Surnames and Their Derivations

We all have two parents, four grandparents, eight great grandparents, sixteen 2nd great grandparents, thirty-two 3rd great grandparents, sixty-four 4th great grandparents, etc. perfectly illustrated by this graphic.


What follows are the derivations of some of the surnames found in our combined family trees as far back as 2nd Great Grandparents (period covered circa 1820-1860).


Patronymic surname meaning ‘son of Adkin’, Adkin being a pet-form of Adam.[1] John Adkynsone appears in the Staffordshire Subsidy Rolls in 1381.[2] Cottle notes that it is “overwhelmingly northern.”[3] This is borne out by the distribution map of 1891 which shows it predominantly in the contiguous counties of Cumberland, Lancashire, Yorkshire and Durham.[4]


“English: habitation name for someone who lived at a bakery, or occupational name for someone employed in one, from Old English bœchus bakehouse (from bacan to bake + hus house).”[5] Reaney (1991) is insistent that it refers to “where he worked rather than where he lived.”[6] He classifies it as a ‘Surname of Office’, i.e. of a manorial official: a ‘worker at the bakehouse’:

“Just as the peasant was not allowed to grind his corn where he wished, so he was forbidden to bake his bread at home or anywhere save in a special oven constructed for the purpose and belonging to the lord. May peasants had no means of baking at home. The lord’s oven was generally rented to an individual or to the peasants as a body. The village oven or bakehouse was a communal convenience.”[7]

A relatively rare surname, not found in concentrations above 650 in any county. Lancs, Cumberland, Yorks predominantly.[8]

The first instance noted by Reaney & Wilson was Walter de Bakhous in 1306.[9]


“English: habitation name from any of the places so called, mainly in Berkshire, Shropshire, Somerset, and West Yorkshire. These get their names either from the Old English personal name Bacga + Old English leah wood, clearing or from an Old English word for a ‘bag-shaped’ animal + leah.”[10]

In Scandinavian languages bagge means ‘wether, ram’ whereas in Middle Dutch bagghe means ‘a small pig’. Thus, Ekwall deduces, “there must have been an Old English word bacga denoting some animal… We can only guess at the meaning of the hypothetical word. It might have been ‘fox’ or ‘badger’.”[11]

Apart from Essex, more common north of The Wash.[12]

Peter de Baggeleg’ appears in the 1260 Assize Rolls in Cheshire.[13]


From Bennington, a place-name in Hertfordshire & Lincolnshire. Almar de Benintone is listed in Domesday Book in Hertfordshire.[14]

In his chapter on The Homes of Family Names Reaney (1991) notes it as a Lincolnshire surname.[15] If this is the case then the original bearer of the surname was linked to (Long) Bennington, ‘the tun of Beonna’s people’ [Beningtun, Domesday Book].[16]

Found most often in Yorkshire in 1891.[17]


“English: occupational name for a merchant or trader, Middle English chapman, Old English ceapmann, a compound of ceap barter, bargain, price, property + mann man.”[18]

Numerous throughout England and Wales but found in greatest numbers in Yorkshire.[19]

Hugh Chapman is the first known bearer of the surname in the 1206 Curia Regis Rolls in Yorkshire.[20]


“English: occupational name for a maker and repairer of wooden vessels such as barrels, tubs, buckets, casks, and vats, Middle English couper, cowper (apparently from Middle Low German kuper, a derivation of kup tub, container, which was borrowed independently into English as coop). The prevalence of the surname, its cognitives, and equivalents bears witness to the fact that this was one of the chief specialist trades in the Middle Ages throughout Europe.”[21]

Found in greatest numbers in the contiguous counties of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumberland.[22]

Robert (le) Cupere 1176-7 Pipe Rolls, Surrey.[23]


“English: topographic name for someone who lived near a stone cross set up by the roadside or in a market-place, from Old Norse kross (via Gaelic, from Latin crux, genitive crucis), which in Middle English quickly and comprehensively displaced the Old English form cruc. In a few cases the surname may have been given originally to someone who lived by a crossroads, but this sense of the word seems to have been a comparatively late development.”[24]

Richard del Crosse appears in the Assize Rolls for Lancashire in 1285.[25]


From a female given-name.

