The History of Last Names •
Surnames A-Z •
When communities consisted of just a few people, surnames -- last
names/family names -- weren't important. As each town acquired
more and more Johns and Marys, the need was established for a way
to identify each from the other. The Romans had begun the practice
of using "given-name + clan-name + family-name" about 300 B.C. In
the English-speaking part of the world, the exact date that
surnames began to be adopted can't be pinpointed. The Domesday
Book compiled by William the Conquerer required surnames, but
hereditary surnames are not considered to have been commonplace
until the late 1200's.
William Camden wrote in Remaines of a Greater Worke Concerning
About the yeare of our Lord 1000...surnames began to be taken up
in France, and in England about the time of the Conquest, or else
a very little before, under King Edward the Confessor, who was all
Frenchified...but the French and wee termed them Surnames, not
because they are the names of the sire, or the father, but because
they are super added to Christian names as the Spanish called them
Renombres, as Renames.
Some surnames refer to occupations (Carpenter, Taylor, Brewer,
Mason), a practice that was commonplace by the end of the 14th
century. Places of residence were also commonly used (Hill, Brook,
Forrest, Dale) as a basis for the surname, for reasons that can be
easily understood. Less apparent is the rationale behind the
adoption of animal references (Wolfe, Fish, Byrd, Katt), although
it may have been to identify a similar trait in the bearer of the
name (John Fox might have been sly). Relations of those with royal
rank often adopted the title as a surname (King, Abbott, Steward,
Prince) and colors (Brown, Black, White, Gray) were adopted for
less obvious reasoning.
Physical features that were prominent when surnames began to be
adopted were also borrowed as an identifier (Long, Short, Beardsly,
Stout) as were dispositions of the bearers (Gay, Moody, Sterne,
Wise). Sometimes the name told its own story (Lackland,
Freeholder, Goodpasture, Upthegrove) and sometimes they might have
been selected to elicit envy or sympathy (Rich, Poor, Wise,
names are those that identify the father and various cultures did
so by different means. The Scandinavians added "son" to identify
John's son or Erik's son. The Norman-French used the prefix "Fitz"
to mean child of, as in Fitzpatrick, for child of Patrick. Many
other cultures had their own prefixes to indicate of the father('s
name) , including the Scots ('Mac'Donald), Irish ('O'Brien), Dutch
('Van'Buren), the French ('de'Gaulle), Germans ('Von'berger)
Spanish/Italian ('Di'Tello) and the Arab-speaking nations ('ibn'-Saud).
Sometimes the prefixes were attached to places rather than the
father's name, such as traditional family land holdings or
When surnames were being adopted, many were the result of
nicknames that were given by friends, relatives, or others. Some
nicknames were extremely unflattering -- to the point of vulgarity
-- but most of those have vanished, having been changed by
descendants through spelling changes or simply by changing names
Some names were simply acquired when those without a surname
acquired a need to have one. A lady-in-waiting for royalty might
have had no traditional surname, but would require one if no
longer in the service of royalty. In times of political turmoil, a
deposed ruler might require a smaller staff, and long-time
servants would find themselves among commoners -- and suddenly in
need of a surname. Names were sometimes invented as combinations
of other words.
The Chinese were the first to adopt surnames to honor their
forebears, with the family name placed first, rather than last.
Thus, the family name of Sun Yat-sen is Sun.
Abbott: English Occupational name for the man who lived in the
house of the Abbott, or sometimes as a nickname for the
sanctimonious person. Requested by Darryl Rogers
Alexander: is a name common throughout the early British Isles
taken from the English given name Alexander, which means "defender
Alarcon: is a Spanish Place name derived from Alarcon in Cuenca
Alarid: may be a version of the name Alard (Alar-i-d) which is a
Patronymic name derived from the given name Adelard. From Old
English adal=noble + hard=hardy. Another variation of the name is
spelled Allard. Requested by Inez Alarid.
Allard/Alard/Allert: English Patronymic Name...from the old name
Adelard. It's components are adal = hardy + hard. Allart and
Allert are variations of the name.
Allender: English/Scottish patronymic name, from the Celtic name
of antiquity – Alan, from Ailin = rock and sometimes derived from
Allen as the name of a town or settlement. Requested by Rick
Anderson: is the ninth most common surname in America, and owes
that position to the popularity of the name Andrew in England,
Scotland, and Scandinavian countries. Andrew (man) was the first
of the disciples called by Jesus, and was a revered name due to
its church influences through medieval times. St. Andrew is the
patron saint of both Scotland and Russia and many given names were
chosen to honor the saint. Patronymic surnames are names used to
describe a man by using his father's name. In Norway the name
takes the form Andresen, Anders, and Enders; the Swedes in
American eliminated the extra -S- they normally include to become
Anderson. It was Andersson and Anderssen before they emigrated.
The French form is Andre, with an accent mark above the ending
letter. Andrews is largly found in Scotland, along with McAndrew
-- the prefix Mc being another patronymic designation -- which is
also found in Ireland. In Italy, the name is D'Andrea, in Poland
it is Andrzejewski, in the Ukraine it is Andrijenko, and in
Czechoslovakia, Andrew takes the form of Ondrus. Requested by
Appel/Appelbaum: The German Place names Appel and Applebaum/Appelbaum
described the man who lived by the apple tree, and Appelt is a
Arnold/Arnatt/Arnett: English Patronymic Name...Arnett is a
variation of Arnatt, which is derived from Arnold, a Norman given
name. The Norman arn = eagle + weld = rule combined to form
Ashmore: is an English Place name that was derived from the Old
English oesc = ash + mor = marsh...for a literal translation of
ash-marsh. The man who lived near there often acquired that as his
surname. Requested by Andy Ashmore.
Atkins is a Patronymic name, derived from the early given name
Adam (Hebrew adama = red earth or man), originating in England,
France, Catalan, Italy, Germany, and Poland, as well as the
Ashkenazic Jewish, Dutch and Flemish. Diminutive forms of Adam are
Adkin, Atkin, Aitkin, Adnett, Adnitt, and Ade. Italian variants
are Adami, Dami; Polish and Jewish versions include Adamski. The
Hugarian cognate is Adam, in Provencal it is Azam, in Spain, Adan.
