For this week’s blog I’ve gone through my nineteenth-century Burke’s Peerage to compile a list of what I consider to be quintessentially English surnames.
During the years I’ve been writing novels set in Regency England, I have had a habit of giving most of my characters two-syllable British-sounding surnames. For example, my heroes have had names like Wycliff, Radcliff, Sedgewick, Allen, Pembroke, Warwick, Rutledge, and Agar. All of these names were proper British names. My perusal of surnames from nineteenth-century Britain seemed to justify that the most common names in the country, indeed, consisted of two syllables.
Some more common two-syllable names revealed in my recent examination include Wraxall, Balfour, Fletcher, Sempill, Stanhope, Crauford, Hervey, Mostyn, Sullyard, Stewart, Talbot, Sinclair, Seymour, Selkirk, and Cooper.
Frequently Used Suffixes
I also discovered a proliferation of common prefixes and suffixes of common English surnames. Let’s examine the suffixes first because, in my opinion, they’re just so veddy, veddy British. We’ll start with those names ending in ley – a nice segue from two-syllable: Berkeley, Audley, Rowley, Worsley, Stanley, Wrottesley and Bexley. There’s also Annesley.
Another common suffix in British surnames is ton – many of these, too, are found in
two-syllable names. You’ve got Morton, Stanton, Barton, Seton, Bolton, Buxton, and
Swinton. Three-syllable names ending in erton include Pemberton, Egerton, Wolverton, and Ollerton.
A variation of the ton suffix, which appears to be even more common, would be surnames ending in ington. You’ll find Repington, Wilmington, Skeffington, Huntington, Lymington, Livingston, Barington, Ridlington, Kensington, Worthington, and Haddington.
A frequently used suffix in English last names is bury. Here are some examples:
Shrewsbury, Tilbury, Salisbury, Ramsbury, Queensbury, and Amesbury.
Some of the common prefixes I found in English surnames were Ash, Ban, Bar, Beau, and Fitz. With Ash,I found Asburnham, Ashbrook, Ashburton, and Ashtown. Notice the common suffixes here. We’ve shown the ton, but all of these (ham, burton, brook, and town) can be found in many British names.
For Ban, there are Bannerman, Bangor, Bantry, and Banfield. I found field to be another common suffix. Names beginning with Bar include Barham, Barrow, Barlow, Baring, and Barnwall. With Beau, there was Beaumont, Beauchamp, and Beauvale.
A commonly used prefix is Fitz, and it’s not just used with Irishmen (which I tried to avoid in this work). These names include Fitzroy, Fitzharding, Fitzherbert, Fitzgibbon, Fitzwilliam, and Fitzgerald. (During the Regency era the Royal Duke of Clarence, who eventually ruled as William IV, gave the name Fitzclarence to the ten illegitimate children he had with the actress Mrs. Jordan. Almost all of these children were eventually awarded their own titles or, in the case of females, married titled men.)
Not exactly a prefix, surnames beginning with St. are common in Great Britain. These include St. John, St. George, St. Vincent, St. German,St. Claire, and St. Maur.
There were many names which have become associated with places: St. Paul, Bristol, Boston, Brisbane, Scarsdale, Portsmouth, Southhampton, and the aforementioned Wilmington. Others are names of our common nouns and adjectives, such as Wood, Young, Cooke, Hunter, Butler, and Cotton.
Some other one-syllable names are Hay, Poyntz, Vaughan, Steele, Wynn, and Forbes.
Aristocratic Family Names
I’d like to sidestep here to insert a little information about a handful of aristocratic family names. First, the Howard family. Howard blood can be found in most of the noble families of England. The Howard name,though, stays with the Dukes of Norfolk, whose family seat is Arundel Castle in the South, as well as with the Earls of Carlisle, whose family seat – during the Regency era – was in the North at the magnificent Castle Howard (setting for Brideshead Revisited).
Another of the powerful families is the Cecil family. One branch of the Cecils resides at Hatfield House and is headed by the Marquess of Salisbury, and the other was headed by the Marquess of Exeter who made his home at the palatial Burghley House.
Here are some more of the title/family names. The Dukes of Richmond hailed from the Lennox family; the Dukes of Bedford carry the surname Russell; the Dukes of Devonshire are from the Cavendish family; the Dukes of Marlborough have the Churchill surname; and the Earls of Chesterfild were from the Stanhope family.
I found a few sort of silly names I might like to use with, say, the goofus suitor: Throckmorton, Pottinger, or Croome.
I have saved a handful of my favorite British surnames for last. These include Feversham, Beresford, the previously mentioned Bexley (or any name with an x, like Huxley),Cadogan, De Vere, Montague, Fortescue, and Vane. Don’t they sound wonderfully English?