Egelina de Curtenay appears in the Curia Regis Rolls for Oxfordshire in 1207. Egelina is probably a Norman form of Old German Agilina.[26]

Relatively uncommon and found mostly in Lancashire and Yorkshire.[27]


“English: habitation name from any of various minor places in northern England named with the Old English terms ecels piece of land added to an estate (a derivative of ecan to increase).”[28]

Ekwall shows it as: Etchells, Northenden & Stockport, Cheshire. Echelis 1248.[29] It is a Cumberland-Lancashire-Cheshire surname in 1891.[30]

Richard de Echeles 1269 Assize Rolls, Staffordshire.[31]


“1. English: simplified variant of Forster, in any of its senses. 2. English: nickname from Middle English fostre, a derivative of Old English fostrian to nourish, rear, from foster food.”[32]

John Foster 1373. [33]

“The seal of Walter Forestier (1371, A Descriptive Catalogue of Ancient Deeds, London) bore the legend: SIGILLVM. WALTERI. LE. FOSTER from Forseter ‘shearer’, which would inevitably become Forster and then Foster.[34]

A contraction of Forster, itself a contraction of Forrester, usually meaning ‘an officer in charge of a forest.’[35]


“Scots & English: from the common medieval pet name Gib, a short form of the given name Gilbert.”[36]


“English: 1. Diminutive of Gibb.”[37] A surname which came about as a result of one of the new personal names introduced after the Norman conquest.[38]


I have been unable to find any references to the surname Gilthorpe in any of the usual surname dictionaries.

The second element is Old English þorp hamlet or outlying dairy-farm, indicating a place-name. The first element must be a personal name, maybe Gill or Giles (cf. Gillson, Gilson).[39]

The surname changes over time and around the 18th century has variants Gelsthorpe and Gilsthorpe (and also Gelsthrup, Guelstrop, etc) perhaps more accurately reflecting the ‘s’ of Giles?

In addition, Ekwall shows the derivation of Gilsland in Cumberland as ‘Gille’s land.’ “Probably named from Gille son of Bueth who is mentioned in the Lanercost foundation charter (1169).” His interpretation is one of ‘servant’ rather than personal name.[40]

No more than 3 instances in any county in 1891. Found only in Notts-Derbys-Yorks-Westmorland.[41]


Reaney & Wilson have it as a variant of Goodrich making it a patronymic from Old English Godric ‘good or god ruler’. “Normans used Godric as a name for an Englishman, calling Henry I and his wife Godric and Godiva for his alleged English sympathies and her English lineage.”[42]

Very rare (no more than 40 instances), with concentrations in the West Midlands and in Yorkshire in 1891, reflecting both its origin and the region where the Godridge brothers migrated to in the mid-19th century.[43]

Godric 1066 Domesday Book.[44]


“English: nickname meaning ‘stag’, Middle English hert, Old English heorot, used for someone bearing some fancied resemblance [or association[45]] to the animal. The Old English word became hurt or hort in some dialects of Middle English … but in the standard dialect it became hert and later hart.”[46]

Definitely not a sign-name (at the sign of The Hart) since “no example of atte with … Hart… has been noted as a surname.”[47]

Ælfric Hort c.1060 (Old English Bynames noted in Hampshire)[48]

There are more instances of the surname in Lancashire and Cumberland than elsewhere in England and Wales.[49]


“English: habitation name from any of the numerous places so called, which split more or less evenly into two groups with different etymologies. One set gets the name from the Old English weak dative hean high + Old English tun enclosure, settlement. The other gets the first element from Old English hiwan household, monastery. The surname is fairly evenly distributed in southern and Midland England.”[50]

Robert de Hintona 1086 Inquisitio Comitatus Cantabrigensis…[51]


“English and Scots: habitation name from any of the numerous places so called from Old English hoh ridge, spur [of a hill][52]+ tun enclosure, settlement.”[53]