Atnip: English Place Name...The Medieval English said atten to
mean "at the" creating names like ATWOOD meaning "at-the-woods."
The Old English word heope (pronounced like hip) meant "rose-hip."
Atten+heope or "at-the-roses" can easily be anglicized as Atnip.
Requested by: Earl Atnip
Austin is an English Patronymic name, derived from the given name
Aoustin introduced into England by the Normans. Requested by Laura
Ayers is a patronymic version of the surname Ayer, an English
Nickname for the man who was well known to be the heir to a title
or fortune, from the Middle English word eir, eyr = heir. Variants
include Ayr, Ayre, Eyer, Eyre, Hayer, Heyer, among others.
Bailey is an English occupational name for a steward or official,
from the Middle English bailli = carrier, porter. In Scotland, the
bailli is the magistrate and bailiff is a form that has evolved
elsewhere. Occasionally, the name is derived as an English Place
name from a Middle English word derived from Old French baille =
enclosure. In this form it originally meant the person living by
the outer wall of the castle, but Old Bailey, a place in
Lancashire which formed part of the outer wall of some medieval
castle, also became the origin for surname for people from that
location. There are numerous variations in many countries,
including Baillie (Scotland), Bayless, Bailess, Lebailly (French),
Bally (Swiss), Baglione (Italian), and Bailloux (Provencal).
Baker: As you might suspect, this name originated in the
occupation of a medieval townsman, where many of the most
frequently found surnames were derived. Baker is the 7th most
frequently found occupational surname in America.
Baldwin is an English Patronymic name from the given name
comprised of the Germanic elements bald = bold, brave + wine =
friend. Baldwin was an extremely popular given name among the
Normans and in Flanders during the Middle Ages. The first
Christian king of Jerusalem was Baldwin, as was the count of
Flanders who lead the Fourth Crusade and became the first Latin
Emperor of Constantinople in 1204. Occasionally, Baldwin is an
Irish surname adopted by bearers of the Gaelic name O'Maolagain,
as a result of an association with an English term meaning bald,
as a nickname. Congnative forms of the English version are
Baudouin (French); Baldovino, Balduini, Baldoin (Italian);
Valdovinos (Spanish); and Baldewin, Ballwein, Bollwahn, and
Ballard: Many times nicknames that had become attached to people,
stuck as their surname. Some were cruel, some weren't too bad.
Those that had particularly cruel names either changed the
spelling or changed their names altogether. Ballard is the
nickname that the English sometimes gave to those whose head were
short in the hair department. Bald, Balch, and Ballard are typical
English Nicknames for that description.
Barna/Barner: Hungarian Patronymic name from the given name
Barnaby, who was St. Paul's companion and a fairly common early
Barnes: English Place Name, from Barnes (in Surry or
Aberdeenshire) so named because of the barns that were located
there. There were also Barnes families who were known by the name
of their father (English Patronymic Name) who was called Barn, a
pet form of Barnabas -- a name not used much these days that means
'son of prophesy or consolation.' Some Barnes families are
descended from Beorn, a given name that meant 'nobleman' and still
others had a patronymic designation from Bairn, a name often given
to a young child of a prominent family.
Barrington: English Place name, from several locations by that
name, the one in Gloucester derived from Old English Beorningtun
(settlement of Beorn), the Somerset location derived from Bara's
Settlement. Occasionally Barrington is an Anglicized form of
O'Bearain , descendant of Bearan (spear).
Barron: English Nickname that called attention to noble birth or
Bass/Basso: English/Italian Nickname...Surnames were often taken
from nicknames given to the progenitor of a family -- in the case
of Bass, the English used the word as a nickname for a small or
thin person, along with Block, Grubb, Littell, Short, Smalley,
etc. In Italy, the same nickname is Basso. Requested by: Pamela
Bauer is a German status name for a peasant or a nickname for the
"neighbor, fellow citizen," with variants Baumann, Gebuhr, Pauer,
Beard was a fairly common English Nickname, for the man who wore a
beard, and a number of surnames were derived from it. The suffix
-den or -don is from an Old English element for dune, or hill.
Bearden in that context would be "Beard's Hill" a fairly good
description for a medieval location, from which many surnames drew
Beattie/Beaty/Beatty/Beatie/Beatey: Scottish/Northern Irish
Patronymic name...derived from the name Bartholomew. Bate was a
pet form of that given name, and sons of Bate might be known as
Beattie, Beatty, or Beatey.
Beck/Beckman/Bachman: German Place Name...There were many names
for the 'one who dwells by the stream' and in Germany they
included Beck/Beckman/Bachman. Requested by: David Verdoorn
Beebe: English Occupational name for the man who lived near the
bee farm or apiary.
Bekker is a variation of the German Occupational name Becher, the
occupation of the man who created wooden vessels such as cups,
mugs, and pitchers. It is derived from Middle High German becher,
from Greek bikos = pot, pitcher. Occasionally it referred to the
German man who worked with pitch, a substance used in
waterproofing such items; and also, Becher originates sometimes as
a Jewish name of uncertain origin or an English Place name as a
variant of Beech.
Bennett/Bennet: English Patronymic name from the name Bennet,
which means 'blessed' – a popular name during the middle ages. It
has variations in several languages, and spellings. American
singer Tony Bennett uses two versions -- his artworks are signed
Anthony Benedetto, his name before being American-ized. Requested
by Bevan Bennett. He was `blessed' – Bennet – with a great voice!
Bentley: is an English Place name that is a combined form of the
Old English word leah, which meant 'clearing in the woods.' The
bent-leah was the 'clearing in the woods with the bent grass,' and
Bentley was the man who lived there.
Benz/Benzer: In early times when advertising was in its infancy,
(before television and the proliferation of literacy -- and the
subsequent decline due to the aforementioned...) innkeepers had
pictures placed on their hanging outdoor signs for identification.
The bear was one of the popular depictions. Benz is a German place
name derived from the place of the 'bear sign' with Benzer as a
Bettencourt: French Place name to describe someone from
Bettencourt, France. There are several spelling variations of the
place name. Bettencourt was originally or Germanic origin; Betto's
court, with Betto a variant of the personal name Bert with the
suffix court, which means farmyard. It is prevalent in Portugal
where it was first recorded in the 1300's.
