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What's In a Name? Your Link to the Past
By Paul Blake
1.Before surnames
2.Local names
3.Occupations
4.Nicknames
5.Baptismal names
6.Find out more

Baptismal names

Many baptismal or Christian names have become surnames without any change. A son may have acquired his surname by adding -s or -son to his father's name. The first method was favoured in the south of England and in the western border counties (where the practice was later copied by the Welsh), while the second was preferred in the northern half of England and lowland Scotland, and was a late development. Occasionally, -son was added to a mother's names, as in Mallinson and Tillotson - both from Matilda.

The small pool of personal names meant that pet forms and shortened versions were commonly used, and that many of these nicknames became surnames. Some were rhyming forms, such as Dobson, Hobson and Robson (based on the pet form of Robert). Others were pet forms with -kin, -cock or -ot added.

The son of William might therefore end up with the surname Williams or Williamson, but other possibilities include Will, Willett, Wills, Willis, Willimott, Wilkins, Wilkinson, Wilcox or Wilcockson. Other baptismal or personal names may have been extended to become a form of nickname, for example Littlejohn, Micklejohn (largest/eldest-John), Prettejohn (handsome John), Applejohn (orchard John) and Brownjohn.

In Wales the 'patronymic' system of taking the father's forename as the child's surname, therefore a change at each generation, continued in some communities until the 17th century. Evan Griffith could be the son of Griffith Rhys, who was himself the son of Rhys Howell - this being written as Evan ap Griffith ap Rhys ap Howell. 'Ap' meaning 'son of,' just as with Up-, O'-, Fitz-, Witz- and Sky-.

Over time, names such as Ap Rhys, Ap Howell and Ap Richard could become liaised to become Preece or Price, Powell and Pritchard.


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