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Understanding given names and surnames can help you trace your ancestors. The English did not have a specific naming pattern, but they often gave their children family names. Sometimes when a child died, the next child of that sex born into the family was given the same name. Occasionally two or more living children in the family had the same given name.
The nobility and wealthy landowners first began using surnames. Merchants and townspeople adopted the custom, as eventually did the rural population. This process took several centuries. Surnames developed from several sources. For example:
- Occupational (based on a person’s trade, such as Carter or Smith)
- Geographical (based on a person’s residence, such as Drayton or Debenham)
- Patronymic (based on a person’s father’s name, such as Jones, son of John)
- Descriptive or nickname (such as Joy or Child)
Many books discuss English names. Two are:
- Bardsley, Charles W. A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames. Reprint of 1901 edition. Baltimore, Maryland.)Genealogical Publishing Company, 1980. (Family History Library book 942 D4b.) This book mentions early dates and places where particular surnames are common.
- Hanks, Patrick, and Flavia Hodges. A Dictionary of Surnames. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. (Family History Library book 929.42 H194d.) The book contains entries for most major surnames of European origin and some rare surnames.
When they were christened, children usually received one or two given names. Some were named after parents or other relatives. (see also British Naming Conventions)
For a book describing given names, see:
- Withycombe, E.G. The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names. Third Revised Edition. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1950. (Family History Library book 942 D4w 1950.)
Many names in pre-1700 records are in Latin. A select list of Latin given names with the English equivalent are listed in Volume three of David E. Gardner’s, and Frank Smith’s Genealogical Research in England and Wales. Three Volumes. Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft Publishers, 1956–64. (Family History Library book 929.142 G172g.)