Biedenweg, an unusual German place name, means "by the way" as a
location of where someone lived -- 'way' meaning course or path.
An Old Middle German given name was Budde, which evolved into
several surnames. Budde's Way, or the path to Budde's settlement
or enclosure, might have been taken as a surname for someone who
lived along that trail -- as Buddeweg or Budweg.
Billings: English Place name for the man who was one of "Billa's
people" or who is from Billinge (which is derived from an Old
English term for sword) in Lancashire.
Bixby is an English place name from "Bekki's homestead" in
Blackburn: Scottish Patronymic/Place name...Blackburn is somewhat
of an oddity in that many Scottish families with the name
originated from the town of Blackburn, which was named for an
original settler. He likely got the name because of where he
formerly lived -- black-burn being the reference to a 'dark
Blain: is a Scottish Patronymic name derived from Blane, or Blaan
-- given names that honored St. Blane, a Scottish Saint.
Blalock and Blaylock are English Nicknames for the man who had the
black hair, or the Bla'ck locks.
Blauer: is a Bavarian nickname for one who is associated with the
color blue...either by wearing blue clothes, or blue eyes -- or
sometimes having a pale complexion.
Blount/Blunt: English descriptive name...derived from the Old
French word blund -- which meant 'blond, or yellow-haired.'
Boeuf is a French Nickname for a powerfully built man, from the
Old French boeuf = bull. Variants are Leboeuf, Boey, and Boez.
Cognates are Boff, Leboff (England), La Bau, Boe, Boi, Lo Voi
(Italian), and others.
Bohm: and its variants are German Nicknames derived from the terms
used to identify a person from Bohemia. From Old German Baii +
heim=home. Variations include Bahem, Boehme, and Boehm, among
Booth is an English Place name for the man who lived in a small
hut or bothy from the Middle English word bothe, and usually
designated a cowman or shepherd. It has Scandinavian origins and
denoted the various kinds of temporary shelter, and is more common
in Northern England and Scotland. Variations include Boothe,
Boothman, Boden, Bodin.
Bowen: is a Welsh Patronymic name from the given name Owen. In
early times, when they said "son of" they said it ap or ab. For
example, William ap'John, was William the-son-of John. In the case
of Owen, it was William ap'Owen -- which when said the least bit
quickly, immediately becomes, William Bowen. Occasionally, Bowen
is an Anglicized form of the Gaelic O'Buadhachain (descendant of
Bower: English Place name for the person who lived in a small
cottage or occasionally, an occupational name for the house
servant, derived from Old English bur = cottage, inner room.
Variants include Bowers, Bour, Bowerer, Boorer, Bowering, and
others. Dutch versions include Van Buren, Van Buuren, and Van den
Bowman is a name that is quite literal; it's the English
Occupational name for the archer, from Old English boga = bow +
mann = man, although occasionally it is an Anglicized form of the
German and Dutch surname Baumann -- consult your heritage for the
correct version. Variants of Bowman are Boman, and Beauman. The
cognate form in Dutch and Flemish is Boogman.
Bradford: English Place Name...Settlers near a crossing point on a
watercourse often adopted 'ford' as their surname. A wide crossing
was a 'broad-ford' and those living there - Bradford.
Incidentally, Bradford was one of the 50 surnames of people
arriving on the Mayflower in 1620. Requested by: Glenn Bradford
Brake: English place name -- which derived from the way they
described bushes or a thicket in medieval times. The person who
lived by the 'bracken' thicket or bushes sometimes acquired the
Bredon, Breden, Breedon of English origin. It is derived from
places (in Leicestershire and Worcestershire) that are comprised
of the Old English elements bre=hill + dun=low hill.
Brett is the ethnic name for a Breton, from the Old French word
bret. The Bretons were Celtic-speaking folks who were driven from
SW England to NW France in the 6th century by the Anglo-Saxon
invaders. Some returned in the 11th century with William the
Conqueror. As an English surname it is most commonly found in E.
Anglia where many Bretons settled after the Conquest. Variations
are Britt, Breton, Bretton, Brittain, Bret, Lebret, Breton,
Bretonnier, Bretegnier, Bretagne, and Bretange. There are numerous
cognative versions as well. Requested by Judy Brett.
Briggs: A North English and Scottish variant of Bridge, derived
from the Old Norse bryggja. Bridge is an English Place name for
the man who lived near a bridge, or an English Occupational name
for the keeper of the bridge. Building and maintaining bridges was
one of three main feudal occupations, the cost of which was
occasionally offset by a toll charged to cross, and the keeper of
the toll often acquired the surname. Variations are Bridges,
Brigg, Briggs, Burge, Bridger, Bridgeman, Brigman. German
cognitives include: Bruckmann, Bruckman, Bruck, Bruckner,
Bruckner, Pruckner (Austria), Brugge, Brugger, Anderbrugge,
Toderbrugge, Terbruggen (at the bridge). Van Bruggen is Flemish,
and Van der Brug is Dutch. Other versions exist in additional
Bronowitz/Bronisz: Polish Patronymic Name... owitz and owicz are
typical patronymic endings applied to a given name in several
languages of Slavic origin. Bronowitz would be the 'son of Bron.'
Bron, by the way, meant 'defender.' The surname Bronisz is taken
directly from that given name. Requested by: Paul Pruitt
Brown: is one of the more common surnames, as you might expect.
Among the light-skinned English anyone with a darker complexion,
brown hair, tendancy toward brown clothing, etc. were often
described that way, and it stuck as a surname. There are a number
of derivatives in many countries.
Bruno: Brown is one of the more common surnames - it is the most
common of the surnames derived from nicknames. Bruno is the form
the name takes in Italy and occasionally in Germany.
Buhl is a German nickname for a relative of an important man, who
is not the head of the household, from Middle High German
buole=kinsman. It is also occasionally known as a nickname for a
lover, in the same context the word "paramour" is used.
Bulmer is an English Place name from a place in Essex that was
recorded in the Domesday Book as Bulenemera. It is derived from
the Old English elements bulena (the plural of bula = bull) + mere
= lake, for a literal meaning of 'lake of the bulls.'
