Family Names of the United Kingdom (FaNUK) examples
UWE Bristol has led a research project which details the origins and history of 45,000 most frequent surnames in Britain and Ireland. View some examples.
The Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland is a research project led by UWE Bristol which details the linguistic origins, history, and geographical distribution of the 45,000 most frequent surnames in Britain and Ireland.
Below are some examples of the names and their histories which featured in the Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland.
Example name histories
914 bearers in the 1881 Census, scattered throughout England, but most heavily concentrated in Gloucestershire. From Cambridge in Gloucestershire or from the university city in Cambridgeshire. It was not until late in the 14th century that the form Cambrigge became common for the university city (which was earlier recorded as Grantebrycge, Cantebrigge, and similar), and so early bearers such as Richard de Cambrige (recorded in Staffordshire Pipe Rolls in 1182) and Alan de Cambrigge (recorded in Staffordshire Assize Rolls in 1227) are almost certainly from the place in Gloucestershire.
50,516 bearers in the 1881 Census, widespread with the heaviest concentration in west Scotland; 76,576 bearers in 2011. This Scottish surname originated as a nickname from Gaelic caimbeul ‘crooked mouth’. Through folk etymology, it was often represented in Latin documents as de campo bello ‘of the beautiful field’, which sometimes led to the name being translated into Anglo-Norman French as Beauchamp. Clan Campbell is a prolific and historically influential Highland Scottish clan with many branches, claiming descent from Gille Easpaig Caim beul Ó Duibhne, who lived in the early 13th century.
174 bearers in 2011. This is an Indian surname, a variant form of the more frequent Chakraborty. It derives from Sanskrit cakravartī, literally meaning ‘wheels rolling’, but used metaphorically for a ruler whose chariot wheels roll everywhere without obstruction.
1,027 bearers in the 1881 Census, mainly resident in Gloucestershire; 1,165 bearers in 2011. While this name has been included in previous surname dictionaries, it has not been satisfactorily explained. Reaney offered no etymological explanation, only citing a statement by H. P. R. Finberg (1957) that the Clutterbucks had fled from Holland in the 16th century. The FaNBI team’s research has shown that this is not the full story, with bearers of the surname recorded in Gloucestershire from the 15th century. Clutterbuck is of Dutch origin, and is a nickname from kloterboeck, a variant of Early Modern Dutch kladdeboek ‘merchant’s account book’.
2,165 bearers in the 1881 Census, mainly resident in Hampshire, Kent and Essex, and Leicestershire; 4,205 bearers in 2011. This is a form of the surname Dawkin with the addition of post-medieval excrescent -s. In post-medieval times, when the vast majority of surnames were hereditary, it was not uncommon for an -s to be added to the end of a name. Dawkin is a Middle English personal name from the personal name Daw + the diminutive suffix -kin. Previous dictionaries have stated that the personal name Daw is a pet form of David, but in most cases it is probably a rhyming form of Raw, a Middle English version of the personal name Ralph.
5 bearers in the 1881 Census, resident in Middlesex and northern England; 1,502 bearers in 2011. This surname has two sources – an English one and a Muslim one. The rare English name is a northern pronunciation of the much commoner Farrer, an occupational name from Middle English ferrour ‘ironworker, blacksmith’, itself a borrowing of Old French ferreor. The Muslim name is from a personal name based on Arabic faraḥ‘joy, happiness, delight’. There are many Muslim families with this name in present-day Britain. Its most famous bearer is Mo Farah, the long-distance runner and British Olympic gold medallist, who was born in Mogadishu, Somalia.
(135 bearers in the 1881 Census, mainly resident in Lancashire; 21 bearers in 2011)
Vardy (602 bearers in the 1881 Census, mainly resident in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire). These are two versions of the same name – a nickname from Middle English faire dai ‘(have a) fair day’, presumably for someone with a cheerful disposition. These two forms have not been included in previous dictionaries. The form Faraday does appear in Reaney’s dictionary, but is incorrectly explained as meaning ‘servant of Fair’, from a Middle English personal name + daie ‘servant, person in charge of dairy cattle’.
