’, Bradwell, ‘stream’.
Bradman (Eng) Nickname for a ‘broad man.’
Bradshaw, Bradwellsee BRADLEY.
Bragg (Eng) Nickname for a lively, cheerful person. See BRAXTON.
Brampton (Eng) Someone who came from one of the several places so-named because it was a ‘settlement where broom grew.’
Brasher, Brasseursee BRACER.
Brasier, Braziersee BRACE.
Brasnett, Brassett (Eng) Nickname for someone with a ‘brazen head,’ a head as hard as brass.
Braxton (Eng) Descendant of someone who originally came from a place of this name, which was ‘Bracc’s enclosure.’
Harper Lee, in To Kill a Mockingbird, mentions ‘Mr Underwood, a profane little man, whose father in a fey fit of humour christened Braxton Bragg, a name Mr Underwood had done his best to live down. Atticus said naming people after Confederate generals made slow steady drinkers.’
Brenton (Eng) Someone who came from one of the place so-named because it was ‘Bryni’s settlement.’
Breton, Bret, Brett, Bretton, Brettoner, Britain, Britner, Britnor, Briton, Britt, Brittain, Brittan, Brittian, Brittin, Brittney, Britton, Brittoner, Britts, Bruttner, Brutton (Eng) Descendant of a Breton, a man from Brittany, but Breton was also a medieval term of abuse for a braggart.
Brewer, Brewers, Brewster, Broster, Brouwer, Brower, Bruster (Eng) A male or female brewer.
This explanation of his family name did not satisfy Dr Brewer, editor of a Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. In the 13th edition of that book he claimed that ‘very few ancient names are the names of trades.’ He went on to insist that Brewer, ‘which exists in France as Bruhiäre and Brugäre, is not derived from the Saxon briwan (to brew), but the French bruyäre (heath), and is about tantamount to the German Plantaganet (broom plant).’ Perhaps one Brewer in a million may trace his name back to a Bruyäre or Läbruyare, but brewing was a very common occupation in the Middle Ages, when beer was probably drunk more often than water.
Brian, Briant, Brien, Bryan, Bryant, MacBrien, O’Brian, O’Brien, O’Bryan (Irish, Eng) Descendant of Brian, a Celtic personal name of disputed meaning, borne especially by Brian Boru, king of Ireland in the early 11th century. The name may mean ‘hill’ (with the metaphorical meaning ‘eminence’), but ‘high, noble’ and ‘of many qualities’ have been suggested by writers on surnames with a knowledge of Gaelic. The final -t in some forms of this name is described by linguists as ‘excrescent.’ As the name is said the extra sound forms itself of its own accord, as it were.
Brickman (Eng) The official in charge of a toll-bridge.
Bridge, Bridgeman, Bridgen, Bridgens, Bridger, Bridges, Bridgman, Brigg, Briggs, Brigman, Bruggen, Brugger, Brydges, Dealbridge, Delbridge, Dellbridge (Eng) Dweller near a bridge, of collector of bridge tolls. In some instances the reference may be to a Flemish trader from Bruges, Belgium.
Brigg, Briggssee BRIDGE.
Brigham (Eng) Descendant of someone who originally came from one of the places so-named because it was a ‘homestead near a bridge.’
Bright, Brightman (Eng) Nickname applied to someone of great beauty.
There are hundreds of limericks which mention particular surnames. A separate book would be needed to do justice to them. One of the better-known examples is:
There was a young lady named Bright.
Who could travel much faster than light.
She started one day.
In the relative way,
And came back the previous night.
Brisbane, Brisbourne (Eng) A bone-breaker. Reaney mentions a similar surname CRAKEBONE and suggests that the reference is to the sheriff’s officer who broke the legs of condemned criminals.
Britain, Britner, Britnor, Briton, Britt, Brittain, Brittan, Brittian, Brittin, Brittney, Britton, Brittoner, Brittssee BRETON.
Broadhead (Eng) A descriptive nickname.
Brockhouse, Brockis, Brockman, Brockway, Broke, Brokussee BROOK.
Brontë (Irish) The grandparents of the Brontë sisters lived in County Down and were known as BRUNTY, a form of PRUNTY or PRONTY, from a Gaelic name meaning ‘bestower, a generous person.’ The girls’ father then changed Brunty to Bronte, the Greek word for ‘thunder.’
In her Life of Charlotte Brontë Mrs Gaskell remarks that ‘about this time, to her more familiar correspondents, she occasionally calls herself Charles Thunder, making a kind of pseudonym for herself out of her Christian name, and the meaning of her Greek surname.’
Brook, Brockhouse, Brockis, Brockman, Brockway, Broke, Brokus, Brookbank, Brookbanks, Brooke, Brooker, Brookes, Brookfield, Brookhouse, Brooking, Brookings, Brookman, Brookmire, Brooks, Brooksbank, Brooksby, Brookshank, Brookshaw, Bruck, Brucker, Bruckshaw (Eng) Descendant of someone who lived near a brook or someone who originally came from any of the places named for its brook.
Lower also reports that a child found abandoned by the side of a brook, wrapped in a napkin, was duly named ‘Napkin Brooker’ by the parish authorities.
Roger Brook is the British secret agent hero of a series of novels by Dennis Wheatley. Dorothea Brooke is the rather more complex heroine of George Eliot’s Middlemarch, which has been described as the best novel written in English.
Brougham (Eng) Descendant of someone who originally came from a place in Cumbria so-named because it was a ‘homestead near a fortress.’
Broughton (Eng) Someone who came from one of the several places so-named because it was a ‘settlement near a brook, or by a narrow hill, or by a fortified manor.’
Broun, Brounesee BROWN.
Brouwer, Browersee BREWER.
Brown, Bronson, Broun, Broune, Browne, Brownson, Brunson (Eng) A reference to a person’s brown hair or skin.