Burckhardt/Borrows/Burg/Burge/Burks/Burr/Burris: German Place
Name...The principal surnames that refer to a fortified castle, an
imposing structure, or the peasant who lived nearby were Borrows,
Burg, Burge, Burks, Burr, and Burris -- which all came from the
Old English word burg which meant fort. Borg is generally the
designation used in Sweden, Norway, and Germany. Burckhardt was an
especially well fortified castle in Germany at the time surnames
were being adopted.
Burgess: English Descriptive Name...taken by men of free birth,
but not noble birth, who held substantial land for which they paid
very little rent, and had no obligation to render services to the
lord or king. Franklin and Freeman were names originating under
the same circumstances.
Burlingame/Burling/Burlingham: Burling and Burlingame are
corruptions of Burlingham, which was the 'settlement of Baerla's
people,' and an English Place name.
Burney: English Place name from Bernay , Normandy which had its
name originations in the Gaulish given name Brenno, or from Berney
in Norfolk (recorded in the Domesday Book as Ralph de Bernai , a
Norman who received land grants there). Occasionally, Burney is an
Anglicized form of the given name Biorna , a Gaelic version of the
Old Norse Bjarni (bearcub, warrior). Variations are Berney,
Burnie, McBurney, MCBirney, and Mac Biorna.
Burnham: an English Place name from various locations; Burnham
Beeches in Buckinghamshire, various villages in Norfolk, and
Burnham-on-Crouch in Essex. The name Burnham is derived from Old
English burna = stream + ham = homestead. A man from one of the
Burnham settlements might have that name as his identifying
Burns: English Place name. The man who lived in the lone cottage
by the small stream was called Burn, or Burns. The -S- was often
added to names as an aid to pronunciation. Other names with the
same origin are Brooke, Bourne, Beck, and Beckett. Requested by
Burnstein: German/Jewish Acquired name...Many German-Jewish names
were simply the result of a desire for something pleasant-sounding
when Jews in Europe were obliged to take surnames in the early
1800's. Those who picked such names usually were compelled to pay
a hefty tariff to the government officials for the privilege --
Amber (burnstein) is a color with positive connotations and it
also served as a descriptive name for some early day settlements,
which may have been located in an area noted by that color. Elsdon
C. Smith, in his work American Surnames, suggests that Bernstein
was generally adopted because of its pleasing sound.
Burris: The medieval castle was an imposing structure and was
often used as a reference point for those who lived nearby. The
English word burg meant fort, and the principal names describing
the English man who lived near one were: Burg, Burge, Borrows,
Burks, Burr, Burris. It's an English Place name. Requested by
Beverly Burris Daniels
Butler is an English and Irish Occupational name for the wine
steward, who was the chief servant of a medieval household, from
Anglo-Norman French butuiller = bottle. In the households of
nobility, the title denoted an officer of rank and responsibility.
Cain: English nickname, derived from the Middle English word cane
= reed or cane, and described the tall, thin man.
Callicott: is a variation of Caldicott, an English Place name from
any number of settlements originally spelled Caldecote, from Old
English ceald = cold + cot = cottage or dwelling. Some suggest the
name was in reference to unattended shelters for travelers,
although in the Domesday Book (1086) many of these places had
achieved some status. Variants are Caldicot, Caldecott,
Caldecourt, Callicot, Callcott, Calcut, Caulcutt, Caulkett,
Cawcutt, Corcut, Corkett, Corkitt, Coldicott, Coliccot, Collacott,
Collecott, Collicutt, Colcott, Colcutt, Colkett, Clocott,
Chaldcot, and Chalcot.
Camden: English Place name derived from the Old English elements
campas = enclosure + denu = valley. Cambden is a variation.
Camp: is an English Place name that along with Field, Prindle, and
Viles were references to the man whose home was the house in the
open field (as opposed to the forest or some other recognizable
feature). Requested by Tammy Miller.
Carberry: Scottish Place name in the parish of Inveresk, Lothian
which was first recorded as Crebarrin.
Carlisle is an English Place name for the town in Cumberland
derived from the British ker =fort + Romano-British settlement
named Luguvalium. How kerLuguvalium becomes Carlisle is yet
another story. Variations of this name include Carlyle, Carlile,
Carpenter: At the time surnames were adopted, the average man
built his own cottage and did not require the skill of the
Carpenter, who usually was hired by those who were of some means,
and required products only a craftsman could provide. It's an
English Occupational name. Requested by Dan Carpenter.
Carr: was a term used in old Scotland to describe 'low, wet
ground' and the person who lived by that area was often identified
by it. Carson is a Scottish Place name that describes the man who
lived by the carr -- the low, wet ground.
Carrera: French Place Name from the Latin carraria = cart. It was
the name used to refer to the man who `lived on the vehicle road'
or busy thoroughfare where many carts traveled. Requested by Larry
Carpinito: Spanish/Italian surnames are notorious for the number
of spelling variants and pet forms. Carpineto is an Italian
version of a French Place name for the dweller by a conspicuous
'witch elm' tree, or near a group of such trees, from Old French
charme, derived from the Latin carpinus. Variants include Charmes,
Charne, Carne, Decharme, Duecharme, Ducharne, and cognizant forms
in addition to Carpinito/Carpineto (which are diminutive forms)
are: Carpe, Ducarpe (Provencal), Carp, Carpin, Carpini, Carpino,
Carpine, Carpene, and Carpano, among others (Italian).
Carter is an English Occupational name for the transporter of
goods by cart or wagon from Anglo-Norman French caretier, a
derivative of Old French caret which originally implied 'carrier.'
Occasionally it is a form of McArthur. Variants include Charter
and cognates include Carreter, Carretier, Cartier, Charretier,
Chartier, Chareter, Charater, Carratier, Carratie and Carretero.
Cartwright: is an English Occupational name. One of the primary
specialized crafts along with CARPENTER was that of the
Cartwright, who fashioned the wheeled carts that traversed the
early roads. Requested by Fred Hensley
Cash: is an English Place name that was given to the man who lived
near the Cash -- or oak -- tree. Requested by William Hopkins.
