The origin & evolution of English surnames

Etymology made interesting

The origin and curious evolution of some English surnames

A magazine article by Sir Herbert Maxwell presents in a very readable form the derivation of a number of common names.

It will be news, for example, to many of our readers that Snooks was once known as Sevenoakes. Some persons are not aware that Elizabeth is to be accounted an uncouth form of Isabel, which was formed from Isabeau, on a false supposition that Isabeau was masculine. Eliza, it is stated, is not a shortened form of Elizabeth, but is the equivalent of Alice. Marion, we know, is in line with Marie, Mary and Maria.

Patronymics have been much multiplied through pet names. The Saxons formed pet names by adding to the original name (often abbreviated) -kin and -cock, and the Normans introduced -et and -ot, -en and -on.

From William, we have the pet names Will, Wilcock, Wilkin, Willett, Willey, Willemot, Willen, Bill and Guili (Latin). From these we get, in order, Williams, MacWilliam, Williamson, Wills, Wilson, Wilcox, Wilkins, Wilkison, Wilkinson, Willet, Willetson, Wilmot, Willing, Bilson, Gill, Gilson, Gilkins, Gilkison, Gillon and Gillott.

Robert — through Robin, Dobb Rob, Hob and Hobkin — gives us Roberts, Robertson, Robins, Robinson, Robison, Probyn, Dobbs, Dobson, Hobbs, Hobson, Robbs, Robson, Hopkins and Hopkinson.

Philip gives us Phipps, Philpot and Philpots. Richard has been distorted by affection into the pet names Rich, Richie, Dick, Diccon, Hitchin and Hitchcock. From these, in turn, we have Richards, Richardson, Rickards, Pritchard, Rixon, Ritchie, Richison, Dick, Dixie, Dixon, Dickens, Dickenson, Hitchins, Hitchison, Hitchcock and Hitchcox.

David has given us Davidson, Dodson, Dodds, Davy, Davison, Daw, Dawson, Dawkins and O’Dowd.

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We have from Henry the derivations Hal, Hallet, Harry, Harriet and Hawkins.

From John, we get Jack and Jenkins; from Simeon, Simkins. Thackeray’s ancestor was a thatcher. Malthas got his name from malthouse, and the common family name of Bacchus would be more correctly spelled Bakehouse. MacPherson means parson’s son. Vickers was the vicar’s son.

Wallace means a Welshman, and Bruce is a Norman name. Sinclair, Montgomery, Hay and Vance are, like Bruce, names derived from lands in Normandy. Many English surnames end in -ford, -ham (house), -lea, -ton (farm) and -by (dwelling), from the old practice of naming persons after their native place. Aylesford, Grimston, Habersham and Ormsby are examples.

>> What does Mc/Mac mean in a last name?

Winslow is from words that mean Wine’s hill. From Lea we get Lee, Leigh and Legh.

The Welsh Ap (son) with Robert has become Probert. Ap Rhys has become Price. Ap Owen has become Bowen, and Ap Hugh has become Pugh.

A prosperous Dublin snuff dealer named Halfpenny has had his appellation shortened, it is narrated, to Halpen, and then enlarged to an imposing McAlpin.

It is interesting in this connection to know that Finn and Findlay are Celtic surnames equivalent to our White. Duff, Macduff and Dow are for Black. Glass is for Gray. Roy, Cockran and Cochrane all mean red. Our Mr Brown is, in Celtic, Mr Dunn or Mr Donnan.

Moore and Morau answer to our Bigg. On the other hand, Beggs is good Celtic for Little or Small. Oliphant (elephant) is a name derived from a shop sign.

>> See some modern books on genealogy here!

The reader will perceive that many of our Christian names and surnames have had curious histories.

– Baltimore Sun


Illustration: “God bless our family” family record, printed in Chicago, Illinois (c1895)

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About this story

Source publication: The Daily Herald (Brownsville, Texas)

Source publication date: August 10, 1892

Filed under: 1890s, Culture & lifestyle, Family & parenting

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