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Our 2,744 members have registered
2,396 study surnames with us
and a further 6,089 variant names.

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About the study

Like many ONS researchers, I didn’t set out to do a One-Name Study.  When I began in 1979, my interest was solely my immediate Berkeley ancestry and the direct line of descent.  But as the discoveries became increasingly hit-and-miss, my interest began to broaden and I realised that the best way to make continuing progress would be to gather as much collateral information as possible, in the expectation that eventually it would become easier to make verifiable connections or differentiate between family members. Card indexes grew and eventually transformed into spreadsheets and databases and by 2011 it was time to accept the inevitable and join the Guild.


Variant names

 "And withall I wish this family to observe the true orthography of their name, which is with the letter, E in each sillable, And not with the letter: A, as Berkeley, not otherwise, Neither have I seene it once otherwise in more than three hundred yeares togeather in many thowsands of writeings, And I am confident, That a longer Constancye, hath not with lesse variation bene observed in any English family of three Sillables, whatsoever. . . "

So wrote the family’s chronicler John Smyth in the early 17th century, concerned that distant branches were adopting inconsistent versions of their name.  He was powerless to prevent the inevitable, of course, and the surprise today is not that variants exist, but that Berkeley has survived as robustly as it has.

The 19th century UK census returns show the main variants as Berkley and Barkley, with a small enclave of Barckley.  Berkly, Barkly, and Barkeley are all deviant spellings, in that they rarely exist beyond the odd entry or two.  Bartley is too contentious to be a distinct variant of Berkeley as it could equally be a diminutive of Bartlett.   The Scottish Barclay emerged from Gloucestershire de Berkeleys who, having settled in 11th or 12th century Scotland, established their distinctive spelling a century or two later.  Although strictly a variant, as Barclay is so firmly connected with its country of origin, is considerably more numerous worldwide and is rarely found interchangeable with Berkeley, it should be regarded as a separate study.

Name origin

The toponymic Berkeley originally derives from the place of that name in Gloucestershire, which in turn emerged from the Old English “beorce” [birch] and “leay” [lea], referring to a clearing or meadow in the birch wood. The Domesday Book had it phonetically from the vernacular as Berchelai, where the Anglo-Norman pronunciation of/er/ was closer to the modern /ar/and the /ch/ a Germanic hard /k/.  The current spelling of the name was more or less in place by the end of the 12th century, with the Ber- spelling retained through the continuing strength of the Norman French influence.  Surnames as we know them today did not fully evolve for another 100 years or more and Berkeley was established as a surname in the modern sense when the ‘de’ was finally dropped from de Berkeley at the end of the 14th century.  

Historical occurrences of the name

From remote beginnings in post-conquest England, the surname of Berkeley has punched above its weight in British and worldwide history.  The aristocratic family played their part, as might be expected, and Berkeley Castle has played its part throughout, although today its principal notoriety rests in the imprisonment and murder of Edward II.  As the birthplace of Dr Edward Jenner, Berkeley will forever be associated with vaccination and the eradication of small pox.  The Anglo-Irish scholar and philosopher Dr George Berkeley, who became Bishop of Cloyne, is recognised today as one of the great empiricist philosophers, famous for his concept of Immaterialism. He also has the posthumous honour of being the inspiration for what has become one of the world’s great universities - although sadly having appropriated his name they weren’t able to retain his family’s pronunciation!

Name frequency

Berkeley is a relatively small study.  UK frequency in 2005 was less than 12 per million and nowhere in the world was it more than 30 [Ireland’s frequency score was 27.43]. In 1881 the UK frequency was 8 per million.

The figures below compare the frequency of Berkeley individuals [1st] against variants [2nd] in the UK’s available census returns. 

1841 [107/761]; 1851 [172/771]; 1861 [177/711]; 1871 [263/946]; 1881 [232/875]; 1891 [252/1032]; 1901 [335/957]; 1911 [389/945]

This data is taken from the website. Allowing for the inconsistencies and inaccuracies endemic in online indexing, where error rates can become more prominent in smaller samples, some trends are nonetheless discernible.

One that deserves to be looked at more closely is where Berkeleys make up nearly 26% of the overall total in 1901, but less than 12.5% in 1841.  How much this has been due to improved enumerator accuracy, to wider education, to disproportionate emigration among variants due to their geographic and socio-economic location, or to other causes, is something a ONS is uniquely placed to resolve and will be studied.  

With Berkley, Barkley and Barckley being both variant and, often, mis-spellings of Berkeley, it is the aim of this study to concentrate on Berkeley (wherever intended) in the written record.  Numerically (in the UK), the 1998 count for Berkeley (courtesy of is 453, double the 1881 figure.

Distribution of the name

This study has barely begun to encompass the full Berkeley diaspora. Our demographic spread across the globe in recent centuries is of great interest, but the data is only just beginning to be compiled.  Prior to 1800 the distribution of Berkeleys across England, Ireland, North America and the rest of the Anglosphere, was confined to just a few families in any one locale, and sometimes just two or three generations of a single family.  In England those locales were in the West Country and along the Severn, and also in London, Kent and the Home Counties. By 1881 this pattern had shifted little, but importantly now included concentrations in the districts of Ormskirk [NW], Lanchester/Gateshead [NE], Steyning [SE] and Norwich [E]. The picture in 1998 shows wider distribution, but also a southward shift, and a concentration around the Severn Valley.


Pre-civil registration UK Berkeley baptisms, marriages and burials, civil registration records from 1837, a database and transcripts of PCC wills, later and other UK wills, 60+ pedigree charts delineating the overall decent from mid-11th century, lists of service personnel, apprenticeships, clergy, census entries and more.


The Berkeley Y Chromosome DNA study has been launched W: