** See meanings and origins of Top 100 English Surnames below
Origins of English Last NamesSurnames in England generally developed from four major sources:
- Patronymic & Matronymic Surnames - These are surnames derived from baptismal or Christian names to indicate family relationship or descent. Some baptismal or given names have become surnames without any change in form. Others added an ending. son may have formed his surname by adding -s (more common in the South and West of England) or -son (preferred in the northern half of England) to his father's name. The latter -son suffix was also sometimes added to the mother's name. English surnames ending in -ing (from the British engi, "to bring forth," and -kin generally indicate a patronymic or family name as well.
- Occupational Surnames - Many English surnames developed from a person's job or trade. Three common English surnames -- Smith, Wright and Taylor -- are excellent examples of this. A name ending in -man or -er usually implies such a trade name, as in Chapman (shopkeeper), Barker (tanner) and Fiddler. On occasion a rare occupational name can provide a clue to the family's origin. For example, Dymond (dairymen) are commonly from Devon and Arkwright (maker of arks or chests) are generally from Lancashire.
- Descriptive Surnames - Based on a unique quality or physical feature of the individual, these surnames often developed from nicknames or pet names. Most refer to an individual's appearance - color, complexion, or physical shape - such as Armstrong. A descriptive surname may also refer to an individual's personal or moral characteristics, such as Goodchild, Puttock (greedy) or Wise.
- Geographical or Local Surnames - These are names derived from the location of the homestead from which the first bearer and his family lived, and are generally the most common origin of English surnames. They were first introduced into England by the Normans, many of whom were known by the name of their personal estate. Thus, many English surnames derive from the name of an actual town, county, or estate. County names in Great Britain, such as Cheshire, Kent and Devon have been commonly adopted as surnames. A second class of local surnames derived from cities and towns, such as Hertford, Carlisle and Oxford. Other local surnames derive from descriptive landscape features such as hills, woods, and streams which describe the original bearer's residence. This is the origin of surnames such as Sykes (marshy stream), Bush and Attwood (near a wood). Surnames which begin with the prefix At- can especially be attributed as a name with local origins. By- was also sometimes used as a prefix for local names.