Thomas Hughes waxes lyrical in Tom Brown’s Schooldays about the part that families named Brown have played in British history. He says that they may be ‘quiet, dogged an homespun’ but they have done as much for their country as the ‘Talbots, Stanleys, St Maurs, and suchlike folk.’
Another fictional schoolboy is William Brown, hero of many comic adventures written by Richmal Crompton.
Charlie Brown features with his dog Snoopy, not to mention his friends Linus and Lucy, in the strip-cartoon series Peanuts, by Charles M. Schulz.
Chesterton’s Father Brown is a priestly detective in many short stories, who would probably have appreciated the epitaph for a dentist named John Brown which runs:
Stranger! Approach this spot with gravity!.
John Brown is filling his last cavity.
Brownjohn (Eng) The name derives from a man named John who had brown hair.
Kingsley Amis comments in Ending Up: ‘Mr Brownjohn’s a good man.’ ‘Unbelievable name, that. I do very much wonder how he came by it – I should say, how his ancestor came by it.’
Brownnutt, Brownhut, Brownutt (Eng) A descriptive nickname, found also as NUTBROWN.
Brownsmith (Eng) Occupational name of a coppersmith.
Bruck, Brucker, Bruckshawsee BROOK.
Brugäre, Bruhiäresee BREWER.
Bruggen, Bruggersee BRIDGE.
Bruttner, Bruttonsee BRETON.
Bryan, Bryantsee BRIAN.
Buchanan (Scot) Descendant of someone who came from the Stirlingshire district of this name, ‘house of the canon.’
James Herbert writes, in his novel Sepulchre: ‘He was Alexander Buchanan, a suitably sturdy name for an underwriter whose firm, Acorn Buchanan Limited, had a ‘box’ on the floor of Lloyd’s of London and company offices near Fenchurch Street.’
Buck (Eng) Probably a nickname for a lecherous man, though some professional connection with stags or goats is also possible. In some instances there may be a reference to residence near a ‘beech’ tree.
Warwick Deeping presumably had the American slang meaning of buck (‘dollar’) in mind when he wrote, in Sorrell and Son: ‘Buck! He did not like the name; it was both too male and too American.’
Bucket (Eng) A well-known character in the BBC television series Keeping up Appearances tries to deflect any derision that this name might evoke by insisting that it should be pronounced like the word ‘bouquet,’ as if it really referred to a bunch of flowers. Bouquet does exist as a French surname, along with its variants Bouquain, Bouquin, Bouquot, Bouquerel, but all are derived, according to Professor Albert Dauzat in his Dictionnnaire Etymologique des noms de famille et prénoms de France, from a word meaning ‘he-goat.’ Such names would have been given to a man who was especially lecherous. BUCKETT is normally taken to be a form of BURKETT, which also has the variants BUCHARD, BURCHATT, BURCHARD, BURCHETT, BURKARD, BURKART, BURKITT, BORKETT, BOCKETT, BUDGETT, BUTCHARD, BUTCHART. These derive from someone named Burgheard ‘fort-strong,’ an Old English personal name. However, G. Pawley White claims in his Handbook of Cornish Surnames that Buckett is from Cornish bos keth ‘dwelling of the serf.’
Students of detective fiction are familiar with Inspector Bucket, who appears in Dickens’ Bleak House in a relatively minor role. He is perhaps the first fictional detective. Dickens has him introduce himself by saying: ‘My name’s Bucket. Ain’t that a funny name?’
Buckingham (Eng) Descendant of someone who originally came from one of the places so-named because it was ‘Bucca’s homestead.’
Buckle, Buckell, Buckler, Buckles, Bucklesmith (Eng) Occupational name of a buckle-maker. However, Weekley suggests that Buckler may on occasion be a form of BEAUCLERK.
Buddell, Buddle, Buddlessee BEADLE.
Bugg, Buggey, Bugson (Eng) Descendant of Buggi, an Old Norse personal name meaning ‘fat.’ It can also derive from Welsh bwg, a word which can variously mean ‘bogy, bug-bear, ghost, scarecrow.’ Professor Weekley added the suggestion that Bugg might be a shortened form of Burghart, a Germanic name meaning ‘castle strong.’
The modern form of the name is slightly unfortunate, and Thomas Hood long ago commented:
A name – if the party had a voice –
What mortal would be a Bugg by choice.
As a Hogg, a Grubb, or a Chubb rejoice.
Or any such nauseous blazon?
Not to mention many a vulgar name.
That would make a door plate blush for shame.
If doorplates were not so brazen.
For a further disparaging comment by Matthew Arnold, see HIGGINBOTTOM.
In the 19th century an announcement in The Times that a Mr Bugg was changing his name to Howard led to a great deal of comment, including a debate in the House of Commons. As a direct result, James Finlayson published, in 1863, his booklet Surnames and Sirenames, the Origin and History of Certain Family and Historical Names with Remarks on the Ancient Right of the Crown to Sanction and Veto the Assumption of Names, and a Historical Account of the Names Buggey and Bugg.
Like Bugg itself, Bugson also comes in for its share of disapproval. In Sorrell and Son Warwick Deeping writes: ‘Personally I don’t like young Bugson; I don’t like his name or his face or his nature, but we have to put up with the Bugsons. They are here – there – everywhere.’
Bulled, Bulleid (Eng) Nickname for a man with a ‘bull head,’ presumably a comment on his impetuous ways.
Bullock (Eng) Professor Reaney, in The Origin of English Surnames, says that Bullock might have been a nickname for a young man who behaved like a bullock, but he adds: “There can be no doubt that many a Bullock was once a BALLOCK (Old English bealluc ‘testicle’). Occasionally we have a compound, Robert Blakeballoc.’ He mentions also a Roger Gildynballokes ‘golden testicles.’ See GRAY.
A conversation in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mr Harrison’s Confessions runs: ‘Mr and Mrs Bullock’s compliments, sir, and they hope you are pretty well after your journey.’ ‘Who would have expected such kindness from such an unpromising name?’
Bumphrey, Bumphriessee HUMPHREY.
