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Meanings of English Surnames

In England our surnames have been with us since the Middle Ages. They all had a meaning originally but this is often lost in the mists of time. However, clues still exist. They also give a glimpse of how our ancestors lived in another age, trade names are especially interesting as so often the trade no longer exists.

Napier Trade name, a napier sold or was in charge of table linen.
Newcome A newly arrived person.
Norman Either a Norseman or a man from Normandy.
Nunn Nickname, for someone meek and demure like a nun.
Nutter A writer or scribe, from the Old English notere’.

Osborne Predates the Norman Conquest, the name derives from the Norse asbjourn ‘bear-god’.
Osmond From the Norman asmundr ‘god protector’.

Pack Possibly from the Old French pasques ‘Easter’ or form pax the Latin for ‘peace’.
Page Trade name – a page
Palmer A pilgrim from the Holy Land or other religious shrine, it relates to the palm branch that such pilgrims carried.
Parker Trade name for someone in charge of a park used for hunting
Percy From French place names
Philpot Son of Philip, again there are many spelling variants.
Pomfret From the Yorkshire town of Pontefract.
Pratt A nickname derived from the Old English praett meaning ‘cunning’ or ‘astute’.

PurvisA servant who acts as a purveyor, fromt he Old French puveier.

 

 

Quin From the Irish O Cuinn ‘son of the wise man or freeman’.
Quine Similar to Quin but usually with Manx connections.

Radcliffe With many variations is relates to place names meaning ‘red cliff’.
Rees Welsh, from rhys meaning ‘ardour’.
Rowntree Someone who lives by the Rowan tree.
Russell From the Old French rous-el, a diminutive of rous, ‘red’. A nickname for someone with red hair or complexion.

Sadler Trade name for maker of saddles.
Slater From the Old English sealtere, a maker or seller of salt.
Scott Old English, originally it referred to someone from Ireland but later from Scotland.
Sharpe From the Old English scearp ‘quick’ or ‘sharp’. A nickname.
Skinner Trade name
Sutcliffe Someone who lives by the South Cliff.
Sykes Someone who lives by a stream or gully, from the Old English sic ‘a stream’.

Tait From the Norse teitr ‘cheerful’.
Taylor Trade name, tailor.
Tempest Nickname for someone with a stormy nature.
Thomas An Aramaic name, it became popular in England after the canonisation of St Thomas Becket.
Todd From the Middle English tod, ‘a fox’. Hence a nickname for someone sly or cunning.
Todhunter A fox hunter.
Tyler Trade name from the trade of tiler or tile making.

Underhill A person who lives at the foot of a hill.
Upjohn Welsh, son of John.
Usher Trade name – someone who held the post of official doorkeeper at a court.

Vane Nickname, from Middle English fein, ‘cheerful’.
Vaughan From the Welsh fychan, ‘small’.
Vernon Place name in Normandy.
Vyner Trade name – a vine grower or dresser. Vines were much commonly cultivated in the middle ages England than they are now.

Wagstaff Nickname for someone holding a beadle’s office, who therefore carried a staff.
Wakeman A watchman.
Walker Trade name from the cloth making trade. Same as fuller or tucker.
Ward A watchman or warden.
Weaver Trade name, can also refer to a place name.
Wentworth English place name, from Middle English meaning a home by the crossroads.

Yates Variation of gate – a gatekeeper.
Yeo Middle English attte yeo, someone who lives by the stream’.
Young Used to differentiate a son from his father.
Yule Born at Yuletide, ie Christmas.

Sources

Who’s famous in your family

A Reader’s Digest Guide to tracing your ancestry