21,354 bearers in the 1881 Census, widespread in England, with the heaviest concentrations in Somerset and Gloucestershire, Staffordshire, and Kent; 28,843 bearers in 2011. This surname has three possible origins. It can be a form of the surname Hawkin with the addition of genitival -s, meaning ‘son of Hawkin’, or with post-medieval excrescent ‑s (in post-medieval times, when the vast majority of surnames were hereditary, it was not uncommon for an -s to be added to the end of a name) Hawkin is from the Middle English personal name Haw (a rhyming pet form of Raw, a Middle English form of Ralph) + the diminutive suffix -kin, and therefore means ‘young Ralph’. Hawkins may also be a variant form of the surname Hawking with post-medieval excrescent -s; Hawking is a locative surname from Hawkinge in Kent, which means ‘hawk place’, from hafoc ‘hawk’ + the place-name forming suffix -ing. Hawkins may also be Irish in origin, from Ó hEacháin ‘descendant of Eachán’; Eachán is a pet form of the personal name Eachaidh, which means ‘horseman’.
1,801 bearers in the 1881 Census, mainly resident in Lowland Scotland; 1,630 bearers in 2011. This is a locative surname of Scottish origin. It comes from a minor place called Hislop in Roxburghshire, which is on the banks of Hazelhope Burn, a tributary of Falnash Burn, which feeds into the river Teviot. The place-name, as well as Hazelhope Burn, derives from Middle English hasel ‘hazel’ + hop ‘deep enclosed valley’. Previously, this name has been incorrectly explained as coming from an unidentified place in northern England.
An immigrant surname fully explained for British and Irish readers for the first time is Li, often written Lee. This is one of the commonest Chinese surnames in Britain, with over 9000 bearers in 2011, not counting those who spell it Lee, which will multiply the number considerably. It has at least six different origins in a range of Chinese dialects, including ‘plum’, ‘chestnut’, ‘black’, ‘fortunate’, and ‘strict’.”
1,131 bearers in the 1881 Census, mainly resident in the West Riding of Yorkshire; 1,204 bearers in 2011. Previous dictionaries have explained this as a relationship name from the Middle English female personal name Maud. While this may be the origin of the name in a small number of cases, the surname is mainly locative, from Mold in Flintshire, which is recorded as Mohaut in 1297. The place-name derives from Anglo-Norman French mont haut ‘high hill or mound’, the Norman name for Bailey Hill, on which Mold Castle stood.
1,277 bearers in the 1881 Census, mainly resident in the north-west Midlands; 1,873 bearers in 2011. This is from a late Middle English development of the surname Paulin, itself from the Middle English personal name Paulin, a diminutive form of Paul. Some previous dictionaries have incorrectly explained this either as a locative name from Palling in Norfolk or Poling in Sussex, or as a relationship name from Welsh ap Heilyn ‘son of Heilyn’.
101,463 bearers in 2011. This is one of the commonest Indian surnames in Britain, with over 100,000 bearers in 2011. It is a status name from a Hindu and Parsi word for a village headman. Priti Patel is MP for Witham in Essex and Secretary of State for International Development.
157 bearers in the 1881 Census, mainly resident in Kent; 131 bearers in 2011. This serves as an example of how locative surnames often come from minor localities which are unlikely to be known by most people. The surname Pegden is from a small place called Pegden Farm in Lindfield (Sussex).
16,079 bearers in the 1881 Census, widespread in Wales and west England; 23,415 bearers in 2011. This name is of Welsh origin. It is a relationship name meaning ‘son of Richard’, from the Welsh patronymic element ap ‘son (of)’ + the personal name Richard. In the surname, the patronymic ap has been incorporated in to the following personal name, causing ap Richard to become Prichard.