Burchard, Burchatt, Burchett, Burkard, Burkart, Burkett, Burkittsee BUCKET.
Burgess, Burgiss (Eng) A social title, indicating an inhabitant of a town or borough who enjoyed full municipal rights.
Burke, Bourke, Burgh, De Burgh (Eng) Descendant of someone who lived near a prehistoric hill fort, or in a place named for such a fort.
Burley, Burleigh (Eng) Descendant of someone who lived in any of the places of this name, which at one time would have had a ‘fort in a wood.’
In The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, Oliver Wendell Holmes says that Elizabeth I loved to make puns on people’s names. He quotes her as saying: ‘Ye be burly, my Lord of Burleigh, but ye shall make less stir in our realm than my Lord of Leicester.’
Burnaby (Eng) Someone who came from a place so-named because it was a ‘settlement near a stream.’
Burnham (Eng) Descendant of someone who originally came from one of the places so-named because it was a ‘homestead near a stream.’
Burns, Burness, Burnhouse (Scot) Descendant of someone who lived (in a house) near a stream.
George Black says in The Surnames of Scotland that ‘Robert Burns’s right name was Burness, but because the name was pronounced in Ayrshire as if written Burns, he and his brother Gilbert agreed to drop Burness and assume Burns in April 1786.’
Burton (Eng) Someone who came from one of the several places so-named because it was a ‘settlement near a fortified manor.’
The actor Richard Burton was born Richard Walter Jenkins.
In South Riding, Winifred Holtby writes: ‘Mr Chairman, I see we have another candidate, Sarah Burton. A good plain name. Let us hope a good plain woman.’
Bury, Atberry, Atbury, Atterbury, Berry, Berriman, Berryman (Eng) These names all have a connection with a ‘fort’ or ‘manor house,’ probably indicating someone who worked in such a place (Berriman, Berryman) or lived near one. Since Bury is also a place name in its own right, it could mean ‘someone who came from a place so-named.’ The ancestor of a Cornish Berriman or Berryman, by contrast, might well have come from St Buryan.
Busby (Eng) Someone who came from a place so-named because it was a ‘settlement amongst shrubs.’
Bush, Bushe, Busk (Eng) Descendant of someone who lived near thick bushes.
Butchard, Butchartsee BUCKET.
Butcher, Boucher, Boutcher, Bucher (Eng) Occupational name of a butcher or worker in a slaughterhouse.
Butler, Botler, Bottel, Bottle, Buttle (Eng) A head servant, specifically one who was in charge of the wine-cellar. Occasionally he was responsible for the importation of wine.
Butlin, Bucklin, Butevilain (Fre) Dr Reaney explained this name in his Origin of English Surnames as Old French boute vilain, ‘hustle the churl.’ It appears to have been the nickname of an overseer.
Butt, Butson, Butting, Butts (Eng) A nickname for a short, thickset person, or one who lived near, or spent a lot of time at, archery butts. Perhaps also a seller of the flatfish called butt, halibut.
Button, Boudet, Boudin, Boudon, Boudot, Boudeau, Bouton Descendant of a man who bore the Germanic personal name Bodo or one of its diminutive forms.
There was a Button family on the Mayflower when it sailed to America.
Lower reports that there is a sexton’s bill in an English parish church which refers to digging a grave for a Mr Button. It reads: ‘To making a Button-hole, 4s.6d.’
In The Newcomes, Thackeray has the exchange: ‘Mr Butts of the Life Guards.’ ‘Mr Butts – quel nom!’ (what a name!).
Bygod, Bygotsee PARDOE.
Bywater, Bywaters (Eng) Ancestor of someone who lived near water, such as a lake or river.
Cadbury descendant of someone who came from one of the places so named because it was ‘Cada’s fortress.’ The Old English personal name Cada probably meant ‘lump,’ and was perhaps applied to a fat person.
In the 1820s the Quaker John Cadbury sold tea and coffee in his Birmingham shop. He began grinding cocoa beans to supply a few special customers and went on to make chocolate.
Caldwell, Calwell, Caudell, Caudle, Caudwell, Cauldwell, Cawdell (Eng, Scot, Irish) A fairly common place name meaning ‘cold well, spring.’ Ancestors of those bearing these names could have come from any one of them.
A member of the American Name Society, some years ago, amused himself by matching surnames with various sports. Caldwell was considered to be suitable for a baseball umpire. Other links were made between LONGFELLOW and FOWLER, basketball; FIELDING, cricket; SITWELL, hunting; UPDIKE, mountaineering. Such a list could be considerably extended.
Caller, Callear, Callier, Callmaker, Caul, Caule, Caules (Eng) Occupational name for a maker of ‘cauls,’ head-dresses made of net-work.
Callister, Callistron see ALEXANDER.
Cambell, Camblesee CAMPBELL.
Cameron (Scot) In the Highlands a nickname from Gaelic cam sròn ‘crooked nose.’ As a Lowland surname it indicates an ancestor who lived near a ‘crooked hill,’ or in a place which itself had been named because of the presence of such a hill.
Campbell, Cambell, Camble (Scot) A nickname from Gaelic cam beul ‘crooked mouth.’ Popular legend derives the name instead from de campo bello ‘of the fair field’ and equates it with French Beauchamp, but this etymology has no justification.
Cannon, Cannons, Canon, Channon (Eng) Descendant of a canon, a clergyman who lived in a communal house with others of his profession. Perhaps also a nickname for someone who acted like a canon.
As with most surnames, a more individual explanation of its origin is possible. Arnold Bennet writes, in Hilda Lassways, that ‘Mrs Gailey had married a French modeller named Canonges, and in course of time the modeller had informally changed the name to Cannon, because no one in the five towns could pronounce the name rightly.’
Cape, Cope (Eng) Occupational name for someone who made capes, or a nickname for someone who wore a particularly noticeable one. From the Old English cape, retained in northern dialects, or from cope, its Middle English development.
Capelen, Capelin, Capeling, Caplen, Caplinsee CHAPLIN.
Capern, Caperonsee CAPRON.
Capp, Cape, Capes, Capmaker, Capman, Capper, Capps (Eng) Occupational name of a maker and seller of caps.
Capron, Capern, Caperon, Chape, Chaperon, Chapron (Eng, Fre) Occupational name of a maker of hooded cloaks, of the type worn by monks.
Capstack, Capsticksee COPESTAKE.
Card, Carde, Carder (Eng) Occupational name of someone who carded (untangled) wool.
Mr Valentine Frank Henry Card, of Chelmsford, Essex, was born on February 14. He once told a Daily Mail reporter that he was obliged to take his birth certificate to work on Valentine’s Day every year to prove that he really was a living Valentine Card.
Careless, Carless, Carloss (Eng) A disapproving nickname for someone who acted in a carefree or careless manner.
Chambers, in his Book of Days, quotes an amorous poet who addressed the following to a Miss Careless:
Careless by name, and Careless by nature;
Careless of shape, and Careless of feature.
Careless of dress, and Careless in air;
Careless of riding, in coach or in chair.
Careless of love, and Careless of hate;
Careless if crooked, and Careless if straight,
Careless at table, and Careless in bed;
Careless if maiden, not Careless if wed.
Careless at church, and Careless at play;
Careless if company go, or they stay;
Oh! how I could love thee, thou dear Careless thing
(Oh, happy, thrice happy, I’d envy no king.)
Were you Careful for once to return me my love,
I’d care not how Careless to others you’d prove.
I then should be Careless how Careless you were;
And the more Careless you, still the less I should care.
Carleton, Carlton (Eng) Someone who came from one of the several places so-named because they were ‘settlements of free peasants.’
Carlyon (Eng) Someone who came from one of the Cornish places bearing this name, probably because of nearby ‘earthworks of slate or shake.’
Marie Corelli says of one of her characters in Delicia: ‘He was absolutely devoid of all ambition, save a desire to have his surname pronounced correctly. “Car-lee-on,” he would say, with polite emphasis, “not Car-ly-on. Our name is an old, historical one, and like many of its class is spelt one way and pronounced another”.’
Carne (Eng) Descendant of someone who originally lived near a carn, a pile of rocks. This word is a common element in Cornish place names.
Carpenter (Eng) Occupational name of a carpenter.
Carrington (Eng, Scot) Someone who came from one of the several places so-named because it was ‘Cora’s settlement.’
Carroll, Carrol, Carvil, MacCarroll, MacKarrill, O’Carroll, O’Carrowill, O’Carvill, O’Carwell (Irish) Descendant of Cearbhall, a Gaelic personal name of uncertain meaning, though suggestions include ‘hart, stag’ and ‘hacking.’
Carswell see Creswell.
Carter, Charter (Eng) Occupational name of a carter, who transported goods.
Nick Carter is the fictional American detective who appears in over 500 stories, written by many different authors. He is able to disguise himself even more effectively than Sherlock Holmes. He was created as long ago as 1886.
Cartwright, Cardrick, Cartrick, Cartridge, Kortwright (Eng) Occupational name for a maker of carts.
Casewell, Casswell, Caswall, Caswell, Caswillsee CRESWELL.
Catchlove, Cutliffe, Cutloff, Cutlove (Eng) Occupational name of a hunter. The ‘love’ in this name is from Old French loup or love ‘wolf’. Hunters or trappers of wolves could also be known as PRETLOVE, PRITLOVE, PRYKKELOVE ‘prick, kill wolf;’ TRUSLOVE, TRUSLOW, TRUSSLER ‘carry off wolf; BINDLESS, BINDLOES, BINDLOSS, BYNDLOES ‘bind wolf’; SPENDLOVE, SPENDLOW, SPENLOW, SPINDLOWE ‘disembowel wolf’; HACHEWOLF ‘hack wolf’.
Catchpole, Catchpoll, Catchpool, Catchpoole, Catchpoule, Chacepol (Eng) Literally, a man who was allowed to ‘catch fowl’ to offset someone’s taxes or other debts. A nickname for a bailiff. He might also be known more simply as a CATCHER or KETCHER.
Cater, Cator, Chaytor (Eng) Occupational name for someone who purchased provisions for a large household. Such an official was known in French as an acheteur or by the Norman French variant acatour ‘buyer.’ The word caterer is from the same source.
Catesby (Eng) Someone who came from a place so-named because it was the ‘settlement of Kati’s people.’
Caudell, Caudle, Caudwell, Cauldwellsee CALDWELL.
Caul, Caule, Caulessee CALLER.
Caxton (Eng) Someone who came from a place so-named because it was ‘Kakkr’s settlement.’
Chalk, Cawker, Chalke, Chalker, Chalkman, Chaulk (Eng) These names clearly refer to chalk in one way or another. The name-bearers may have been suppliers of chalk, since it was used for various purposes, eg as a whitewash and as a hardening agent by potters. The names could also indicate someone who originally came from one of the many English places named for its chalky soil.
Chamberlain, Chalmers, Chamberlaine, Chamberlayne, Chamberlen, Chamberlin, Chambers, Champerlen (Eng) An occupational name originally designating someone who managed the private chambers of his employer, normally a nobleman or perhaps the king himself. At the highest level he was a very influential official. Later chamber-attendants operated at a much humbler level and were more like chamber-maids.
Popular newspapers were delighted to report on the wedding, in the 1970s, of a Mr Chambers to a Miss Potts. It was inevitably described as ‘a marriage of convenience.’
L.G. Pine writes, in The Story of Surnames: ‘Chamberlain, not in most cases derived from any office of great profit or standing, but from the inn chamberlain, who looked after the arriving guests. The German name, now acclimatised in England, ZIMMERMAN, brings it out better – room man, the fellow who allotted the guests their rooms in the inn.’ A German Zimmermann is more likely to have helped build a bedroom or the bed itself. The name means ‘carpenter.’ Zimmer does indeed mean ‘room’ in modern German, but in the Middle Ages it would have been Zimber, a form showing its connection with ‘timber.’
