Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation
Top

From drunkards to rascal, find out the REAL meaning behind your surname in old-age English

rexfeatures-3375927a.jpg
615x330-alphabet.jpg
surname.jpg

A fascinating book sheds light on the real meaning of a host of common surnames, based on how they have evolved from nicknames used in 13th century Britain.

A Dictionary of Surnames, by Patrick Hanks and Flavia Hodges, uses genealogy and linguistics to trace the heritage of European last names such as Black, Palmer and Rudd - plus a few more unusual specimens.

The authors identify a clear association between amusing and derisive medieval nicknames and their modern day counterparts.

Monikers that started out as a reference to a person's job, where they lived, how they behaved or even what they looked like developed over time to become commonplace surnames.

Beal, for instance, means handsome (evolved from Bel - fair or lovely). Blunt means someone with fair hair (from blund) or a stupid person (from blont, dull) - we won't tell this one to actress Emily Blunt.

We doubt Jarvis Cocker would be happy with the definition of his last name as "a bellicose person" either. Tom Cruise, however, fares better; his surname is derived from a nickname meaning bold or fierce.

All those Dukes out there should be aware that their surname evolves from a way of singling out someone who gives himself airs and graces. While Dick, though it may be a somewhat embarrassing surname now, comes from the fairly innocuous slang for a stout, thick man. And Cock was used to describe a natural leader back in the day.

The book explores the way in which surnames became increasingly used in the Middle Ages, as families became more prosperous and started to pass down their names to future generations. At the same time, the emergence of tax collectors and bailiffs also made last names a necessity in order to properly identify and trace people.

The authors also discovered that, even where the meaning of a particular surname was derogatory or based on a negative trait, it was rarely changed after it officially went on record.

The book explores the origins of more than 100,000 last names in total. Here's a few highlights from typical and lesser-known surnames....

Tom Cruise's surname denotes someone who is bold or fierce, while Emily Blunt's used to mean either someone with fair hair or a stupid person

The old-age meanings behind common surnames:

Beake — person with a prominent nose

Burr — a person who is difficult to shake off (from bur, a seed head that sticks to clothing)

Cruise — bold, fierce

Curtis — a refined person

Dolittle — a lazy person

Dowling — a stupid person, (from doll stupid)

Fairfax — someone with beautiful, long hair (from feax, hair, tresses)

Hart — nickname meaning stag

King — someone who conducts himself in a kingly manner

Lovell — nickname from lou, meaning wolf

Mann — a strong or fierce person

Nightingale — someone with a good voice

Palmer — someone who had been on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land

Read — a person with red hair or a ruddy complexion

Sharp — keen, active, quick

Silver — a rich man or someone with gray hair

Wight — strong-willed or brave

Wild — nickname someone of violent and undisciplined character

Sadly for Eliza Doolittle, her surname used to be a nickname for a lazy person in the Middle Ages

And a few more unusual titles:

Arlott — vagabond, rascal

Belcher - Someone with a fair or lovely face

Boggis — a boastful person

Bowler — a heavy drinker

Cock — a natural leader

Mutton — a gentle but unimaginative person

Puddy — someone rotund

Puttock — nickname for a greedy person

Scaife — an awkward or difficult man

Thewlis — an ill mannered person

A Dictionary of Surnames by Patrick Hanks and Flavia Hodges - buy it here

Photos: Rex Features

Related

hero3.jpg

Mila Kunis' style transformation

hero3.jpg

Anna Wintour's son weds in beautiful and stylish ceremony

rexfeatures-3062751a.jpg

Woman advertises her services as "professional bridesmaid" on Craigslist

candles.gif

Scented candles capture the smell of divorce

hero.jpg

Barbie's LinkedIn profile aims to 'inspire girls to dream big'

downton-abbey-ladies-photographed-by-alexi-lubomirski-august-2014-harpers-bazaar-uk-online-only-5-.jpg

Downton Abbey stars glam up for high fashion shoot

More

The best A-list Instagrams from the weekend

Cara Delevingne’s fangirl moment and 90s supermodels reuniting

by Nicola Colyer
25 Sep 2017

Piers Morgan's comments about Meghan Markle have riled up the internet

A heavy dose of sexism with your morning telly

by Kayleigh Dray
25 Sep 2017

Julia Stiles talks women in Hollywood and her controversial baby name

Stylist.co.uk chats with the Riviera star

by Harriet Hall
25 Sep 2017

Chrissy Teigen’s reason for never divorcing John Legend is too good

Just when we thought we couldn’t love her more

by Susan Devaney
25 Sep 2017

NASA just paid tribute to Hidden Figures' Katherine Johnson

This is long overdue

by Susan Devaney
25 Sep 2017

Ellen DeGeneres has officially banned Donald Trump from her TV show

Her powerful statement sums up everything that’s wrong with the president

by Kayleigh Dray
25 Sep 2017

Jessica Ennis-Hill unveils baby girl’s incredibly trendy name

The gold medallist announced the news via an intimate Instagram photo

by Kayleigh Dray
25 Sep 2017

All the best A-list Instagrams from the week so far

From a star-studded dinner party to Serena Williams’ sweet mother-daughter snap

by Nicola Colyer
22 Sep 2017

Justin Trudeau reveals his surprising feminist inspiration

Bromance brewing?

by Susan Devaney
21 Sep 2017

Some people only just realised that Rihanna’s real name isn’t Rihanna

Erm, did we not all know this already?

by Kayleigh Dray
21 Sep 2017