The more unusual your surname, the easier it may be to research. As well as providing a key to other records, the name itself will have a story to tell. See also the page on Variant and deviant surnames.
There are eight main types of surname:
- Locative : derives from the place where someone came from or lived. This is the most common type of surname in England. Sub-categories of locative are:
- Topographical : derived from a distinctive geographical feature, e.g. Green, Hill, Langridge, Townsend.
- Toponymic : derived from a place name, e.g. Beckham, Helmsley, Stepney.
- Occupational or metronymic : derives from the occupation of the bearer, e.g. Abbot, Cheeseman, Draper, Shoesmith, Thatcher.
- Postholder : derived from holding a particular post, e.g. Hayward, Bailey.
- Patronymic : derived from the forename of the father. There are different patterns found in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, e.g. Bowen, Eriksdottir, Fitzgerald, Johnson, Jones, MacDonald, Quayle, O’Brien, Pritchard, Richardson, Williams.
- Matronymic : derived from the forename of the mother, e.g. Beaton, Margetson, Tillotson.
- Diminutive forename : A forename altered to be used as a surname. In medieval times this was often with the addition of -cock, -lett, or -kin, e.g. Bartlett, Dykin, Miskin, Towcock.
- Genitive : A name implying ownership by someone, e.g. Squires, Manners.
- Nickname or Physical Appearance : e.g. Cruikshank, Fox, Longfellow, Redhead, Toogood.
If your surname has multiple origins, it may also have multiple meanings. For a more extended discussion of the different types of surnames and their different distributions in the Anglophone world, see the papers from a conference held in 2004 on Surnames as a quantitative resource: the geography of British and Anglophone surnames.
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