Other Surnames

Robert E. Matheson
Chapter III | Start of chapter

6. Other Surnames.—There are many surnames not falling in any of the above classes, such as those from:—

Parts of the Body (Celtic Names)—Kinnavy (cnamh—Irish—a bone); McCosh (cos—Irish—a foot); McClave (lamh—Irish—the hand); (English Names)—Beard, Foote, Head, Legge.

Names of the Seasons, as Spring, Summers, Winter.

Points of the Compass, as North, South, East, West.

Natural Objects, as Field, Flood, Hill, Snow.

Other Sources, as Church, Ferry, Hood, Hunt, Kirk.

It may be interesting to quote here the remarks of the Registrar-General for England and Wales regarding the derivation of Family Names found in those countries.

Major Graham remarked in his 16th Annual Report, already referred to:—

“The most striking circumstance presented by the Indexes is the extraordinary number and variety of the surnames of the English people. Derived from almost every imaginable object, from the names of places, from trades and employments, from personal peculiarities, from the Christian name of the father, from objects in the Animal and Vegetable kingdoms, from things animate and inanimate; their varied character is as remarkable as their singularity is often striking. Some of the terms which swell the list are so odd, and even ridiculous, that it is difficult to assign any satisfactory reason for their assumption in the first instance as family names, unless indeed, as has been conjectured, they were nicknames or sobriquets, which neither the first bearers nor their posterity could avoid.”

Referring to Welsh surnames he stated:—

“In Wales, however, the surnames, if surnames they can be called, do not present the same variety, most of them having been formed in a simple manner from the Christian or fore-name of the father in the Genitive case, son being understood. Thus, Evan’s son became Evans, John’s son Jones, &c. Others were derived from the father’s name coalesced with a form of the word ap or hab (son of), by which Hugh ap Howell became Powell, Evan ap Hugh became Pugh, and in like manner were formed nearly all the Welsh surnames beginning with the letters B and P. Hereditary surnames were not in use even amongst the gentry of Wales until the time of Henry VIII., nor were they generally established until a much later period; indeed, at the present day they can scarcely be said to be adopted amongst the lower classes in the wilder districts, where, as the marriage registers show, the Christian name of the father still frequently becomes the patronymic of the son in the manner just described.”

With respect to Cornish names the Report states:—

“From the circumstance of their common British origin it might be supposed that the Welsh people and the inhabitants of Cornwall would exhibit some analogous principles in the construction of their surnames; such, however, is not the case. The Cornish surnames are mostly local, derived from words of British root, and they are often strikingly peculiar. A large number have the prefix Tre, a town; the words Pol, a pool, Pen, a head, Ros, a heath, and Lan, a church, are also of frequent occurrence in surnames.”

With regard to the derivation of names in Scotland, the Registrar-General for that country in his 6th Report, remarks:—

“Almost all the names of our Border and Highland Clans belong to the first class” [Surnames derived from Patronymics], “and they are peculiarly Scottish, neither belonging to England nor to Ireland. These Surnames include all those beginning with Mac, as Macgregor, Mactaggart, etc., besides those simple ones, as Fraser, Douglas. Cameron, Kerr, Grant, &c.” …

“The Surnames derived from rank and occupation are very numerous, but are equally common to England as to Scotland.” …

“Surnames taken from the locality in which the persons originally resided form a very numerous class, and they also are, to a great extent, peculiar to Scotland, seeing that there is scarcely a county, parish, town, river, or remarkable locality but has its name perpetuated in the Surnames.” …

“The sobriquets perpetuated as Surnames are, perhaps, the most varied of all, and embrace every personal or mental quality supposed to reside in the different individuals to whom they were originally given.”

The personal Names in the Isle of Man are of considerable interest in connection with Irish Surnames, as that Island has passed through phases of occupancy somewhat similar to those of this country. Its history may be divided into three periods: the first, when it was inhabited by Celts similar in race and language to the Irish; the second, the period of Scandinavian domination; and the third, the time during which it has been under English dominion. The names in the Island represent each of these periods. As in Ireland, the largest number of names are derived from words of Celtic origin; some are from Scandinavian roots, and there are now a large number of names traceable to English sources.

On visiting the Island, I was much struck by the peculiar forms many names had assumed there differing from those found in Ireland, though evidently derived from the same source. Thus, the name “Clucas” is the Manx form of Lucas, both names being derived from the Celtic MacLucais—son of Luke. “Cannell,” a name peculiar to the Isle of Man, is derived from the Celtic MacConaill—son of Conall. The Irish modern form is M‘Connell.

Kermode,” another Manx name, is contracted from the Celtic name MacDiarmaid, son of Diarmaid—Irish modern form M‘Dermott. “Mylchreest” is derived from the Celtic MacGiolla Chriosd—the son of the servant of Christ. The modern Irish form is Gilchrist. Many other instances could be adduced.