Over thirty places according to Cottle, “almost all in Yorkshire”[54], which may explain why Reaney (1991) notes it as a Yorkshire surname: (Sand) Hutton.[55]

Distribution maps in 1891 show it to be a Lancashire-Yorkshire-Durham surname.[56]

Ernewi de Hottona 1175 Pipe Rolls for Yorkshire.[57]


‘Son of Jack’. Jack is the commonest pet-form of John. According to the Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names “Jankin became Jackin and was then shortened to Jack, a process completed by the beginning of the 14th century.”[58] This is reflected in the first recorded instance of Jackson in the first quarter of that century:

Adam Jackesonne 1327 Subsidy Rolls for Suffolk.[59]

24th commonest surname in England and Wales in 1853.[60] Despite this, it is predominantly northern: Cumberland, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Durham and Cheshire.[61]


“English: patronymic from the Middle English given name Janyn, Jenyn, a diminutive of John.”[62]

Widespread and numerous but most concentrated in Yorkshire.[63]

Janyn le Breton 1332 Subsidy Rolls for Lancashire.[64]


“English and Welsh: patronymic from the Middle English given name Jon(e) John.”[65]

Second commonest name in England and Wales (after Smith).[66] Despite this, more predominant in northern England and the West Midlands than elsewhere in England.[67]


“English and German: nickname for a fierce or strong man, or for a man contrasted with a boy for some reason, from Middle English, Middle High German man, modern German Mann (Old English mann, Old High German man). In some cases it may have arisen as an occupational name for a servant, from the medieval use of the term to describe a person of inferior social status.”[68]


“1. Scottish: patronymic from the given name Magnus. 2. English: patronymic from the Middle English nickname or byname Mann.”[69]

‘Son of Mann.’ Magnusson. Common in Shetland. John Mannisson 1305 Suffolk Feet of Fines.[70]

A Lancs-Yorks-Durham surname at the time of the 1891 census.[71]


“English and Scots: occupational name for a stone-mason, Middle English, Old French mas(s)on (apparently of Germanic origin, perhaps akin to Old English macian to make or mattuc mattock).”[72]

A northern and Midlands surname; found less often south of The Wash.[73]

John Macun c.1130 in London, Ancient Charters.[74]


Interchangeable with Manson in our family. Predominantly an Essex/Suffolk surname.[75]


“English: topographic name for someone who lived near oak trees or in an oak wood, from Middle English oke oak (Old English ac).”[76]

Richard en le Okes 1383 Staffordshire.[77]

Not present in huge numbers anywhere but oddly predominant in Lancashire and Cumberland.[78]


From Priddy in Somerset.[79] Pridi c.1180. A derivative of Welsh pridd ‘earth, soil’. The place is on [the] Mendip Hills.[80]

The version with an ‘e’ is rare (no more than 60 instances per county) and found mostly in the West Midlands.[81]

The first recorded instance of a variant of the surname is for William Pridy who appears in the Subsidy Rolls for Worcestershire in 1327.[82]

Cottle says that the name means ‘earth house’ in Old Welsh and describes it as “the Somerset hilltop village where the boy Christ is said to have walked.”[83]


“English: habitation name from the town in Kent… There is a much smaller place in Northumberland… which seems to have been named in imitation of the more important one, but which is a more than occasional source of the surname.”[84]

Ekwall notes that the Northumberland place was Roff’ in 1208 Curia Regis Rolls, Rucestr by 1242. Thus the first element may be Old English hroc ‘rook’.[85]

Surname distribution maps prove that, in fact, it is the northern place-name which is the main source of the modern surname. There were fewer than 36 instances of the surname in south coast counties whereas there were between 109-215 in Durham and Northumberland in 1891.[86]

Turoldus (de) Roucestra 1086 Domesday Book in Essex.[87]


“1. English, French, and German; from the name of the flower, Middle English, Old French rose, German Rose, Middle High German rose (Latin rosa), in various applications. In part it is a topographic name for someone who lived at a place where wild roses grew. In a town, it can also be a house name from a house bearing the sign of the rose.

