Ever wondered what your surname means? We’ve gathered together a few of the most popular and a few less common names, to take a look at the meaning behind the moniker…
Many surnames originated out of nicknames given to people who looked or acted in a certain way, or lived in a certain area. Alternatively, adding an ‘s’ or ‘son’ onto the end of the father’s first name – Richards, Williams, Robinson, Johnson – was another popular way of forming surnames, as was using a person’s profession – Cooper, Smith, Baker and so on.
The word bean was used as a nickname for a pleasant, amiable person – from the Middle English word ‘bene’. Beans may also have been bean sellers.
A nickname given to those with dark hair or a swarthy appearance – perhaps bestowed by the invading Angles and Saxons on the native Britons.
This is an ancient surname that often referred to someone’s complexion, hair colour or the clothes they wore – monks, for example, were often kitted out in brown.
A medieval name for a scribe, scholar or, most likely, a member of a religious order – since these tended to be the only people who could read and write.
Coopers made barrels, tubs, buckets and vats – essential to everyday life in the Middle Ages, not least for brewing beer!
Meaning son of Edward, which itself means ‘prosperity’ and to ‘guard’.
Widely recorded in Norfolk and Suffolk, this surname probably stems from villages of the same name.
This widespread surname could mean someone who lives near a green area, or perhaps a man who played the part of the Green Man in May Day celebrations – symbolic of re-growth and ardour.
If you hunted wild birds, odds are you’d have been called Fowler. This was a top position and all large households would have employed you.
Helders may have lived on a hillside, from the Middle Dutch for ‘slanting surface’, or the name could derive from the Old English ‘to hold’ – meaning a tenant.
Gailor or Gailer
Someone who would have worked in a jail, or lived nearby one.
Someone who lived in a valley… Only joking! You were called Hill if you lived up a hill.
This surname derives from the first name John. Simple! Joneses were sons of Johns.
This was a nickname commonly handed out in the Middle Ages to people who acted in a kingly manner, or had played the part of a king in a pageant. It may have also been given to someone who served in a king’s household.
Of Frankish origins, Lewis derives from the name Hludwig, meaning loud and famous – and, also, ‘wig’.
Originates in Marlow, Buckinghamshire – the name of which derives from the Old English for a recently drained lake, or boggy area.
Derives from the Roman god of fertility and war, Mars.
Mays may have been born in May, or have had a sunny, spring-like disposition.
An Anglicised form of the Gaelic mac cana – meaning wolf cub.
Moores may have lived on a moor or fenland, but it was also a nickname for someone of swarthy appearance.
Means sea chief, or sea defender.
A nickname for a trickster, magician or conjuror.
A nickname for someone with red hair.
Smiths were metal workers, forging horseshoes, swords and armour. Smith may also derive from being a soldier who ‘smote’ his enemies. All in all, Smiths were a pretty tough lot.
Spencers were dispensers – people who distributed food and provisions within a royal or noble household, or a monastery.
Stanleys originated from Derbyshire, Gloucestershire, Staffordshire, Wiltshire, and West Yorkshire, and the name means ‘stone’ and ‘clearing’.
Taylors were tailors – snipping and sewing their way to becoming one of the most popular surnames in the UK.
A maker of small wooden and metal tools using a turning lathe – or, a fast runner, from the Middle English for ‘turn’ and ‘hare’. Turners may also have been an official in charge of a tournament.
Deriving from the word meaning ‘to tread’ in Old English, Walkers describe the work of a fuller – who would thicken cloth in a large water-filled tub by trampling on it.
Derives from the Germanic ‘Wilhelm’ which means strong of mind and ‘helm’ – or helmet.
This surname originates in Windley, a village in Derbyshire, and means grazing land in a forest – not a windy place!
A name given to someone with pale hair or complexion.
An occupational surname, Wrights were craftsmen, often using wood to build things like wheels, mills and carts.
In medieval times, parents often called their children (of either sex) the same name – so the youngest was often given the name Young to distinguish the siblings from one another.
You surname not here? Check out the Surname Database and see what yours means.