Nov 092016

[Well, it had to be really, didn’t it?]

In previous Way Back Wednesdays we have mentioned patronymics and nicknames.  Here are two more sources for surnames: location and topography.  In Yorkshire and Lancashire this is very common; in Cornwall you will find names which start with Bos, Car, Lan, Pol, Pen, Ros, and Tre being very common as well.  The Norman barons associated with William the Conqueror were some of the first to have surnames, and these were mostly linked to their estates. A person’s surname might be where he was born (such as Poole) or where he was living (such as Atwell – or ‘at the well’).

Topography is more about the shape of the land than the name of a farmstead. Topography helped with surnames, too, such as Brook, Green, Hill, and Wood – then these were passed down as hereditary surnames until maybe the most recent holder of a name like Hill lives on the Somerset Levels (a coastal plain), Mr Brook lives in a central area of London, while Miss Green lives in Dubai.

It is not always easy (nor advisable) to take one look at a surname and pronounce that it definitely originated in such-and-such a place.  Spellings may have changed it over time – and so may deed polls! – and the original meaning may also have changed.  Still, as with anything in genealogy…it may be a clue.


© Ros Haywood
School of  Surnames

Next week’s letter is ‘T’. Has anybody got any interesting snippets that marry up T with surname studies?  If so, please send them to Ros Haywood at sos [at]

letter S courtesy of