If you open the Dictionary of National Bioghraphy, The London Directory, or any telephone directory, and read through a list of names, you are conscious at once that many names have some kind of meaning, that many are clearly names of places, and that many more are apparently not English at all, but Scottish, Welsh, Irish, Dutch, Scandinavian, or merely exotic.
It is easy to understand that in the early stages of a language the first words are names, and that all names are primarily proper names, Generic names, like man, animal, and tree, evolve later; and abstractions, courage, ferocity, and greenness, later still. A proper name is a symbol pointing to one and only one person, animal, place, or thing. Primitive man felt that the relashionship between name and thing was close and intimate.
The Anglo-Saxsons, like their continental kingsmen, followed well-defined principles in naming their sons and daughters. In fact, they took their nam-giving very seriously. Most names were dithematic, consisting of two elements or themes, like the modern Alf-red, Cuth-bert, Dun-stan,
Ed-mund, Her-bert, and Wini-fred. These elements were interchanged, repeated, and varied among members of a family and they were chosen for the sake of alliteration in order that they might be handed down from generation to generation.
After the Norman Conquest biblical names became fashionalble, and of these Mary and John were easily first. Even today Mary and John are by far the commonest Christian names in the West, rivalles only by Anne, Elizabeth, David, Michael, and Peter.
I think lots of places in Eastern and Northern England have Danish or Scandinavian place names, after the invasions of the 6th century? I know that Shetland has many Scandinavian place names, because it used to be Norwegian until maybe the 1300's...
The men and women of Angllo-Saxon England normally bore one name only.Distinguishing epithets were rarely added. These might be descriptive (Eadweard se langa) 'tall Edward', titular (Cynewulf preost) 'priest' or occupational (Eadmund fugelere) 'fowler'.
They were, however, hardly surnames.
St stephen was the world's first Christian martyr, which may account for Stephen's longevity as an internationally popular name. In a study of birth registrations over several centuries in England and Wales, Stephen proved to be the most popular first name, although only narrowly over Paul, William and John.The name derives from the Greek, meaning 'crowned'. Variants include Stephan, Stefan, Ystffan (Welsh version), Steven, Steve and Stevie.
A gentleman named Hero Zzyzzx of Madison, Wisconsin, USA, is on record as being the ultimate last name in any telephone book anywhere. It's not a made up name, either; he is the son of Xerxes* Zzyzzx (pronounced Zizz-icks, by the way), and the name is a complex amalgam of Lithunanian, Finnish, German, Russian, French and other miscellaneous middle-European backgrounds.
* Xerxes 'the great' (c. 519-c. 465 B.C.) king of Persia, son of Darius 1. He invaded Greece, defeating the Spartans at Thermopylae (480 B.C.)
Mac and Mc
Mac is simply 'the son of ', and many Scottish surnames evolved from tacking the prefix on to a parent's name, as with the son of Alexander calling himself McAlexander, now commonly McAllister.Sometimes the prefix would be attached to the father's trade or calling; one that survives in MacParson, better know as Macpherson.
Is McDonald's Scottish then ?
I read this story somewhere :
Sir Edward Maufe
There is a wonderful story told about the architect Sir Edward Maufe (MAUFE : Mage, Agnlo-Saxon for the relative through marriage) who arrived late for a very formal society dinner. Crouching down, he crept up behind the host, sitting at the head of the table. ' I am so terrible sorry', he apologised. 'I'm Maufe'. The host spun around in surprise. 'but my dear chap', he exclaimed. 'You've only just arrived !'
Now the question is : What does "Maufe" mean ?
Over the past decade or two, here are the most common names in Britain and the U.S.
1 Smith Smith
2 Jones Johnson
3 Williams Williams
4 Brown Brown
5 Taylor Johnes
6 Davies Miller
7 Evans Davis
8 Thomas Wilson
9 Roberts Anderson
10 Johnson Taylor
a good many surnames can be linked to a trade, such as Falkner (originally a falconer); Milner (a flour miller); an self-evident derivations like Barber, Glover and Hooper.
The Smith family
The Smith have proliferated since the first of their kind was known as a smid, or blacksmith, in Anglo-Saxon times. Now we not only have the ubiquitous Smith family, but Smithers, Smithson, Smyth, Smythe, Smit and a growing number of Smith-Greens, Smith-Camerons and a hundred other hyphenated combinations. Then there are the Arrowsmiths, sixsmiths, Goldsmiths and, to come full circle, Blacksmiths.
Take a bow, Ecceard Smid, Britain's very first Smith, who was alive a century before 1066.
It's a law; it's a potato; in America, it's a foldaway bed. It's also a sprawling Irish tribe that centuries ago sprang from the sod of County Wexford. One of its earliest members, recorded as living in the twelfth century, was Domhall Dal Ua Murchadha.
The name will never die; certainly not while Murphysborough, Illinois, remains on the map.
What could be more natural than that men should be known by some physical or external characteristics ? Head and foot, Fist (German Faust, French Poincaré for poing carré 'square fist'). Thumb, Tooth (French Dent) or Lock (or hair) might become surnames wihtout any distingushing epithet. More often, naturally a qualifying adjective was added : broadhead, Fairhead 'handsome'. Whitehead 'fair', Weatherhead 'shaped like that of a wether of sheep'. The ending -head was often reduced to -ett as in Blankett, the opposite fo Whitehead, Brockett 'badger-head' and Doggett 'dog-head'.