Welcome to the Great Britain Family Names Profiling website which presents the findings of a project based at University College London (UCL) that is investigating the distribution of surnames in Great Britain, both current and historic. It allows users to search the databases that we have created, and to trace the geography and history of their family names. On each page of the website, you will find a Help link on the top-right corner which we hope will answer any questions you might have.|
The Name Classification
The names database contains information on the size and geographical distribution of 25,630 family names.
To qualify for inclusion in this list there must have been at least one hundred entries under that family name in the Great Britain electoral register for 1996.
A key feature of the database is that every family name has been given a detailed classification code explaining what type of name it is.
Most people will be familiar with the major groupings into which names can be classified. The term ‘toponym’, for example, is used to indicate the geographical location from which a person’s name is likely to have originated. Names such as ‘Kendal’ and ‘Darbyshire’ are example of this class of name.
Likewise the term ‘patronym’ is used to describe family names which were originally assigned to people on account of the personal name of their father or mother. The names ‘Jones’ and ‘Robinson’ would fall into this general class.
‘Metonyms’ are another important class of name. These originated from the names of the trades or occupations from which people earned their living. Persons with the names ‘Smith’ or ‘Wright’ have names that belong to this class.
Another important class of names are ‘nicknames’. Some of these, such as ‘Strong’ or ‘Blunt’, might have been used to describe the physique or personality of a person. It is thought that other nicknames, such as ‘Pope’ and ‘King’, describe roles that people may have played at carnival time.
Such classes of name are clearly of interest if we are to understand the meanings that different family names represent. But it can also be interesting to examine the size and geography of different classes of name.
Taking the class of names that supposedly take their names from counties, it is notable that the names ‘Kent’, ‘Darbyshire’ and ‘Wiltshire’ are far more common than names taken from equally well known counties, such as Suffolk, Nottinghamshire or Somerset.
Very often different forms of name are revealing of naming practices in different regions of the country. When we map the geographical distribution of people with patronymic names ending in’–son’ we find highest concentrations along the North Sea coast, from the Humber to the Shetlands. Patronymic names ending in ‘–s’, by contrast, are more common in South Wales and the West of England. Patronyms starting with the prefix ‘Ap-‘ are more common in mid-Wales than in either south or north Wales.
To help people better understand the characteristics of individual family names we have arranged each name into one of 225 categories, based in part on the meaning of the name but also on its form, on its origins and on its historic and current geographical concentrations.
The categories are organised hierarchically. So the name ‘Hodgkinson’ would belong to the general class of patronymic names. Within that class it would belong to the sub-group ‘names ending in –son’. Within that sub-group it would belong to a set of names which ended in ‘–kinson’. Other names in the same category would be ‘Watkinson’, ‘Dickinson’, ‘Parkinson’, ‘Tomlinson’ and ‘Sinkinson’. Strictly the name ‘Tomlinson’ may end in ‘linson’ rather than ‘–kinson’ but all five, along with ‘Hodgkinson’, are structured in a similar way, being the son of ‘little’ Roger, Walter, Richard, Peter, Thomas and Simon respectively.