Names… there is no such thing as an uninteresting surname!

Still sitting by the radio and there is a feature on one of my great interests, names. There was the usual list of names which added to a title, or added to another to become  double-barrelled, were rather amusing, Canon Ball, Father Christmas, Wright-Pratt, and the usual litany of ‘funny’ names, Smellie, Tooth, Handy (which means mobile phone somewhere in Europe, apparently) Then there was a brief discussion about the origin of place names and how their prevalence in an area could show patterns of migration away from the original . Sometimes the place has vanished but the name continues, for example Brindlecombe in Cornwall.

Smith is the most common name in England, but it is also common in certain lowland areas of Scotland; the Highlands are still full of Scottish names, it’s dominated by Mac’s! The lowlands also have other dominant names such as Anderson and Robertson, but other names are associated with area, Sutherland in Sutherland, Buchanan and Ross for example. The Shetland and Orkney islands have a strong use of local place names as surnames

The most common name in Wales is Jones, and there are many Welsh names which come about from family connections, Williams, Jenkin, Jenkins, Evans for example.

Names may have originated from occupations, smith, miller, potter, forester, farmer, tailor…. characteristics or descriptions such as Black, White, Armstrong.

I’ve had to correct people on the spelling of my surname, both my family name and my married name; most people manage to pronounce Elsden, but many mishear my married name of Sparshott – I have been Snapshot, Sparshop, Starshot, Shipshot, Stopshit… and many more. Is that as bad as the Combellack family who get called Camelback?

interactive surname map

place names, occupations, relationships, characterisitics and descriptions hair etc, armstrong

coles – nicholas, coal, St Col

hough – hill spur

no boring names, all are interesting

pickup, smellie,


  1. jemmyhope

    Smith is also found in Highland Scotland, a substitute for Maca’ghobhain (MacaGowan) which means “son of the blacksmith”; also as a substitute for Gobh (“blacksmith”), which is also found as Gow.


    1. Lois

      How interesting… I’m trying to learn Irish Gaelic, so I can read a little Scots Gaelic, thanks for that information, Jemmy! I’ve just looked up smith in Irish – gabha – so similar!


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