Caswell: English Place name that identified the man who lived near
a spring or stream. In his case the water was identified by the
watercress nearby: Ole English cressa -- Cressawell, which evolved
Cates is an English Patronymic name from the Old Norse nickname
Kati, which meant 'boy' and speculation that it was derived from
the nickname Kate (from Catherine) should be tempered with the
knowledge that the Kate nickname wasn't used for Catherine until
after the Middle Ages, when Cates was already established as a
Chamberlin: is a variation of Chamberlain, an English Occupational
name that originally was the job held by the one who was in charge
of the private chambers of the master of the house, and later was
a title of high rank. Variations include Chamberlaine,
Chamberlayne, Chamberlen, and Champerlen.
Chandler: The Chandler worked with wax, and in addition to making
candles, he fashioned wax objects or icons that were used in
church offerings. Chandler is an English Occupational name.
Requested by Gloria Markus.
Clayton: is an English Place name that incorporates the most
common ending found among English names -ton. In Old English, tun
was the word for town, and it was used with other descriptions to
pinpoint settlements. Clayton, or Clay-town, was the settlement on
the soil of clay. Requested by Andrew Clayton
Clifton is an English Place name, as determined by the suffix
-ton- which originated in the Old English term tun meaning
"settlement" or "enclosure." The Old English word clif meant
"slope" which makes Clifton a "settlement on the slope," and a man
who lived there might be described that way. There are towns all
through England by the name of Clifton.
Cobb: English Patronymic name that is derived from Jacob 'the
supplanter' or 'may God protect' (depending on whom is asked...)
Cobb is a pet form of the name Jacob. Requested by William
Coggins :Irish/Welsh place name derived from a spot near Cardiff,
which is a Welsh word for bowl, and likely described the terrain
at the time. Requested by Kathy Hooten Gorodetzer
Coghill is a Scottish version of the Danish name Kogel for the
maker of hoods, or someone who wore one regularly.
Collard is derived in a round-about way from the given name
Nicholas. In several European languages where the accent tends
toward the second syllable in Ni-chol-as, the first syllable is
eventually lost due to lazy pronunciation. It's called aphetic
loss, for example, when the word esquire becomes squire over time.
Collard was derived as a pejorative form of Coll. Other variations
are Colle (French), Cola and Colao (Italian), Colle (Dutch), Col
and Colla (Flemish).
Colley/Coley/Collie: English Nickname from W. Midlands derived
from the Old English word colig which meant `dark' and was
sometimes used to describe a swarthy or darker skinned man.
Requested by Larry Hatfield
Collins/Cole/Coles: English Patronymic Name...Nicholas was an
extremely popular name in early times -- in the 4th century,
Nicholas was the patron saint of children. Many names were derived
from Nicholas, such as Nichols, Nickles, Nickleson, McNichols.
Collins derived from the ending of Nicholas.
Conway: Welsh Place Name from Conwy, a town in N. Wales named for
the Conwy River, which was named from an Old Brit term that meant
`reedy.' It is also sometimes derived from the Scottish place
Conway in Beauly Parish and was recorded in 1215 as Coneway.
Conway when descended from Ireland usually an Anglicized version
of Mac Commidhe, a name which meant `head smashing.'
Coomer/Coomber: English Place Name...Coomer is a variation of
Coomber from the Old English cumb which was a short, straight,
valley. Requested by Nancy Kincaid
Coop: There are several variations of Coop, the English
Occupational name that describes the maker of wooden barrels.
Cupp, Coope, and Cooper are the most common.
Cooper is the primary spelling of the English version of the
Occupational surname for the barrelmaker or repairer of wooden
vessals. The widespread adoption of this surname is testimony to
the fact that the cooper was one of the valued specialist trades
in the Middle Ages all through Europe. English variants include
Copper, Coupar, Cupper, Kooper, Coope, Coupe, and Cooperman (among
others --always) and cognates are Kiefer (German), Kupper (Low
German), Kupker (Frisian), De Cuyper, Cuyp (Flemish), Kuijper,
Kuiper, Kuijpers, Kuypers, Cuijpers, Cuypers (Dutch).
Colson/Coulson/Collson: English Patronymic Name...Coulson
originates from a very popular Middle Ages given name - Nicholas.
Cole was a pet form of Nicholas used in England (primarily) and
Coulson is a Scottish/Irish variation on a pet form of Nicholas.
Requested by Kylie Lacey
Copeland: originates in Cumberland county England and cope-land is
"bought land," a way that the man living there was referenced in
Corder: is an English Occupational name for the maker of string,
and occasionally as a nickname for the maker of ties.
Cotter: English Occupational name from Middle English cotter a
status term during the feudal times which described the tenant
farmer or serf who planted only five to ten acres and lived in a
cottage on the farm and payed for his place by service rather than
rent. There are several variations for the name of this modest
farmer, including Cottier, Cotman, Kotter, Kother, Kotter, Kother,
Kather, Cotterel, Cotterell, Cottrell, Cotterill, Cothererill,
Cotterel, Cottereau, and Cottarel.
Cottle: English Occupational name which described the tenant
farmer or serf who planted only five to ten acres and lived in a
cottage on the farm. There are several variations for the name of
this modest farmer.
Cotton: Cotton originated from the village naysayer, who always
said "I don't COTTON to that idea!" Just kidding. It also doesn't
have anything to do with the fluffy white stuff. Cot was a
shortened form of cottage, and was used as the ending of many
English surnames such as Wolcott, etc. and in a diminutive form
with the suffix -on the English Place name Cotton was derived. The
man who came to be known by that name lived near the small
cottage, or at the cottages. Requested by James Cotton.
Couldridge: Just as the name 'Colegate' designates a 'cool gap in
the mountain range,' the name Couldridge is an English Place name
that designates a 'ridge of mountains where it is cold.' Spellings
of names were not standardized until the 1800's and -o- and -ou-
were often mixed with the same intent. Requested by Mark
Coupar, when not a variant of Cooper, is a Scottish Place name
from Cupar in Fife, likely of Pictish origin, with an unknown
meaning. There are also locations Cuper Angus, and Cupar Maculty,
but no known surnames are derived from these. The first known
bearer of the place name in Scotland was Solomone de Cupir, who
was a witness to a charter in 1245.
Cowell: English Place Name...In Merry Old England they stayed out
'til the cu's came home, and pastured the milque cu on the hyll.
Cu-hyll -- or cowhill -- was a reference to the places in
Lancashire and Gloucester where cattle grazed on hillsides. Some
people from that area took it as a surname. Requested by: Norma
Craddock/Cradduck: Welsh nickname from the Old Welsh term caradog,
which meant `amiable.'