  1. English: from the medieval given name Rose, Royse, popularly associated with the flower, but in fact originally from a Germanic personal name. This is recorded in Domesday Book in the form Rothais, and is apparently composed of the elements hrod renown + haid(is) kind, sort.”[88]


For many years I thought that Seary might be a variant of Irish Seerey but it never crops up in this form. I have now traced the surname as far back as 17th century Oxfordshire without a hint of Irish ancestry cropping up.

No more than 75 instances anywhere, the surname is fairly evenly distributed across England and Wales, with slightly higher concentrations in Lancs/Yorks, the Home Counties and Kent. Oddly disparate.[89]


A name which Virginia Woolf uses for a character in Orlando, Shelmerdine doesn’t appear in any surname dictionaries. In fact, it is a place-name in Lancashire. Bickerstaff-with-Shelmerdine was a township in the parish of Ormskirk according to Joseph Aston’s Lancashire Gazeteer of 1808.

Despite its spelling the name is pronounced ‘shelmerdean’ with the emphasis on the last syllable.

Comparatively rare – no more than 474 instances in any county – it is found particularly in Lancashire and Cumberland.[90]


“Northern English: habitation name from places in Lancashire (in the parish of Middleton) and West Yorkshire (part of Halifax) called Siddal, from Old English sid wide + halh nook, recess.”[91]

Cottle notes it and its variants as Yorkshire-Derbyshire surnames.[92] In 1891 it is most concentrated in Yorkshire-Lancashire.[93]

The name reverts to Syddall around the 17th century and this is also the form of the earliest recorded instance:

Thomas Sydall 1379 Yorkshire Poll Tax Returns.[94]


“Occupational name or habitation name for someone who was employed at or lived near one of the houses (‘temples’) maintained by the Knights Templar, a crusading order so named because they claimed to occupy in Jerusalem the site of the old temple. The order was founded in 1118 and flourished for 200 years, but was suppressed as heretical in 1312”.[95]

A comparatively rare surname – mostly northern – and found particularly in Yorkshire-Durham-Northumberland, reflecting the distribution of the ancient sites of the Knights Templars’ houses in England.[96]

The first recorded instance of the surname occurs in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in 1131 (Hugo of the temple)[97]


Warbrick is synonymous with Warbreck, the place in Lancashire.

Wardebrecca 1147. ‘Beacon hill.’ From Old Norse varði cairn + Old Norse brekka slope, hill.[98]

Robert de Warthebrek 1332 Subsidy Rolls, Lancashire.[99]

Scarcely found outside the north-west of England and no more than 260 instances of the surname anywhere, the majority of which occur in Lancashire and Cumberland.[100]


An unknown surname before the 19th century. All present-day bearers of the surname are descended from one man, Joseph Whipday, who was born around 1800 and died before civil registration began in 1837. He was a Navigator (i.e. a canal builder or navvy). He had four sons whose names appear in the records variously as Whitby, Whipdale, etc. Whipday must therefore be a corruption of some other surname.

At the time of the 1891 census there were 9 Whipday families in Lancashire, all of whom can be traced back to Joseph Whipday.[101]


“English and Scots: common occupational name for a maker of machinery or objects, mostly in wood, of any of a wide range of kinds, from Old English wyrtha, wryhta craftsman (a derivative of wyrcan to work, make)… When used in isolation it generally referred to a builder of windmills or watermills.”[102]

A surname distribution map shows that, although it is distributed across England and Wales, it is most commonly found in Lancashire and Yorkshire.[103]

Patere le Writh 1214 Feet of Fines, Sussex.[104]