Chaperlin, Chaperlingsee CHAPLIN.
Chaplin, Capelen, Capelin, Capeling, Caplen, Caplin, Chaperlin, Chaperling, Chaplain, Chapling (Eng) Occupational name for the servant of a clergyman.
Charles Chaplin, in My Autobiography, writes: ‘I started schooling and was taught to write my name “Chaplin.” The word fascinated me and looked like me, I thought.’
Chapman, Chapper, Cheeper, Chipman, Chipper (Eng) Occupational man for a trader, a man who bought and sold articles. The first element in Chapman is from Old English ceap, which led to the words ‘chap,’ ‘cheap’ and ‘chop’ (as in ‘chop and change.’)
Charlton (Eng) Someone who came from one of the several places so-named because it was a ‘settlement of free peasants.’
Chatham (Eng) Descendant of someone who originally came from one of the places so-named because it was a ‘homestead near a forest.’
Chatterton (Eng) Probably someone who came from a place named Chadderton, ‘settlement near a hill.’
Chatterley, the name made famous by D.H. Lawrence in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, has much the same meaning. Lawrence was presumably being ironic when he gave his heroine the first name Constance.
Chaucer, Chauser (Eng) Occupational name of a maker of leather leg-wear. Ernest Weekley disliked complicated explanations of a name when a simple one was available, and he agreed that the evidence for the origin of this name from French chauceor ‘hose-maker’ was convincing. He nevertheless suggested that some families of this name might have an ancestor who was a chauffecire, literally a ‘heat wax.’ Some English writers (though only from the 17th century onwards) used the term ‘chafe-’ or ‘chaff-wax’ to describe the Chancery official who prepared wax that was used to seal official documents. Weekley also suggested that a Chaucer, Chauser might have been a ‘chalicer,’ a maker of drinking cups or goblets. Of these various possibilities, ‘hose-maker’ remains by far the most likely.
Cheater, Chetter (Eng) Occupational name of an official escheater. He supervised the reversion of estates to the feudal lord when a tenant died without heir. In many cases, surnames accidentally resemble normal words, but in this instance a Cheater really deserved his name, inasmuch as the verbs escheat and cheat were at one time interchangeable. The development of a new meaning for cheat, namely to ‘deprive someone of something by deceit,’ was a reflection on the dishonesty of the medieval officials. However, Weekley thought that in some instance this name might be a variant of CATER.
Cheesewright, Cheesright, Cherrett, Cherritt, Chessman, Chesswright, Cheswright (Eng) Occupational name for a maker/seller of cheese.
Cheever, Cheevers, Chevers, Chivers (Eng) Occupational name of a goat-herd (from French chevre, ‘goat’), or a nickname for someone who was thought to be goat-like in behaviour.
Chegwyn, Chegwidden, Chegwin (Cornish) Descendant of someone who originally came from a place named because of its ‘white house.’
Cherrett, Cherritt, Chessman, Chesswright see Cheesewright.
Chesterton (Eng) Someone who came from a place so-named because it was a ‘settlement near a Roman camp.’
Chevalier, Cavalier, Chevallier (Eng) A ‘knight,’ commenting on the fact that he rode a cheval ‘horse.’ This was probably an occupational name for someone who worked for a knight. The noblemen themselves usually had names linked to estates.
Chilton (Eng) Someone who came from a place so-named because it was a ‘settlement with children.’
Chipman, Chippersee CHAPMAN.
Cholmondeley, Chambly, Cholmeley, Chumley, Chumbly (Eng) Descendant of someone who originally came from the Cheshire place, so-named because it was ‘Ceolmund’s wood.’
Weekley remarks that it is ‘curious’ that a name of this type (ie a very ordinary transferred place name) should have ‘acquired an aristocratic flavour.’
Lower, in his Patronymica Britannica, pauses to say: ‘I cannot refrain from reprobating the curt and absurd pronunciation of this name – Chulmley or Chumley. Strange that some of our most aristocratic families, who would not willingly concede one jot of their dignity in other respects, should be willing to have their ancient names thus nicked and mutilated. Why should the ST JOHNS submit to be Sinjen’d, the MAJORIBANKS to be Marchbank’d, the FITZ-JOHNS to be Fidgen’d, or the CHOLMONDLEYS to be Chumley’d? Why should the contractions of illiterate “flunkeys” be accepted in the places of fine old chivalrous sounds like those?’ See MARJORIBANKS.
Chopin, Choppen, Choppin, Chopping (Eng, French) Nickname for a heavy drinker. Old French chopiner meant ‘to tipple,’ the verb being derived from a liquid measure called a chopine, ‘the quantity held in a large ladle.’ In France the name also led to Chopine, Chopinel, Chopinnet. Another Old French word chopin ‘heavy blow’ could also have led to this surname, indicating someone who was violently pugnacious.
Chrisp, Chrispinsee CRISP.
Christian, Christ, Christey, Christie, Christin, Christine, Christison, Christy (Eng) Descendant of Christian, a given name of obvious meaning. Christ is a rare form of this name, likely to cause problems for its bearers.
Mr Jay F. Christ, of the University of Chicago, reports that he soon discovered that having a visiting card which simply said “J. Christ,” or signing his name in that way, could cause offence.
Christmas, Chrismas (Eng) Descendant of someone born during the Christmas season.
A Surrey publican of this name is said to have thrown a midsummer ‘Christmas party,’ inviting all those who shared his surname to come along for a free drink.
Chubb (Eng) A nickname derived from the fish, which is known to be short, fat (chubby) and sluggish. See BUGG.
Chumley, Chumblysee CHOLMONDLEY.
Churchill (Eng) Descendant of someone who came from any of the places, especially in the West Country, which bear this name because of a ‘church on a hill.’