Craft: is a variant of Croft, an English Place name for the man
who lived by an arable enclosure, normally adjoining a house. It
is derived from Old English croft , with variations Crofts,
Craft(s), Cruft(s), and Crofter. Occasionally it is a place name
from Crofts in Leicestershire, which got its name from the Old
English croeft = craft or skill, and likely referenced a mill
Crim: English Place Name...Those who took the name Crim kept their
dwelling near a small pond or pool.
Crisp: English Nickname for the man with curly hair, from an Old
English term. Variations include Crispe, Chrisp, Cripps, Crippes,
Cross: English Place name for the man who lived near the stone
cross set up by the roadside or marketplace, from Old Norse kross.
Cognitives include De(la)Croix, Croix, (French); Croux, Lacroux,
Lacrouts, De(la)croux (Provencal); Croce, DellaCroce, Croci
(Italian); Cruz (Spanish); Kreutzer, Kreuziger (German);
Vercruysse (Flemish), Krzyzaniak (Polish), and Van der Kruijs
Crowell: is an English Place name from Oxfordshire and denoted the
man who lived by the "crow's stream."
Crowley: is an Irish Patronymic name, and it means 'grandson of
Cruadhlaoch,' whose name means 'tough hero.' Requested by Laura
Cunningham: Scottish/ Irish Place/ Patronymic Name...Cunningham is
a Scottish place name near Kilmarnock and was referenced in 1153
with the spelling Cunegan. Cunningham is a polygenetic name (it
has more than one source) -- the other is the Irish patronymic
name derived from O'Cuinneagain, a descendant of Cuinneagan, who
fashioned his name from conn or con which was used to designate
the leader or chieftain.
Curry: English place name in Somerset named for the river Curry.
Daniel/Daniell/Daniels: English, French, Portuguese, German,
Polish and Jewish Patronymic name, from the Hebrew given name
Daniel (meaning God is my judge). Variations are too numerous to
list, but will be added as queries concern them.
Darby: English Place name taken from a Middle Ages term that
described "where the wild animals are" and the man who lived
nearby could easily be described by that surname.
Daugherty is another Anglicized version of the Scottish and Irish
Patronymic name O' Dochartaigh "descendant of Dochartach" which
was a nickname meaning 'unlucky' or 'hurtful.' The most common
form of the name as Anglicized from the Gaelic is Doherty.
Docharty is the common Scottish variation.
Davenport: English Place Name...Many of the surnames that
originated in England came from places where the progenitor
lived... The name Davenport was first used in England's county
Cheshire, where the Dane river flowed. Davenport was the 'town on
the Dane River' and became the name of some who made their homes
there. Requested by: Susan Davenport-Wagner
David/Davis/Davies: was the patron saint of Wales, and the name
was popular throughout early Britain...as a result, there a many
surnames derived from the given name David, including Davis, and
Davies as the Welsh equivalent. Requested by Michael Stroupe.
Davies: English Patronymic name derived as a diminutive form of
the given name David. Requested by Doug Strohl
Dazey: is a variant spelling of Deasy, an Irish Patronymic name
from the Gaelic Deiseach, a nickname for a member of 'Dei's
Dent: English Place Name...it comes from 'Dent' hill in Yorkshire,
England. The first to use it as a surname lived in that area.
Dibley: is an English Patronymic name, based on a corruption of
the name Theobald (folk, bold), which when said often and quickly
enough, became Dibald and formed the basis for the surnames Dibble
and Dibley. Requested by Fred Hensley
Dinse is a German cognate of the English surname Dennis, which is
patronymic from the medieval given name Dennis, from the Latin
Dionysius and the Greek Dionysios, which meant 'follower of
Dionysos.' The big-D was the eastern god introduced to the classic
list late in the game. St. Denis was an early martyr (3rd Century)
who became the patron saint of France and the namesake of many
medieval Christians. Variations are Denniss, Denis, Denness, Dinis
(English); Denis, Denys (French); Dionisio, Dionis, Dionisi,
Doniso, Donisi, Denisi (Italian); Denys, Dinnies, Dinse (Low
German); Denys (Polish); Divis, Divina (Czech); and Denes, Dienes,
Gyenes (Hungarian), among many others.
Disney: is an English Place named derived from a French place
-Isigny- which was Isinius' estate in France. Many who followed
William the Conqueror into England became known by the French
towns from which they emigrated. Micky Mouse is said to have been
Dixon/Dickson/Dickinson/Dickey/Dix/Dickens: English Patronymic
Name...The love of the English for Richard the Lion-Hearted in the
late 1100's caused a rash of names in his honor, in addition to
three often-used nicknames that derived from Richard: Rick, Hick,
and Dick. The son of a man given the latter of the nicknames was
"Dick's son" which evolved into Dixon, Dickson, Dickens, Dix, and
Dickinson. In colonial America, Dick's River (in Kentucky, for
example) was spelled Dix as often as Dick's until it was
standardized, sometimes as late as the 19th century. Requested by:
Doherty is an Irish and Scottish Patronymic name from the Gaelic
O'Dochartaigh, meaning 'descendant of Dochartach', whose name
meant Unlucky or Hurtful. Variants are O'Doherty, O'Dougherty,
Dougharty, Doghartie, Dogerty, Daugherty, Doggart, Dockert, and
Docharty, among others.
Donaldson is a Scottish and Irish Patronymic name form of the
surname Donald that comes from the given name Domhnall and is
comprised of the Gaelic elements dubno = world + val = might,
rule. Variants are Donnell, Doull, Doole, and patronymic versions
include Donaldson, McDonald, McConnell, O'Donnell, O'Donill, and
O'Daniel (when derived from Gaelic O'Domhnaill).
Donathan has roots in the Irish given name Donndubhan (brown
Dubhan)and was Anglicized as many of the longer Irish names
commonly were. They're called Patronymic when the surname is
derived from the father's name.
Donovan: is an Irish Patronymic name from the Gaelic O
Donndubhain, which means descendant of Donndubhan, from the roots
Donn = brown + dubh = black. Requested by Alan Engebretson.
