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

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.

            The question of a personal name for a newly born child offers parents a wide spectrum of decision: will it be a traditional name which still sounds pleasant to modern ears; a modern name which has little history, but is euphonious; a name which is an amalgamation of the parents’ names; a foreign name, or a complete invention?

 There are no rules when it comes to ‘first’ names, though parents should give some thought to the later reaction of other people, especially children, to the name they are about to choose for their new baby and not decide only on something that has an immediate appeal to themselves.

            Most established personal names are derived from words with meanings in various ancient languages. Before the Norman Conquest in 1066, the usual source of English personal names was rooted Germanic Anglo-Saxon languages. Although many personal names were simple – Hwita, Leofa, Godyð (that is, Godyth), for example – there was often a tendency to combine an element from the father’s name with one from the mother’s name, thus cementing the bond between the child and its parents – a rather pleasing idea and one sometimes encountered today – Leeroy, Kayleigh, and Marian.

            The wolf, though long extinct in Britain, was probably the creature most feared, yet most revered, in the wilds of the mediæval British countryside and it is this animal that acquired an esteem and respect celebrated in early many English personal names: Wulfwy, Æthelwulf, Wulfsig, Wulfric and Wulfstan are some well-known 10th century personal names.

            After the Conquest, the Norman French introduced many personal names of Biblical origin and it is these with which we are most familiar, both as ‘first’ names and as elements within our surnames. The first English monarch to bear a Biblical forename was the Conqueror’s grandson, Stephen, named after the first Christian martyr. His name, however, was not popularly adopted, possibly on account of his disastrous reign (1135-54), which witnessed great civil strife and lawlessness.

            The names of many of the original group of Apostles were to become favourites: Andrew, Bartholomew, James, John, Jude, Matthew, Philip, Simon, Peter, Thomas and Matthias. The name of the traitor, Judas, of course, was held in universal contempt and no one would have considered naming a child after him. These eleven names have generated a great many surnames, including many compounds and variations.

Some other Biblical names that have emerged in our surnames are Barnabas, (giving Barnaby and Barney); Luke (giving Lucas, Luker and Luckett), Joseph (giving Josephs and Jessop), Eve (giving Evins and Everson), Adam (giving Adams, Adamson, Adkin, Adcock and Aitken); and David (giving Davis, Davy and Davidson). There are many more.

            Our later mediæval ancestors were also attracted to the names of saints and there are dozens of these that have been adopted, including Adrian, Benedict, Clement, Edmund, Francis, Michael and Patrick. Each of these has produced compounds and variations common in our surnames lists.

            Returning to modern times, we see evidence of prolific invention of personal names in such examples as Braxtin, Dallin, Ryyder and Trucker (boys’ names), Arelly, Eco, Meadow and Quiana (girls’ names). It does not require much thought to see that, were these transposed back 800 years, we might now have such surnames as Braxtinson, Dallins, Ryycott, Truckham, Arelthrop, Ecostead, Meadowville, Quianaby.

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