Churchyard, Churchard (Eng) Occupational name of a man who worked in a churchyard or indicating an ancestor who lived near one.
Chuzzlewit (Eng) This is a well known name because of Dickens’s Martin Chuzzlewit. Dickens managed to make it look like a corrupt form of a place-name containing the common Old English element ceosol ‘gravel, shingle.’ He had rejected along the way a number of other possibile names, such as Sweezleden, Sweezleback, Sweezlewag, Chuzzletoe, Chuzzleboy, Chubblewig and Chuzzlewig. In the novel occurs the passage: ‘Then Martin is your Christian name?’ said Mr Pinch thoughtfully. ‘Of course it is,’ returned his friend: ‘I wish it was my surname, for my own is not a pretty one, and it takes a long time to sign. Chuzzlewit is my name.’
There is also a discussion in the novel about the family’s history. Toby Chuzzlewit is asked ‘Who was your grandfather?’ to which he replies ‘The Lord No Zoo.’ This is offered as proof that the family is connected to ‘some unknown noble and illustrious House.’
Clapham (Eng) Descendant of someone who originally came from one of the places so-named because it was a ‘homestead on or near a hillock.’
Clark, Clarke, Clarkin, Clarkson, Clarkstone, Clarson, Clerk, Clerke (Eng) Occupational name of a man, usually a member of a minor religious order who had not taken vows of celibacy and was therefore able to marry, who performed secretarial duties. Later the name came to mean any literate man (in a period when most people, at all levels of society, could neither read nor write). Many of the clerics or clerks, as we would now call them, were in fact only semi-literate by modern standards, often employing their own idiosyncratic spelling systems. Nevertheless, the frequency with which the name now occurs shows that it had high status and was borne proudly as a family name. Some compound names contain ‘clerk’ as an element. BEAUCLERK is a Norman name that describes a ‘handsome cleric’ or one who had especially good handwriting. BUNCLARK was a bon clerc ‘good priest.’ MAUCLERC, by contrast, (also recorded as MANCLARK and MOCKLER) was a ‘bad priest or clerk.’
Andrea Newman, in An Evil Streak, writes: ‘Christopher Clark – the very name has a fine solid English ring to it. Lacking the affectation of a final ‘e,’ it suggests the courage of its own convictions. Insert the prefix ‘Dr’ and you have a pillar of society, the dependable middle-class professional man, dedicated to doing good and making money, and seeing no contradiction between the two.’
A curiosity about the name Clark is that it appears in correct sequence in the Periodic Table. Elements 17–19 inclusive are Cl (chlorine) Ar (argon) and K (potassium). See DUCK.
Clay, Claye, Clayer, Clayman (Eng) Occupational name for someone who worked in a claypit.
Claybrook, Claybrooke (Eng) Descendant of someone who originally came from the Leicestershire place, so-named because of its ‘clayey brook.’
Claydon, Clayden (Eng) Descendant of someone who originally came from one of the many places so-named because it was on a ‘clayey hill.’
Claye, Clayer, Claymansee CLAY.
Claypole, Claypool (Eng) Descendant of someone who originally came from the Lincolnshire place, so-named because of its ‘clayey pool.’
Clayton (Eng) Someone who came from one of the several places so-named because it was a ‘settlement on clayey soil.’
John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, is otherwise known as Tarzan in the stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Clement, Clemans, Clemence, Clemens, Clemenson, Clements, Clementson, Clemerson, Cleminson, Clemm, Clemmans, Clemmens, Clemmett, Clemmey, Clemmitt, Clemmow, Clemons, Clemonts, Clempson, Clemson, Climance, Climey, Climpson, Clyma, Clymer (Eng) Descendant of Clement, from a Latin word meaning ‘merciful.’ The name is mentioned only once in the Bible, but it was the name of an early saint and several popes.
Clerke, Clerkesee CLARK.
Clifton (Eng) Someone who came from one of the several places so-named because it was a ‘settlement on a hill slope.’
Climance, Climey, Climpsonsee CLEMENT.
Clog (Eng) Occupational name of a clog-maker. Names like PATTEN and PATTIN belong here, pattens being a kind of clog worn especially by ecclesiastics.
Clout, Clouter, Cloutman, Cloutt (Eng) Occupational name of someone who used ‘clouts’ or ‘patches’ to repair holes in clothes or utensils.
Clyma, Clymersee CLEMENT.
Cobham (Eng) Descendant of someone who originally came from one of the places so-named because it was ‘Cobba’s or Coffa’s homestead.’
Cock, Cockarill, Cockerell, Cockerill, Cocking, Cocklin, Cockling, Cockrell, Cockrill, Cocks, Cox, Coxe, Coxen, Coxon (Eng) Comparing a young man to a cockerel gave rise to one of the commonest nicknames in medieval times. We might still say that such a person was acting in a ‘cocky’ way. A cock was also much used as a house sign in the days when most people were illiterate, and the numbering of houses was not yet usual. Cock could therefore refer to someone who lived ‘at the sign of the Cock.’ In words like ‘haycock,’ cock means a ‘heap, small hill.’ The word in this sense could have been used as a nickname for a fat man. The fact that there is a type of small ship’s boat called a ‘cock’ means that the name could have referred to someone who was professionally involved with it. Other possible derivations are from a ‘cook,’ or from Welsh coch ‘red,’ or from an Old English personal name Cocca, the meaning of which might be almost any of the above. It is almost impossible, clearly, to say that a family bearing a form of this name derives it from a particular source. One meaning which is not possible is ‘penis,’ since cock only acquired this slang meaning long after the surname-formation period.
Basil Cottle mentions the Coxe spelling only to say that it is ‘very rare and affected.’
Thackeray had long before commented, in Cox’s Diary: ‘Mr Coxe Coxe (that’s the way, double your name, and stick an “e” to the end of it, and you are a gentleman at once). ‘
Codner, Corden, Cordner, Cordon, Cordwent, Corwin (Eng) Occupational name of a ‘cordwainer,’ a leather-worker who took his name from the Spanish town of Corduba, where the leather was made from tanned goat-skins. In the Middle Ages he would have been employed by the wealthy to make shoes.