Dowd/Dowda/Duddy: Irish Patronymic Name for O'Dubhda, a common
name in Kerry County, where the term dubh = dark. Requested by
Driscoll/O'Driscoll: Irish name Driscoll was the one given to the
man who served as an interpreter -- the prefix -O- means 'of, son
of, or grandson of' -- so, O'Driscoll is the descendant of the
Irish interpreter. Requested by Chantell O'Driscoll.
Drummond is a Scottish place name to describe the man who lived
near the ridge, from the Gaelic druim = ridge. Gilbert de Drummyn
is the earliest known bearer of the name, and signed a document as
the chaplain to Alwyn, Earl of Levenax circa 1199.
Duckworth: English Place name from Duckworth in Lancashire which
was derived from the Old English given name Ducca + OE word =
enclosure, translating literally to Ducca's word or Ducca's
Duguid is a Scottish nickname for a do-gooder or a
well-intentioned person, from Northern Middle English du = do +
guid = good. The earliest known bearer of the name is John Dugude,
who was in Perth in 1379 and went to Prussia with the King's
service in 1382. It is most commonly found in the Aberdeen area.
Duke is an English nickname for someone who gave himself airs and
graces, from Middle English duke (from Latin dux = leader), or an
Occupational name for a servant employed in a ducal household.
Occasionally, it is a surname taken as a Patronymic version of a
shortened form of the given name Marmaduke, which is of Irish
origin, said to be derived from 'mael Maedoc' which meant 'devotee
of Maedoc' a name borne by several Irish saints. Cognates are Duc,
Leduc (French); Duca, Duchi, Lo Duca (Italian); Deuque
(Portuguese); and Duch (Catalan).
Dull: It depends on whether you are of Scottish descent, or
English descent concerning Dull. If you are a Dull Scot, you hail
from Dull (a plain) which is a village and parish in Perthshire.
If your ancestors originated in England, the name is a nickname
that is not as unflattering as some that wound up as surnames.
Requested by Christy Dull.
Dunaway: English Place Name...which refers to one who lived 'on
the road to the hill.' Requested by: Brian Dunaway
Dungen is the general spelling with an umlaht (dots) over the U,
and is a German Place name as a variant of Dung, the surname given
to the man who lived on a pieces of raised dry land amidst marshy
surroundings. Dunk, Donk, and Dunkmann are other versions.
Edwards: is an English Patronymic name from the Middle English
given name Edward from the Old English eadward, derived from
ead=prosperity + weard=guard.
Elliott: and its spelling variations are all based on the popular
Middle Ages given name Elijah (My God is Yahveh). Among the many
surnames that were adopted as English Patronymic names from Elijah
were Ellis, Ellison, Elias, and Elliott. Requested by Janet
Embery: is a variant of the surname Amery which is an English
Patronymic name. The name was brought to the British Isles with
the Normans, many of whom were referenced by the towns they
emigrated from, or by the Norman given names of their fathers.
Amery is derived from Old French amal=bravery + ric=power, and
derivatives include Amory, Emery, Emary, Emberry, Embrey, and
Imbrey, among others.
Erwin: and its counterparts Ervin/Irvin/Irwin are German
Patronymic names from the Old German given name Eorwine which
means "sea, friend." On occasion the name can be traced to
Scottish roots and the places called Irvine and Irving, which
meant 'green river.' If you are of Scottish descent, then the
second is a strong possibility.
Fairfull/Fair/Fairchild: English Nickname....Both 'fair' and
'full' have their origins in Middle English words; full - the
meaning of which has passed to us unchanged, and fere, which meant
comrade, friend, or 'friendly one.' The earliest meaning of fair
was beautiful, so Fairfull would be "filled with beauty" or if
derived from 'fere,' - "full of friendliness." Not all nicknames
that survived as surnames were as flattering! Requested by:
Falla/Fallas is an English (by way of the Normans) place name that
describes the man who hailed from Falaise in Calvados, which
happens to have been the birthplace of William the Conqueror. He
brought many with him, and others followed shortly after, who
became known by their place of emigration.
Farquharson: Scottish Nickname from Gaelic fearchar (Celtic
elements mean man+dear) to signify a beloved person. Descended
from Farquhar Macintosh, a grandson of laird of Macintosh who was
at Braemar before 1382.
Feingold: German Jewish names originated in the early part of the
nineteenth century when European Jews were compelled to take
surnames. Many chose purely ornamental names, of which Feingold is
an example that means 'fine gold.'
Finn isn't always Irish, of course, but when it is -- it's derived
as an Anglicized version of the Gaelic nickname Fionn, meaning
'white,' which could have denoted prematurely white hair, or fair
complexion, etc. When Finn is of English origin it is derived from
the Old Norse given name Finnr with the same meaning.
Occasionally, the name is of Ashkenazic Jewish origin, but its
exact meaning in that context isn't clear. Variations are Finne,
Fynn, Phinn, McGinn, Finsen (Danish), McKynnan, Kinnan, O'Finn,
O'Fionn, and many others.
Fort: English/French Place/Descriptive name...Fort is found in
several countries, all deriving from an English/French term
meaning strong/brave that was derived from the Latin word fortis.
Some with the name were descendants of a strong/brave person --
others were those who lived at or near the fort, which was the
term eventually used to describe a strong or fortified location.
Foster/Forester: In the English Middle Ages, the forests and woods
were almost always owned or controlled by the lord of the manor --
but people had no reservations about sneaking in and taking
firewood, game, or whatever else they might require. To keep the
poaching to a minimum, the lord retained a man to watch the forest
-- often called a Forester, and sometimes called a Foster. The
name stuck as an English Occupation surname when they became
Fox: Although in some cases Fox refers to the nature of its
originator -- as in sly as a fox, most animal names were derived
from the pictures that decorated the signs at the medieval
roadside inns. Literacy was an issue, most could distinguish the
pictures, and the family at the sign of the Fox often took that as
a surname. Requested by William Hopkins.
Fritz/Fritsch/Fritzch: German Patronymic Name...The Germans were
fond of using shortened or pet versions of names when acquiring
surnames. Fritz is a patronymic surname taken from a pet form of
Friedrich, which means "peace, rule." Fritsch and Fritzch are
versions of the given name held by a long ago ancestor.
