William Lewis, author of the books 'What's in your Surname?' and 'What's in an English Place-name?'.

Articles by William Lewis

Personal Names within Surnames

PERSONAL NAMES ARE SOMETIMES referred to as ‘first names’, ‘forenames’, ‘given names’, ‘font names’, and, perhaps less often today, as ‘Christian names’. We tend to give names to many of the personal things we hold dear – our pets, dolls, houses, boats, cars and even ships, trains and spacecraft are given evocative names. More>

The Origin of English Place-Names

UNLIKE OUR SURNAMES , ENGLISH PLACE-NAMES have taken a very long time to evolve to the form we know them today – probably nearly 2500 years. Their exact origins are indeterminate because even the early Bronze Age inhabitants (c. 4500 BC) of the land we now call Britain will almost certainly have referred to particular locations in their districts using their words for natural features as landmarks – steep hills, rushing rivers, narrow valleys, prominent trees, habitats of various animals and so forth. Their traditions were entirely oral and we cannot know their language, for they had not embraced any means of writing. More>

The Rise of Surnames – An Introduction

MOST OF US THINK ABOUT OUR SURNAMES sometimes and will wonder about their origins, especially when we have an unusual surname. Surnames would seem, initially, to fall into two obvious, broad categories – 1. unremarkable and 2. peculiar. Examples of category 1 might be Smith, Harwood, Hodge, Johnson, Young and Thomas, while into category 2 we might place Startup, Longbottom, Lobb, Cister, Smellie and Agace. More>

Surnames from Two Sources – Occupations and Relationships

THE GOLDEN AGE OF SURNAME FORMATION in Britain and in England in particular, was from the late 11th century until the middle of the 15th century. The new Norman approach to civil administration was based on detailed record keeping and the need to identify individuals involved in disputes, prosecutions, land ownership, manorial affairs and so on. The common folk themselves generally had no need for anything but a ‘given’ name – Ranulf, Wulfwy, Alwin, Leofeva, Edelina, Alicia – but many would have acquired from their fellows a descriptive nickname of some sort and it is from this category that we have inherited the largest group of our surnames. More >

Surnames from Words of Affection and Location

DOES YOUR SURNAME END IN ‘-kin’, ‘-kins’. ‘-kiss’, ‘-cock’, ‘-et(t)’, ‘-el(l)’, ‘-in’, ‘-on’, ‘-itt’ or‘-ot(t)’? If it has one of the first three suffixes, then it is certainly a ’diminutive’. If it has one of the other endings, it is likely to be a ‘diminutive’ too. These suffixes, appended to a shortened version of the personal name, were simply an ancient means of expressing a term of endearment when addressing a youngster. More >