97 bearers in the 1881 Census, mainly resident in London, Buckinghamshire, and Oxfordshire; 102 bearers in 2011. This name does not appear in previous dictionaries. It is probably a nickname from Middle English red ‘red’ + knappe ‘boy, servant’, for a boy or servant with red hair or a ruddy complexion. This explanation is supported by the occurrence of a similar medieval name, borne by Johannes Redknave in 1377 (in a poll tax return for Rutland), which derives from Middle English red + knave ‘boy, servant’. However, in some cases, Redknap may be a locative name, from Middle English red + knap ‘hillock’.
4,032 bearers in the 1881 Census, widespread in England, with the heaviest concentrations in Devon, Essex, and London; 4,630 bearers in 2011. A nickname from Middle English snou, snow ‘snow’, for someone with snow‐white hair or an exceptionally pale complexion.
483 bearers in the 1881 Census, mainly resident in Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, and Derbyshire; 1,076 bearers in 2011. This is a variant of the surname Tarbuck, from a place called Tarbock in Lancashire. The addition of the initial S- is first noted in the 14th century, in Robert Starbok’, recorded in Wombwell in the West Riding of Yorkshire in the 1379 Poll Tax returns. The addition or loss of initial S- is also found in other medieval surnames such as Johannes Prynce, alias Sprynce (in the 1379 Poll Tax return for Thornhill, West Riding of Yorkshire). The connection between Starbuck and Tarbuck can also be seen in later records, with James Starbuck and James Tarbuck both recorded in the parish register for Netherseal (Leicestershire) in the late 18th century. Previous dictionaries have suggested that Starbuck is from a place called Starbeck in Harrogate, but this can be ruled out as a possibility because the medieval surname forms end -bok or -bouk, not –bek, and the place-name Starbeck is not on record before 1817. The origin of the place-name Tarbock is uncertain, though it may derive from the Old Scandinavian personal name Thor, Thori or Old English þorn ‘thorn’ + Old English brōc ‘brook, stream’. The surname Starbuck was taken to America by Edward Starbuck in the 1630s, but the Starbucks chain of coffee houses is named after the first mate of the Pequod in Herman Melville's Moby Dick.
96 bearers in the 1881 Census, mainly resident in Oxfordshire and Warwickshire; 249 bearers in 2011. This name is not found in previous dictionaries. It is a nickname from Middle English stille ‘silently, meekly, secretly’, also with the meaning ‘constantly’, + go ‘go, walk’, for someone who went about silently or secretly, or for someone who was constantly ‘on the go’.
1,192 bearers in the 1881 Census, resident in Lancashire; also concentrated in Tipperary, Kilkenny, Cork, and Waterford in Ireland between 1847 and 1864; 3,946 bearers in GB in 2011; 3,873 bearers in Ireland in 2008. This surname has a strong association with Ireland, and is a form of Irish Tóibín, a gaelicized form of the Norman French surname Saint Aubin, from Saint Aubin in Brittany. However, it also has an alternative English origin, from a pet form of the Middle English personal name Tobias or Toby, ultimately from the Hebrew personal name Tobiah.
136 bearers in the 1881 Census, mainly resident in Lincolnshire; 119 bearers in 2011. This names does not appear in previous dictionaries. It is a locative name from Tumby in Lincolnshire, the earliest forms of which had -n- rather than -m-.
66 bearers in the 1881 Census, mainly resident in south Lincolnshire; 52 bearers in 2011. This rare name has become more widely known through Billy Twelvetrees, the England rugby union international. It is a variant of Twelftree (in 1881 a Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire surname) with an excrescent -s. Twelftree is probably an altered form, by folk etymology, of Weldrick, a locative surname from Wheldrake in the East Riding of Yorkshire. A gentry family with a surname from this place is recorded in Bedfordshire in the fourteenth century.
7,367 bearers in the 1881 Census, mainly resident in Lancashire, Cheshire, and the West Riding of Yorkshire; 7,663 bearers in 2011. A locative surname from Warburton in Cheshire. The place-name means ‘Wǣrburg’s estate’, from the Old English female personal name Wǣrburg + Old English tūn ‘farmstead, estate’.