Common English Surnames

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.

 Common Prefixes

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? © Cheryl Bolen, 2011



24 thoughts on “Common English Surnames

  1. Wonderful English names! I love Balfour, probably because I read Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson as a teenager and still adore the main character, David Balfour and his Scottish friend. I also used that name in a short story I recently contributed to a western romance anthology, Rawhide ‘n Roses.

    Thanks for sharing your research!

  2. Hola! I’ve been reading your web site for a long time now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout
    out from Humble Texas! Just wanted to mention keep up the fantastic work!

  3. Howdy I am so glad I found your blog, I really found you by mistake, while I
    was searching on Bing for something else, Nonetheless I am here now and would just like to say thank you for a marvelous post and a all round
    entertaining blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to read through it
    all at the minute but I have bookmarked it and also included
    your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read a great deal more, Please do keep up the fantastic b.

  4. I like these last names: Rutherford, Levassor, Buchanan, Masterson, Cavendish, McMaster, McCall, Starkweather, Underwood, Chrysler, Maxwell, Wollstonecraft, Newcomen McIntosh and Northcott mainly, there are many suffixes in english last names for example:

    Cott- Westcott, Wolcott, Northcott, Colecott, Lippincott.
    Ley- Presley, Buckley, Ripley, Haley, Worsley.
    Ville- Sommerville, Baskerville, Melville, Woodville.
    Ward- Hallward, Woodward, Hayward, Forward, Howard.
    Son- Hutchinson, Masterson, Edison, Dyson, Hudson.
    Ford- Rayford- Lawford, Rutherford, Commerford, Warneford.
    Well- Cornwell, Maxwell, Stilwell, Bonniwell, Blackwell.
    Ton- Pinkerton, Littleton, Weston, Stapleton, Livingston.
    Worth- Duckworth, Dankworth, Bloodworth, Wordsworth, Allworth.
    Wood- Blackwood, Wormwood, Callwood, Redwood, Lockwood.
    Way- Galloway, Hemingway, Ridgeway, Hathaway, Holloway.
    Stone- Blackstone, Firestone, Balderstone, Wellstone.
    Croft- Wolstonecroft, Rycroft, Hopcroft, Wallcroft
    More- Longmore, Blackmore, Northmore, Passmore, Fillmore.
    Cock- Hitchcock- Hancock- Woodcock, Alcock, Willcock.
    Grove- Colegrove, Cosgrove, Lovegrove, Musgrove.
    S- Atkins- Harris, Morris, Hopkins, Nichols, Roberts.
    Berry- Arterberry, Roseberry, Quesenberry.
    Bury- Loughenbury, Lansbury, Shrewsbury, Salisbury, Ramsbury.
    Ough- Scarborough, Rossborough, Attenborough, Riseborough.
    Hurst- Pankhurst, Whitehurst, Brocklehurst,
    Hall- Woodhall, Whitehall, Boxhall.
    Weather- Starkweather, Fairweather, Mayweather.
    And here there are all the suffixes i know

  5. This is very useful, I was looking for a surname for one of my characters starting with St. I was stuck between St. John and St. Claire, but wanted to see if there where any other good ones that would fit with the characters first name Connor and his personality.

  6. Pingback: Assembly Room – Roundup of Regency posts by Angelyn Schmid – The Beau Monde RWA™ Chapter Website

  7. Most helpful, and thank you for sharing this information. One sees so many badly written Regencies where an English nobleman has a Scottish surname or a 19th century heroine has a 21st century given name. I am trying to avoid that in my writing.

    • Susan, you can do worse than pick up a copy of Henry Guppy’s homes of family names in Great Britain. Guppy was a Victorian with a passion, and he compiled lists of what names were available in which counties, which were common to more than one county, and which were ‘peculiar’ names to one county. In a time before railways there was a lot less movement of names, though there were of course moves from rural to urban areas [where fresh country maids might be met by fat procuresses as depicted by Hogarth.]
      If you wander up to my blog link above and search the sidebar for Regency names there are several posts on first names, including the most commonly used ones, some of the weirder ones, and literary sources with dates for the more fanciful parents. And literary sources can add depth, I wrote a heroine named Amaryllis, whose industrialist father had no idea that the poem from which he took it described the eponymous female as rather less than chaste. She preferred to be known as Amy, and her hero pointed out to an inebriated boor that there were other sources for the name… I love names, and I love matching names to characters, so that even though Hogg is nothing but a hypochoristic of Roger, a man who is a bit of a pig fits it very well. Or one can be obscure for personal pleasure and name someone Fosser, if he or she is a prying sort, since it’s the surname of one who used to clean ditches and gives a dialectal word, fossicking, rummaging around after something.

      • Thank you! Names are my thing and I am planning on a series of books about names by place and time, as a resource for authors and re-enactors.
        You can get the Guppy as a reprint very cheaply. One of the dozen books on my shelf next to me that I wouldn’t be without, along with Olsen’s ‘All things Austen’, the 1811 dictionary of the vulgar tongue, Mrs Rundell’s ‘A new domestic economy’, Patterson’s ‘Roads…’ and sundry others. I also have John Lempriere’s classical dictionary if I want a first name out of the ordinary … I have not yet had the courage to call a dowager ‘Alcithoe’ and claim her to be a bit of an old bat. But I might just name a whining female Niobe.

    • Allowing 12 books to the foot, with room for dividers, I once lost count at 10,000, 80% of which are reference…. I keep taking bags and bags of books to charity shops and coming away with others ….plus the wishlist …. there are a heap of wonderful pre 1800 books reprinted and available on Amazon, like “Advice to the officer of the British Navy” and ‘The ladies most elegant and convenient pocket book for the year 1790’ and ‘the theatrical review for the year 1757 and beginning of 1758’ ‘Morning and Evening Amusements at Merlin’s Mechanical Museum etc’ which list I happened on by chance. [I think I searched 18th century books]

  8. Do you keep them organized? I, for instance, have shelves just devoted to memoirs and letters; another several for biographies, etc. You ought to give tours of your library! I’d be in line.

    • Kind of…. I have the shelves of most used reference books and I’ve been trying to rationalise everything else but not necessarily filed as one would with dewey decimal, but more those which are associated together in my mind for, say, a research project. My Georgian and Regency gardening books run into pleasure gardens and are a long way from modern gardening books for example; though apart from my Fairchild’s dictionaries of textiles and fashion which I have out frequently, my textile, tailoring and sewing books are all arranged on 3 shelves in my sewing cabin. The history/archaeology of textiles and costumes live there too because it seems sensible to keep them together, just separating out the ones I refer to regularly.

    • I recently rationalised books of myths of ancient Egypt in with the 5′ shelf of myth and legend, away from the books on Ancient Egypt, equally the myths of China away from books on the T’ang Dynasty and Chinese Jade. The myths should probably include the Apocrypha, but that lives with my favourite King James Bible with concordance, the Lion Handbook of the Bible and Cruden’s concordance, whereas the Atlas of the Holy Land lives with atlases.
      I know where everything is ….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s