Surnames give an intriguing insight into how our ancestors lived, where they lived, and even what they looked like. However over the centuries, names have become corrupted and many variations have developed. The meanings of surnames below are taken from various sources, all believed to be authoritative, but it is difficult to be too sure where a name derives from, except where the history is well documented back into time.

Ackroyd Old English – ac, ‘oak’, and rod ‘clearing’ so someone who lives in a clearing in the oaks
Adler From the German word for ‘eagle’. It probably was used as a nickname for someone who was likened to the bird
Archer A bowman
Armitage Staffordshire place name – it is derived from ‘hermitage’
Armstrong Nickname – someone with a strong arm, common on the Scottish borders.
Arundel Place name, or may be from the Old French arondel meaning ‘a swallow’

Bachelor From the old French bachelor ‘a young knight’ or ‘novice at arms’
Bannister From the Old French bannistre, ‘a basket’, hence a basket maker
Baxter The feminine form of Baker, but was also used for men
Bennett A corruption of the Latin benedictus, meaning ‘good’ or ‘blessed’ and once a common Christian name
Bentley From the place name which means ‘clearing of bent grass’
Berkeley From the place name in Gloucestershire
Best Originally is referred to someone who was bestial. It may also have been used for someone who kept beasts. Later is could refer to someone given to boasting
Black Description of hair or complexion

Callandar From the cloth trade – cloth was calendered by being passed through rollers to smooth it
Champion Champions were hired to wage battle on another’s behalf to settle a legal dispute
Chapman From the Old English ceapmann a merchant
Charman Combination of old French, cart, car or char, and Anglo Saxon man, hence an occupational name, a carter or driver of a cart.
Clark Originally it referred to someone in holy orders but gradually came to refer to someone who was literate
Clough From the Old English cloh ‘a ravine’ hence someone who lived by one
Cohen An ancient Jewish name meaning priest
Collins Col is a shortened form of Nicholas, Collin is a further diminutive
Constable Originally from the Latin comes stabuli ‘count of the stables’. The term was applied to the chief officer of a household, the governor of a royal fortress and a parish official. 

Delafield Of the fields – the French form de al, of or from, has been incorporated into the name
Dickson Son of Richard. Dick being a common diminutive or Richard
Donovan From the Gaelic donndubhan meaning ‘the dark brown one’, used as a description of hair or complexion
Dormer ‘A sleeper’ or ‘sluggard’ from the Frech dormeur
Douglas Scottish place name, from the Gaelic dubh glas ‘black water’
Draper From the trade

Enfield Place name (Middlesex)
Ewer Trade name – a servant who carried water to the table for ritual hand washing 

Faber From the latin meaning ‘a smith’. It is a trade name.
Fairfax From the Old English faeger and feax ‘fairheaded’
Falconer Someone who keeps or hunts with hawks. It can also derive from someone who operates a crane or windlass from the French faucon ‘crane’
Farmer Trade name but can also come from the Anglo French fermer, someone who pays a fixed sum for the right to collect taxes and revenue from an estate or manor, hence a bailiff or steward. Can also come from the Norse word for ‘a sailor’.
Farrer From the Old French ferreor ‘a smith’.
Field Some who lives in or by fields. It probably originally had the prefix atte, othe or de la meaning ‘of’ or ‘from’.
Fitzgerald Fitz is an Anglo French prefix meaning ‘son of’. Gerald is a Norman name meaning ‘someone who rules by the spear’.
Fleming One who comes from Flanders

Gardener From the trade
Gaunt It can be a nickname for some tall and angular. It can also be a tradename for someone who makes gloves or gauntlets. Or it can refer to someone from Ghent in Flanders.
Gilbert An ancient forename.
Glover A maker or seller of gloves
Graham This name is believed to derive from the Lincolnshire town of Grantham.
Grieve Scottish and Northern English name for a governor, bailiff or steward.

Haggard Nickname – from the Old French hagard, meaning ‘wild’ or ‘untamed’
Haigh From the Old English haga ‘an enclosure’, hence someone who lives by an enclosure. Also a common place name in Northern England.
Hall Someone who lives or works at a hall.
Halliday Someone born on a holy or religious day.
Hicks A diminutive of Richard.
Hogg Old English for ‘pig’, hence either one who kept pigs or a nickname for someone likened to a pig.
Hopkins A diminutive of Hob, itself a pet form of Robert.
Hudson A diminutive of Hud, itself a pet form of Hugh
Hussey Either form the Old French hosed ‘someone who wore boots’ or fromt he Old English huswyf ‘mistress of the housefold’.
Hyde Either a place name or someone who farmed a hide of land (100 acres). May also be derived from the name Ida

Jenkins Jen is a variation of John, hence a relation of John.
Jarvis From the Yorkshire place name Jervaulx, pronounced ‘Jarvis’.
Jordan From the river in the Holy Land. Returning crusaders brought back its water to baptise their children.

Kavanagh From the Irish St Caoman
Kemp From Old English cempa ‘a warrior’ or ‘athlete’.
Kendall From the English placename.
Kerr From the Old Norse kjarr ‘wet ground’, and means someone who lived by the marsh.
Kirk Someone who lived near the church.

Lane Someone who lives in a lane.
Langley Place name, itslef derived from Old English land leah ‘long wood’ or ‘long clearing’ . 

Latimer From the French Latinier, ‘an intepreter’ or someone who spoke Latin.
Laurie Contraction of the saint’s name Laurence, Scottish.
Lister From the Middle English, listere ‘a dyer of cloth’.
Long Nickname for a tall man.

Mainwaring Place name – Mesnilwarin, the manor of Warin.
Mason Tradename
Maurice From the Latin Mauritius meaning ‘Moor’, hence someone dark in appearance.
Messenger Trade name
Miller Trade name


Who’s famous in your family

A Reader’s Digest Guide to tracing your ancestry

Close Menu