Cohen, Coen, Cohan, Cohn (Jewish) From Hebrew kohen ‘priest.’
Coleman, Colman, Coulman (Eng, Irish) Irish families of this name had an ancestor named Colmán, a diminutive form of Columb, from Latin columba ‘dove.’ The name was very popular in the Ireland of the Middle Ages, thanks to various saints named either Columba or Columban. In an English context the name refers to the occupation of a charcoal burner, or to the servant of a man named Cole.
Colin, Colkin, Coll, Collard, Colle, Collens, Collerson, Collet, Collete, Collettsee NICHOLAS.
Collar, Colleer, Collersee COLLIER.
Colley, Collie (Eng) Nickname for a person with ‘coal-black’ hair.
Collier, Collar, Colleer, Coller, Colliar, Colliard, Collyear, Collyer, Colyer (Eng) Occupational name of a charcoal burner.
Coleman can also have this meaning.
Collin, Collins, Collinson, Collison, Collisson, Colls, Collynssee NICHOLAS.
Collyear, Collyersee COLLIER.
Colt, Coldtart, Coltart, Colter, Coltman, Coult, Coultate, Coulthard, Coulthart, Coultman (Eng) Occupational name of a colt-herd, though Colt may occasionally be a nickname for someone who behaved like a colt.
Comfort, Cumfort (Eng) Nickname of someone who provided comfort, probably in the form of support and encouragement. Names of similar meaning are SOLACE and SOLLAS. In some instances Comfort is a later development of Comport, formerly a place name in Kent and Surrey.
Comper (Eng) A reference to someone who was a gossip.
Compton (Eng) Someone who came from one of the several places so-named because it was a ‘settlement in a narrow valley.’
Coningsby, Conningsby (Eng) Someone who came from a place so-named because it was the ‘king’s settlement.’
Connor, Connors, O’Conchor, O’Conor, O’Connor, O’Connour (Irish) Descendant of Conchobhar, a Gaelic personal name of uncertain meaning. Suggestions as to it significance range from ‘meddlesome,’ ‘dog desiring’ or ‘dog-lover,’ ‘wolf-lover,’ ‘high will.’
Samuel Lover writes in Handy Andy: ‘The rider was Edward O’Connor; and he was worthy of his name – the pure blood of that royal race was in his heart, which never harboured a sentiment that could do it dishonour, and overflowed with feelings which ennoble human nature, and make us proud of our kind.’
Constant, Constans, Contant, Coutant, Coutans (Eng) Complimentary nickname for someone considered to be ‘steadfast, faithful.’
Cooksey (Eng) Descendant of someone who came from the Worcestershire place of this name, ‘Cucu’s island.’
Cooper, Cooperman, Copper, Coupar, Couper, Cowper, Cupper (Eng) Descendant of someone who made wooden tubs and casks.
An American woman, Ellen Donna Cooperman, who owned a Long Island feminist film company, attempted in 1978 to have her surname legally changed to Cooperperson. She claimed that the new version of her name would ‘more properly reflect her sense of human equality.’ The New York State Supreme Court refused to allow the change on the basis that it would lead to an avalanche of similar demands, Manson to Peoplechild, etc. A lower court had previously ruled against Ms Cooperman, saying that the proposed change would hold the women’s movement up to ridicule.
Copestake, Capstack, Capstick, Coupstak (Fre and Eng) Occupational name of a stake-cutter. The first part of the name represents French couper ‘to cut.’
Coppell, Coppayl, Cupples, Curpel, Curtpeil (Eng) Nickname for a man with short hair, from Old French curt peil.
Coppersmith (Eng) An occupational name of obvious meaning.
Corden, Cordner, Cordon, Cordwent, Corwin see Codner.
Cosier (Eng) Occupational name of a cobbler.
Cotter, Coterel, Cotman, Cottier (Eng) A villager who lived in a cot or cottage. Those of higher social class were husbonds ‘householders.’
Coule, Coules, Coullsee NICHOLAS.
Coult, Coultate, Coulthard, Coulthart, Coultmansee COLT.
Counter (Eng) Occupational name for a ‘keeper of accounts.’ He may also have been concerned with taxes.
Coupar, Coupersee COOPER.
Court, Corte, Courtman, Courts, Curt (Eng) Two separate names have blended here. These forms could indicate someone who worked at a manorial court, but they could also be a nickname for a ‘short’ man.
Richard Court, who died in 1791, had been a blacksmith, as his epitaph reveals:
My Sledge and Hammer lie Reclin’d,
My Bellows too have lost their Wind;
My Fire is out, and Forge decay’d,
And in the Dust my Vice is laid.
Coutant, Coutanssee CONSTANT.
Covington (Eng) Someone who came from a place so-named because it was the ‘settlement of Cova’s people.’
Cowle, Cowlessee NICHOLAS.
Cox, Coxe, Coxen, Coxonsee COCK.
Crabbe, Crab, Crabb, Crabbie, Crabs, Crabtree (Eng) The form Crabtree makes it clear that these names could sometimes refer to crab-apple trees, or to their fruit. Even then, given the fondness of our ancestors for nicknames drawn from Nature, the name was likely to refer to someone’s ‘sourness.’ If the reference was to the crustacean, a comment was probably being made on someone’s shambling gait, his ‘crab-like’ movement.
Mrs Carol Crabb reported to Woman magazine that the midwife who brought her new baby to be fed commented: ‘Here you are, Mrs Crabb, your little lobster.’ Mrs Crabb was not amused.
The ‘lobster’ remark will remind avid readers of Charles Dickens of the incident in Nicholas Nickleby, when Nicholas falls in love with an unknown girl. He asks Newman Noggs to follow her and find out who she is. When Newman returns he announces: ‘The name’s Bobster. I remember it by lobster.’ Nicholas is taken aback and can only say: ‘That must be the servant’s name.’ He is later greatly relieved to discover that Noggs has followed the wrong girl, and that the object of his affections is really Madeline Bray.