[1] Reaney & Wilson, 1995, pp. 18 & 3

[2] Ibid, p.18

[3] Cottle, 1978, p.42


[5] Hanks & Hodges, 1988, p.26

[6] Reaney, 1991, p.57

[7] Reaney, 1991, p.163


[9] Reaney & Wilson, 1995, p. 22

[10] Hanks & Hodges, 1988, p.26

[11] Ekwall, 1960, p.23


[13] Reaney & Wilson, 1995, p.23

[14] Reaney & Wilson, 1995, p.39

[15] Reaney, 1991, p.337

[16] Ekwall, 1960, p.37


[18] Hanks & Hodges, 1988, p.104


[20] Reaney & Wilson, 1995, p.90

[21] Hanks & Hodges, 1988, p.122


[23] Reaney & Wilson, 1995, p.108

[24] Hanks & Hodges, 1988, pp.131-2

[25] Reaney & Wilson, 1995, p.118

[26] Reaney & Wilson, 1995, p.152


[28] Hanks & Hodges, 1988, p.170

[29] Ekwall, 1960, p.169


[31] Reaney & Wilson, 1995, p.157

[32] Hanks & Hodges, 1988, p.190

[33] Reaney & Wilson, 1995, p.175

[34] Reaney & Wilson, 1995, p.175

[35] Reaney, 1991, p.18

[36] Hanks & Hodges, 1988, p.210

[37] Hanks & Hodges, 1988, p.210

[38] Reaney, 1991, pp.152-3.

[39] Gillson, Gilson in Reaney & Wilson, 1995, p.191

[40] Gilsland in Ekwall, 1960, p.196


[42] Cottle, 1978, p.158


[44] Reaney & Wilson, 1995, pp.195 & 199

[45] Cottle, 1978, p.175

[46] Hanks & Hodges, 1988, p.242

[47] Reaney, 1991, p.58

[48] Reaney & Wilson, 1995, p.219


[50] Hanks & Hodges, 1988, p.257

[51] Reaney & Wilson, 1995, p.232

[52] Ekwall, 1960, p.259

[53] Hanks & Hodges, 1988, p.270

[54] Cottle, 1978, p.191

[55] Reaney, 1991, p.351


[57] Reaney & Wilson, 1995, p.245

[58] Reaney & Wilson, 1995, p.251

[59] Reaney & Wilson, 1995, p.251

[60] Cottle, 1978, p.195


[62] Hanks & Hodges, 1988, p.281


[64] Reaney & Wilson, 1995, p.254

[65] Hanks & Hodges, 1988, p.283

[66] Cottle, 1978, p.198


[68] Hanks & Hodges, 1988, p.345

[69] Hanks & Hodges, 1988, p.345

[70] Reaney & Wilson, 1995, p.297


[72] Hanks & Hodges, 1988, p.351


[74] Reaney & Wilson, 1995, p.301


[76] Hanks & Hodges, 1988, p.393

[77] Reaney & Wilson, 1995, p.327


[79] Reaney & Wilson, 1995, p.362

[80] Ekwall, 1960, p.374


[82] Reaney & Wilson, 1995, p.362

[83] Cottle, 1978, p.302

[84] Hanks & Hodges, 1988, p.454

[85] Ekwall, 1960, p.390


[87] Reaney & Wilson, 1995, p.380

[88] Hanks & Hodges, 1988, p.458



[91] Hanks & Hodges, 1988, p.491

[92] Cottle, 1978, p.344


[94] Reaney & Wilson, 1995, p.408

[95] Hanks & Hodges, 1988, p.528


[97] Reaney & Wilson, 1995, p.441

[98] Ekwall, 1960, p.497

[99] Reaney & Wilson, 1995, p.475



[102] Hanks & Hodges, 1988, p.584


[104] Reaney & Wilson, 1995, p.505


BIBLIOGRAPHY Surname distribution maps based on 1891 census records generated at[insertsurname]

Cottle, B. 1978. The Penguin Dictionary of Surnames, 2nd ed., Reading: Penguin Books Ltd.

Ekwall, E.  1960. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-names, 4th ed., New York: Oxford University Press

Hanks, P. & Hodges, F.  1988. A Dictionary of Surnames, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Reaney, P.H.  1991. The Origin of English Surnames, Oxford: Routledge

Reaney, P.H. & Wilson, R.M. 1995. A Dictionary of English Surnames: The Standard Guide to English Surnames, Oxford: Oxford University Press


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