Froman: from the Old French fromant = corn, a French occupational
name for the corn merchant.
Fulton: /English/Scottish Place name, In Scotland, Fulton was the
Fuller: English Occupational name for the dresser of cloth. The
fuller scoured and thickened cloth by trampling it in water.
Related Fuller information page here.
Fullerton: English Place name...for the 'village of the
birdcatchers' in Hampshire. From Old English fuglere =
Place/Occupational/Nickname When the name originated in Provencal,
it referred to the person living by the lookout spot . In more
northern areas of France, the name was the occupational title for
a wood sawyer. Less frequently, the name was a nickname given to a
wasteful person, derived from Old French gaschier to spoil.
Requested by: Paul Carr
Garcia: Spanish Patronymic Name from the given name Garcia which
means "spear, firm."
Garrison: English Place/Occupational name, derived from Middle
English garite = watchtower. The garrison were troops stationed at
the fort or castle, and the name could also describe one who lived
near the garrison's watchtower.
Garwood: English Place Name derived from the Old English gara
(triangular land) and wudu (wood). The early Garwoods were those
who lived by the triangular stand of trees. Requested by: Eva
Gaunt: English Place name derived from the town of Ghent in
Flanders from which skilled workers migrated to England during the
Middle Ages. It was also the nickname given the thin or gaunt man.
Gay: English and French nickname for the cheerful person.
Gee: If the man named Gee didn't come from the town Gee in
Cheshire, then it was a nickname he was given by his
less-than-tactful associates who pointed him out by his lameness
Gilmore: Irish Occupational Name...In old Ireland, the words gil,
kil, maol, and mul designated a follower, devotee, or servant" of
someone. Those with the name Gilmore are descended from the
"servant of Mary." Requested by: Wouter Sas
Glabb/Glab/Glabski: Polish Place name/Nickname, variation of
Glab/Glabski, a low-lying spot or valley or a Polish Nickname for
a fool (the literal meaning of glab is cabbagestalk). Better go
with that first definition!
Godfrey: is an English Patronymic name from the French given name
Godefrei, comprised of the Germanic elements god + fred, frid =
peace. Variations are Godfray, Godfree, and Godfer. French
cognatives include Godefroi, Godefroy, Godefrey, and others.
German: Govert, Goffer, Goffarth. Flemish = Govaard, Godevaard,
Gold/Gould/Guild(Scottish): English Patronymic Name derived from
the Old English masculine personal name from the precious metal.
Requested by: Sheri McGregor
Gollaher , and the more frequently seen Gallagher, are Anglicized
versions of O'Gallchobhair, which means descendant of Gallchobhar,
derived from gall = Foreign, stranger + chobhar = help, support.
Other variants include Gallacher, Gallaher, Gallogher, Galliker,
Gilliger, O'Gallagher, and O'Galleghure.
Goode: When not referring to the man of high morals, is an English
Patronymic name, taken from a shortened form of the given names
Godwine, Godric, or Godmund.
Gore is a French nickname for an idle individual (don't tell
Vice-President Al though!) that has versions Lagore, Gouret,
Gorron, Gorin, Goury, Gorel, Goureau, Gorichon and Gorillot, among
Goss: Polygenetic (several sources)... It originated near the same
time in England, France, Hungary, and Germany. As an English place
name, it described one who lived near a moor or wood...a
descendant of Goss -- a pet form of Gocelin "the just" was called
by the name, as was the descendant of the Goth...The dweller at
the sign of the goose was sometimes called Goss, as was the
dweller at the thorns. There was a former Austrian town called
Goss, and some residents took that as a surname. And if that isn't
enough, Goss is also a shortened form of the Germanic element god
- which means good. You can pick your favorite! Requested by Jerry
Gough: English Occupational Name...of Celtic origin for the man
who worked as a smith, from the Gaelic gobha or goff. It was
common in E. Anglia and was introduced by the followers of William
the Conqueror. It is also sometimes derived from the Welsh
nickname for a red-haired man... coch = red.
Griffin: A mythical beast, half-lion and half-eagle -- that
decorated signs at some of the roadside inns during the Middle
Ages. Most people did not read or write at the time, but all could
recognize the pictures. The man who lived at the sign of the
griffin was sometime called by that name.
Griggs is a variant of the English Patronymic surname Gregory,
from the same given name that was popular throughout the Christian
countries during the Middle Ages. It derives from the Greek
Gregorios, a variant meaning 'to be awake or watchful' but was
later associated with a term that meant 'good shepherd.' Sixteen
of the popes were named Gregory, starting with Gregory the Great
in 540 AD.
Guerin and Geurin: (spellings weren't standardized until the
1800's) are both versions of the surname Waring, being the Irish
form of the French given name Geran. That was taken from the
Norman name Warin which meant 'guard.' Kind of a long way 'round
to achieve an Irish Patronymic name.
Hackney is an English Place name, comprised of the elements Haki
(Old Norse nickname for a man with a crooked nose or hunched
figure, meaning similar to 'hook') + Eld English eg = island,
literally, Haki's Island, or Hook's Island. The man from there
might take the name Hackney.
Haffner/Hafner/Hefner/Heffner: German Occupational Name...Lathes
and potter's wheels have been around since ancient antiquity; in
Germany, one who fashioned pottery was the hafner . Requested by:
Hagan: It's an Irish Patronymic name for the son of Hagan.
Originally from the Gaelic form O'Hagain, it's one of the many
that dropped the -O- identifier.
Hall: English/German/Danish/Norwegian/Swedish Place name, derived
from various words for "large house" including OE heall, and
Halterman: The southern Germanic term for hillside or slope is
halde and the German Place name for the man who lived on the halde
was Halder, Halter, Haldermann, Halterman(n), Haldner, Hald,
Halde, or Halt.
Hamilton: is an English Place name, derived from its elements
hamil =treeless hill + tun =settlement, for a literal translation
of 'treeless hill town.' Hamilton was earlier described as
Hameldon, Hambledon, and Hambleton.
Hampton is an English Place name from hamrh=water meadow or
homestead + tun=town or settlement/enclosure. The man who lived at
the settlement near the water-meadow was called Hampton.
Handlen: is a variation of Hanlon/Hanlin which is one of the
'Fighting Irish' surnames. A number of Irish names ref