Find out more about your surname


16 May 2020
Working with Oxford University Press, the Arts and Humanities Research Council is encouraging us all to search for our family names in an online database of 45,000 surnames.

The names are those published in the Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland. The dictionary was compiled by researchers from the University of the West of England, Bristol, and includes all names that currently have 100-plus bearers and also had a minimum of 20 bearers in the 1881 Census.

3 reasons to research your surname

  1. Clues as to whereabouts your family lines originated - and a colour-coded distribution map charting the number of occurrences of a surname by county
  2. Hints as to the original meaning of your name too. Did it derive from an occupation, or a nickname? Is it ‘native’ to the British Isles or did it originate overseas?
  3. Usefully for family history purposes, the dictionary entries include surname variants – always useful to keep in mind when hunting down elusive ancestors or those with ‘fluid’ ideas about spelling.

Have a play while the Dictionary is free to access. It is a little slow – no doubt due to the many other people enjoying the site – but the results are well worth waiting for. And remember – you have many names to investigate: 8 great-grandparents’ surnames, 16 great-great-grandparents’ surnames etc.  With so much to explore, there’s no time to waste.

Thank you to Simon Fowler who spotted this fab freebie mentioned in The Guardian

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Photo by Mara Page on Unsplash