Craft, Craftssee CROFT.
Craig, Cragg, Craggs, Craigie, Craik (Scot) Descendant of someone who lived near a rugged mass of rock, a crag.
Crane (Eng) Nickname presumably commenting on a man’s long legs. See GREWCOCK.
There is a well-known literary bearer of this name in Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow: ‘The cognomen of Crane was not inapplicable to his person. He was tall, but exceeedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served for shovels, and his whole frame most loosely hung together. His head was small, and flat at top, with huge ears, large green glassy eyes, and a long snipe nose, so that it looked like a weather-cock, perched upon his spindle neck, to tell which way the wind blew.
Thomas Wolfe also comments on the name in The Web and the Rock: ‘Nebraska Crane was a fellow that he liked. That was a queer name, sure enough, but there was also something good about it. It was a square, thick, muscular, brawny, browned and freckled, wholesome kind of name, plain as an old shoe and afraid of nothing, and yet it had some strangeness in it, too.’
The word crap, ‘excrement’ or ‘defecate’, is not derived from this name, in spite of Thomas Crapper’s invention of the flush toilet. There was a word crappe in Middle English which referred to the ‘residue, dregs, chaff,’ the meaning of which was extended.
Craswall, Crasswell, Craswell, Crasswellersee CRESWELL.
Crawcour (Eng) A name which indicates Norman descent. Weekley explained it as a form of a common French place name, Crévecoeur ‘heartbreak.’ The reference is to land which is heartbreaking for the peasant because it is infertile.
In Ann Vickers, a novel by the American writer Sinclair Lewis, the following occurs: ‘The name Crévecoeur sounded aristocratic. Ann looked it up in the dictionary and announced to Pat, impressively, that it really meant ‘heartbreak’ and was guaranteed to be romantic. But Pat looked it up in an even bigger dictionary and bawdily announced to Ann that crévecoeur also meant ‘a French variety of the domestic fowl, heavily crested and bearded, and having a comb like two horns.’
Crawford, Crawforth (Eng) This is a common place name, indicating a ford where crows gathered. Bearers of the name had an ancestor living in such a place in the Middle Ages.
Creighton, Crichten, Crichton, Crighton (Scot) Someone who came from a place so-named because it was a ‘settlement near a boundary.’
James Crichton (‘Admirable Crichton’) of Clunie was a Scottish prodigy in the 16th century. Allusive use of his name sometimes occurs, as when Thomas Hughes writes in Tom Brown’s Schooldays: ‘He was the Crichton of our village boys. He could wrestle and climb and run better than all the rest.’ J.M.Barrie later made Bill Crichton butler to Lord Loam in his play The Admirable Crichton.
Creswell, Carswell, Casewell, Casswell, Caswall, Caswell, Caswill, Craswall, Crasswell, Craswell, Crassweller, Cressall, Cressel, Cresswell, Criswell, Kerswell, Kerswill (Eng) Descendant of someone who originally came from one of the many places so-named because because of its ‘stream with watercress.’ These various spellings occur at the place-name stage, Old English coerse ‘watercress’ having developed in different dialectal ways.
Even when a spelling has become theoretically fixed in its surname form, variations are still likely to occur. A Mr Cresswell of London complained some years ago in a letter to the Daily Mail that he had been addressed as Mr Blackwell, Crestfall, Chessman and Watercress.
Crichten, Crichton, Crightonsee CREIGHTON.
Crisp, Chrisp, Chrispin, Crepin, Crespin, Crespy, Cripin, Crippen, Crippes, Cripps, Crips, Crispe, Crispin (Eng) Nickname for a man with curly hair, or descendant of a man named Crispin (which also means ‘curly-haired’).
Crock, Crockard, Crocker, Crockman, Crocks, Croker (Eng) Occupational name of a potter.
Croft, Craft, Crafts, Crofter, Crofts, Cruft, Crufts (Eng) A ‘croft’ is a small farm or enclosed field. The word became a place name, especially as Crofton, and any of the places so-called could have led to the surname, indicating someone who originally came from there.
Charles Cruft (1852–1938) was born in London. He became a salesman with a company making dog-cakes and saw dog shows as a useful way of selling the product. He organized the first London dog show in 1886 and was guaranteed success when it was patronized by Queen Victoria. However, he ordered that the dogs she had entered were to be judged strictly on their own merits.
Croisier, Croiziersee CROZIER.
Cromb, Crumb, Crump (Eng) Nickname for a man with a stooping posture.
Crompton (Eng) Someone who came from a place so-named because it was a ‘settlement near a bend in the river or road.’
Crook (Eng) Nickname for a man with a crooked back.
Crookshank, Crookshanks see Cruikshank.
Cropper, Crapper (Eng) Occupational name of a cropper, mower, sickler.
The English entertainer and singer Lynda Crapper adopted ‘Marti Caine’ as her stage-name.
Cross, Crosse, Crossman (Eng) Descendant of someone who lived near a roadside cross, or one that stood in a market place.
Crother, Crotherssee CROWTHER.
Crousier, Crouziersee CROZIER.
Crowther, Crewther, Crother, Crothers, Crowder (Eng) Occupational name of someone who played the ‘crowd’ or ‘rote,’ a kind of fiddle used by medieval minstrels, from Welsh crwth, Irish cruit. In Scottish Gaelic this led to MacChruiteir which in turn gave MACCHRUTTER, MACWHIRTER.
Crozier, Crosier, Croisier, Croizier, Croser, Crosser, Crousier, Crouzier (Eng, Fre) Occupational name of a maker or seller of crosses; or a man who carried a cross of bishop’s crook in ecclesiastical processions; or from residence near a roadside cross. Professor Dauzat has also suggested that the name could refer to someone living at a place where roads crossed.
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