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Our 2,766 members have registered
2,405 study surnames with us
and a further 6,120 variant names.

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About the study

A world-wide study of all known references to WHIFFING and other variants. The surname study has been underway for almost 30 years, and was registered as a One-Name Study in 1991.
Like many one-name studies, it grew out of an attempt to trace my own surname. I decided to find the origins of my husband'€™s family after a statement by my father-in-law that I would never be able to find out anything about the surname as no-€“one had ever managed it before!

Variant names

The main variations of spelling today are WHIFFEN, WHIFFIN, WHIFFING, WIFFEN and WIFFIN, though there are many other similar variants, including some early references of WHYFFEN, WHIFFYN etc.

Name origin

Some of the earliest references are in documents found at the National Archives, including Alexander, son of William Wiffin of Pershore, Worcestershire (13th century) and Walter Wyffin of Downe, Kent (1332).

Suggested origins include:
* WIFFEN (& variants Whiffen & Whiffin): English: of uncertain origin, possibly a habitation name from an unidentified place named with the Old English elements 'hwit' (white, i.e. phosphorescent) + 'fen' (marsh*) Patrick Hanks & Flavia Hodges, in 'A Dictionary of Surnames' Oxford University Press, Oxford. 1988

(*The Oxford English Dictionary gives FEN: Low land covered wholly or partially with shallow water, or subject to frequent inundations;- a marsh)

Patrick Hanks is the lead researcher for the project '€˜Family Names of the UK'€™ (FaNUK) based at the University West of England, Bristol.

* WIFFIN: Anglo Saxon WIF, WIFARE: a personal name; Dutch WIJVERING; a family local name: Wifre, a weaver. Rev. H Barber, 'British Family Names, their origin and meaning'€™ Elliot Stock, London. 1894

* WIJVERING - from Dutch immigrants who came to England to help drain the Fens from the 1630's. But the name Whiffen (etc.) predates this, occurring frequently back into the 16th century and also noted back to the 13th century.

* WHIFFING - a means of catching mackerel with a handline, a west country term which the Oxford English Dictionary can only date back to the 1830's

Historical occurrences of the name

There are few Whiffen'€™s who have become famous. Some of the better known include:
*Jeremiah Holmes Wiffen (1792-1836)* -€“ Quaker, author, and librarian for the 6th Duke of Bedford at Woburn Abbey

*Benjamin Barron Wiffen (1794-1867)* - Quaker, biographer and translator of early Spanish writers

*Mrs. Thomas Whiffen (1845-1936)* -€“ Actress, maiden name Blanche Galton

*Thomas Whiffen (1819-1904)* -€“ Owner of a chemical Company which was eventually acquired by Fison'€™s in 1947

*Captain Thomas William Whiffen (1878-1922)* -€“ Explorer, and author of '€˜Northwest Amazon: notes of some months spent among cannibal tribes'

There are also some places named after Whiffen'€™s:

*Whiffin Spit* -Sooke Harbour, British Columbia, Canada

*Whiffen's Avenue*, Chatham, Kent, UK

Name frequency

According to an ONS database there were the following numbers of surnames in use in England, Wales and the Isle of Man in 2002, when the total population was approximately 59.2 million people. This gives a frequency of 1 in 22,690 or 0.004% of the population

Surname      Count       Ranking
WHIFFEN        657          9185
WHIFFIN         610          9714
WHIFFING         80        38094
WIFFEN         1151          5919
WIFFIN            111        31017
Total:           2609

According to the 1841 census for England and Wales, these were the figures 160 years earlier, when the total population was approximately 15.91 million people. This gives a frequency of 1 in 14,691 or 0.007% of the population

Surname       Count
 WHIFFEN        227
 WHIFFIN         247
 WHIFFING        17
 WIFFEN          368
 WIFFIN           224
 Total:           1083

Distribution of the name

In the 19th century the spelling Wiffen and Wiffin was mostly found in Essex, and was much more uncommon south of the Thames, where the surname was more likely to include an 'h'. The main areas for the any variant of name to be found in the UK were Essex, Kent, London, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Suffolk and Dorset. A few families headed north to the Durham area, and some emigrated, mostly to North America, and some to Australasia.


The birth, marriage and death entries from the General Register Offices for England & Wales (since 1837) have been recorded for Whiffen (and variants), together with the references from the England and Wales census records from 1841 to 1911. All grants of probate since 1858 in England and Wales have also been recorded.
The one-name study also includes numerous entries from Parish Registers, from overseas records and from other sources.


The Whiffen DNA project is just getting started, and would welcome participants.

Do have a look at the Whiffen DNA Project pages: