Anglicisation of names

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The anglicisation of personal names is the change of non-English-language personal names to spellings nearer English sounds, or substitution of equivalent or similar English personal names in the place of non-English personal names.

Anglicisation of personal names[edit]

Classical, medieval and Renaissance figures[edit]

A small number of figures, mainly very well-known classical and religious writers, appear under English names—or more typically under Latin names, in English texts. This practice became prevalent as early as in English-language translations of the New Testament, where translators typically renamed figures such as Yeshu and Simon bar-Jonah as Jesus and Peter, and treated most of the other figures in the New Testament similarly. (In contrast, translations of the Old Testament traditionally use the original names, more or less faithfully transliterated from the original Hebrew.) Transatlantic explorers such as Zuan Caboto and Cristoforo Colombo became popularly known as John Cabot and Christopher Columbus; English-speakers anglicized and Latinized the name of the Polish astronomer Mikołaj Kopernik to (Nicholas) Copernicus, and the English-speaking world typically knows the French-born theologian Jean Calvin as John Calvin. Such Anglicizations became less usual after the sixteenth century.

Non-English-language areas of the British Isles[edit]

Most Gaelic language surnames of Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man have been anglicised at some time. The Gaels were among the first Europeans to adopt surnames during the Dark Ages. Originally, most Gaelic surnames were composed of the given name of a child's father, preceded by Mac (son) or Nic (or , both being variants of nighean, meaning daughter) depending on the sex. These surnames would not be passed down another generation, and a woman would keep her birth surname after marriage. The same was originally true of Germanic surnames which followed the pattern [father's given name]+son/daughter (this is still the case in Iceland, as exemplified by the singer Björk Guðmundsdóttir and former Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson).

Over the centuries, under the influence of post-Medieval English practice, this type of surname has become static over generations, handed down the male lineage to all successive generations so that it is no longer indicates the given name of a holder's father any more than the suffix -son on a Germanic language surname does today. Among English-speaking peoples of Gaelic heritage, the use of Nic as a prefix for daughters has been replaced by Mac, regardless of sex (as per Geraldine McGowan, Alyth McCormack, and Sarah McLachlan). Wives also began to take on the surnames of their husbands.

Another common pattern of surname was similar to that preceded by Mac/Nic, but instead was preceded by Ó or Ui, signifying a grandchild or descendant. Not all Gaelic surnames signified relationship to a forebear, however. Some signified an ancestral people or homeland, such as MacDhubhghaill (son of a dark-haired foreigner; referring to one type of Scandinavian), MacFhionnghaill (son of a fair-haired foreigner; also referring to a Scandinavian people), MacLachlainn or MacLachlainneach (son of the Scandinavian). Others indicated the town or village of a family's origin, sometimes disguised as an ancestor's name as in Ó Creachmhaoil, which prefixes a toponym as though it was the name of a person. As with other culturo-linguistic groups, other types of surnames were often used as well, including trade-names such as MacGhobhainn, Mac a'Ghobhainn or Mac Gabhainn (son of the smith), and physical characteristics such as hair colour.

In Anglicising Gaelic names, the prefixes Mac, Nic, and Ó were frequently removed (the name MacPhearais, by example, was sometimes anglicised as Pierce or Piers, identically to the given name; Ó Leannáin and Ó Lionáin have both been anglicised as Lennon; Ó Ceallaigh and Ó Cadhla have been anglicised as Kelly). Where they were retained, Mac was often rendered Mc, M', or Mag- (the last is seen in renderings such as Maguire for Mac Uidhir) and Ó/Ui became O'. MacGhobhainn, Mac a'Ghobhainn and Mac Gabhainn (son of the smith) were anglicised as McGowan, Gowan, McGavin, and Gavin. In surnames which had been prefixed Mac, the final hard c sound remained when the Mac was removed. As Gaelic spelling rules required the first letter of a name preceded by Mac or Nic to be lenited (unless it was an l, n, or r) with the addition of an h after (silencing it, or changing its sound), and for the last vowel to be slender (i or e) if male, the Anglicised form of a Gaelic name could look quite different. By example, MacPhearais (Mac+Pearas=son of Pierce) has been anglicised as Corish, and MacInnis has been anglicised as Guinness.

Gaelic names were also sometimes anglicised by translating the prefix Mac into the suffix son, as per the Germanic practice. MacPhearais, consequently, has been anglicised as Pearson, and MacAoidh (Mac+Aodh) has been anglicised as Hewson (it is also anglicised as McHugh and Hughes). The Gaelic MacSheain or MacSheathain (son of Seán) has similarly been anglicised Johnson (it has also been less thoroughly anglicised as MacIain and MacIan).

The other main changes made in Anglicisation from Gaelic are the removal of silent letters, and respelling according to English phonetics (as Ó Creachmhaoil or Creachmhaoil became Crockwell, and MacDhubhghaill became Dougal). ( Ó Briain has often become O'Brien, Ó Rothláin became Rowland, Ó Néill became O'Neill and some surnames like Ó Súilleabháin may be shortened to just O'Sullivan or Sullivan. Similarly, native Scottish names were altered such as Somhairle to Sorley, Mac Gill-Eain to MacLean, and Mac Aoidh to Mackay. Many Welsh names have also been altered, such as 'ap Hywell' to Powell, or 'ap Siôn' to Jones.[1]

Immigration to English-speaking countries[edit]

Anglicisation of non-English-language names was common for immigrants, or even visitors, to English-speaking countries. An example is the German composer Johann Christian Bach, the "London Bach," who was known as "John Bach" after emigrating to England.[2]

During the time in which there were large influxes of immigrants from Europe to the United States and United Kingdom during the 19th and 20th centuries, the given names and surnames of many immigrants were changed. This became known colloquially as the "Ellis Island Special," after the U.S. immigrant processing center on Ellis Island; contrary to popular myth, no names were ever legally changed at Ellis Island, and immigrants almost always changed them at their own discretion.

Traditionally common Christian given names could be substituted: such as James for the etymologically connected Jacques. Alternatively phonetical similarities, such as Joe for Giò (Giovanni or Giorgio); or abbreviation, Harry for Harilaos.

The anglicisation of a personal name now usually depends on the preferences of the bearer. Name changes are less common today for Europeans emigrating to the United States than they are for people originating in, or descending from those who emigrated from, East Asian countries.

French surnames[edit]

French immigrants to the United States (both those of Huguenot and French-Canadian background) often accommodated those unfamiliar with French pronunciations and spellings by altering their surnames in either of two ways: spellings were changed to fit the traditional pronunciation (Pariseau became Parizo, Boucher became Bushey, Mailloux became Mayhew, Cartier became Carter, Carpentier became Carpenter), or pronunciations were changed to fit the spelling (Benoît, pronounced French pronunciation: ​[bənwa], became /bɛnˈɔɪt/). In some cases, it could go either way (Gagné, pronounced French pronunciation: ​[ɡaɲe], become /ˈɡæɡni/ or Gonyea), or something only slightly similar (Bourassa became Bersaw).

Some anglicized French-Canadian surnames:

  • Arpin – Harper
  • Baudin – Borden- Boardway
  • Beauparlant – Wellspeak
  • Berthiaume - Barcomb
  • Camaraire – Cameron
  • Choiniere - Sweeney
  • Charbonneau – Sherbonneau - Cole
  • Chenard – Snow
  • Cloutier – Clutchey – Clukey – Nailor
  • Demers - DeMarce
  • Deslauriers – Delorey
  • Desrosiers – DeRosia
  • Forget – Forgette - Forgitt
  • Fournier – Furnia - Fuller
  • Fugère – Fisher
  • Gadoury - Gadrow
  • Lacaillade - Lackyard
  • Lavallée – LaValley-LaVallie- Lovely
  • Leduc – LeDuc - LaDuke
  • Lépicier – LePicier – Lepscier - Lipsiea
  • Létourneau – Le Tourneau – Blackbird
  • Lévesque – LeVesque – Bishop
  • Limoges - LaMorge
  • Maillet - Myers
  • Meunier – Miller
  • Peltier – Pelkie – Pelkey
  • Pontbrillant – Pombrio – Pomroy
  • Robidoux - Rabideau
  • Rondeau - Rondo
  • Séguin - Saya
  • Ste-Marie – St. Mary
  • Therrien – Landers
  • Trottier – Trokey
  • Vézina - Viznor

Scandinavian surnames[edit]

Scandinavian surnames were often anglicized upon the immigrant's arrival into the United States.

  • Sjöberg : Seaborg
  • Johansen, Johnsen, Johansson : Johanson or Johnson
  • Carlsson, Karlsson : Carlson
  • Kjellberg : Chellberg
  • Hansen, Hansson : Hanson or Henson
  • Blomkvist, Blomqvist, Blomquist : Bloomquist
  • Pedersen, Petersen, Petersson, Pettersson : Peterson
  • Møller : Moller, Moeller or Miller
  • Jacobsen, Jakobsen, Jacobsson, Jakobsson : Jacobson or Jackson
  • Nørgård, Nørgaard, Nørregaard : Norgard
  • Andersen, Andersson : Anderson
  • Åsum, Aasum, Aasumb : Awsumb
  • Daugaard : Daugard
  • Nielsen, Nilsen, Nilsson : Nelson
  • Östergård, Østergaard : Ostergard
  • Eriksen, Ericsson, Eriksson : Ericson or Erickson
  • Hervik : Harwick
  • Olsen, Olesen, Olsson, Olesson : Olson
  • Skjeldrud : Sheldrew
  • Larsen, Larsson : Larson
  • Sørkjil : Surchel
  • Rikard : Rickard
  • Guðmundsson, Gudmundsen : Gudmundson
  • Sten : Stone

Greek given names[edit]

Some Greek names are anglicized using the etymologically related name: Agni: Agnes; Alexandros/Alexis: Alexander/Alex; Alexandra: Alexandra/Alex; Andreas: Andrew; Christophoros: Christopher; Evgenios/Evgenis: Eugene/Gene; Eleni: Helen; Ioannis/Yannis: John; Irini: Irene; Georgios/Yorgos: George; Markos: Mark; Michail/Michalis: Michael; Nikolaos: Nicholas; Pavlos: Paul; Petros: Peter; Stephanos: Stephen; Theodoros: Theodore/Ted; and so on.

Besides simple abbreviation or anglicization of spelling, there are some conventional English versions of or nicknames for Greek names which were formerly widely used and are still encountered:[3][4][5]

  • Anestis: Ernest
  • Aristotelis: Telly
  • Athanasios: Thomas, Tom, Athan, Nathan
  • Christos: Chris
  • Demosthenes: Dick
  • Dimitrios/Dimi: James, Jim, Jimmy, Demi
  • Dionysios: Dennis, Dean
  • Haralambos: Harry, Bob
  • Harilaos: Charles, Harry
  • Eleftherios/Lefteris: Terence, Terry
  • Ilias: Louie, Elias
  • Konstantinos/Kostas: Gus, Charles, Frank, Constantine
  • Leonidas: Leo
  • Panayiotis: Peter, Pete (cf. Petros)
  • Stavros: Steve, Sam (cf. Stephanos)
  • Vasilios: William, Bill; (etymologically correct but not preferred: Basil)

Slavic names[edit]

Having immigrated to Canada and United States in the late 19th – early 20th centuries many Ukrainians looked for English equivalents to their given names. In some cases, Canadian or American-born children received two names: the English one (for official purposes) and a Ukrainian one (for family or ethnic community use only).

  • Orysya : Erna
  • Yaroslav (Jaroslaw) : Gerald

Hundreds of Spiritual Christian Doukhobors who migrated from Russia to Canada from 1899 to 1930, changed their surnames. Genealogist Jonathan Kalmakoff posted comprehensive lists for

Many descendants of Spiritual Christians from Russia in California, whose parents immigrated to Los Angeles (1904 - 1912), hid their family surnames due to real and perceived ethnic discrimination during the Cold War.[9]

  • Androff, Veronin : Andrews
  • Butchinoff : Baker
  • Baklanov : Bakly
  • Bolderoff : Bolder
  • Pivovaroff : Brewer
  • Chernikoff : Cherney
  • Arinin, Orloff : Eagles
  • Carpoff : Karp
  • Chernabieff : Sharon
  • Chickenoff, Chickinoff : Chick
  • Corneyff : Corney
  • Domansky : Domane
  • Egnatoff : Egnatu
  • Elinov : Eleen
  • Fetesoff : Martin
  • Fettesoff, Fettisoff : Fettis
  • Galitzen : Riley
  • Goulokin : Golf
  • Gvozdiff : Niles
  • Hallivichoff, Golovachev : Hall
  • Kalpakoff : Kalp
  • Kashirsky : Kash
  • Kasimoff : Kazy
  • Kisseloff, Kesseloff : Kissell
  • Klubnikin : Klubnik
  • Konovaloff : Conway
  • Kotoff : Kott
  • Krasilnikoff : Krase
  • Kriakin : Emerald
  • Kuznetsoff : Cousins
  • Laschenco : Lashin
  • Ledieav : Liege
  • Mackshanoff : Maxwell
  • Melnikoff : Melnick
  • Moiseve : Mosser
  • Plujnkoff : Pluss
  • Popoff : Preston
  • Rudometkin : Remmy
  • Rudometkin : Ruddy
  • Semenisheff : Samoff
  • Slivkoff : Martin
  • Syapin : Seaking
  • Tikhunov : Saber
  • Tolmasoff : Thomas, Tolmas
  • Urane : Durain
  • Uren : Wren
  • Varonin : Johnson
  • Volkoff : Wolf

German surnames[edit]

Anglicization of family surnames occurred frequently among children of German citizens born in the anglosphere, notably to German immigrants in America. With the declaration of war on Germany by much of the English speaking world, many German families anglicized their names either voluntarily or by requirements of immigration policy due to the anti-German hysteria of the First and Second World Wars.

  • Albrecht: Albright
  • Bauer: Bower
  • Becker: Baker
  • Birkenfeld : Birchfield
  • Böing: Boeing
  • Braun: Brown
  • Busch, Bosch: Bush
  • Cotten: Cotton
  • Ebersohl: Ebersole
  • Eisele: Isley
  • Eisenhauer: Eisenhower, Isenhour
  • Fischer: Fisher
  • Förster: Forster, or Forester
  • Fuchs: Fox
  • Furth: Ford
  • Goldwasser: Goldwater
  • Grünberg: Greenberg
  • Gutmann: Goodman
  • Habbach, Habach: Hoppock
  • Herzfeld: Heartfield
  • Heß: Hess
  • Huber: Hoover
  • Jäger : Jaeger, Yeager
  • Jüngling: Yuengling
  • König: Koenig, or King
  • Krüger, Kruger: Krueger
  • Langenstein, Langstein: Longstone
  • Mansfeld: Mansfield
  • Meis, Miese, Maas: Mize
  • Melhausen: Milhous
  • Müller: Miller
  • Neumann: Newman
  • Neustädter: Newton
  • Nonnenmacher: Nunemaker
  • Rein: Ryan
  • Schmidt: Smith
  • Schneider: Taylor
  • Schröder: Schroeder, Shroeder, Shroder
  • Schweiz, Schweize, or Schweizer: Swayze
  • Schuhmacher, Schumacher: Shoemaker, Schumaker
  • Speiser : Spencer
  • Steinweg : Steinway
  • Tillmann: Tillman
  • Volprecht, Vollbrecht: Fulbright
  • Wald: Wood
  • Weber: Weaver
  • Weiss: White
  • Walsch: Walsh
  • Welsch: Welsh

Ashkenazi surnames[edit]

  • A(a)ronovi(t)ch, Aronowicz, Aharonovich, etc. : Aronson, or Aarons
  • Bernstein : Burns
  • Blumberg : Bloomberg
  • Davidovich : Davidson
  • Feuermann : Fireman
  • Feuerstein : Firestone
  • Gershowitz : Gershwin
  • Goldschmidt : Goldsmith
  • Goldstein : Goldstone
  • Grünfeld : Greenfield
  • Grünspan, Grynszpan, Grinshpan : Greenspan
  • Hirschfeld : Hirshfield
  • Horowitz, Horovitch : Howard
  • Kaplan : Copland
  • Levy, Levi : Lewis
  • Moritz : Morris
  • Paltrowicz, Paltrowitch, Paltrowitz, Palterovich, etc. : Paltrow
  • Silberstein : Silverstone
  • Sonnenstein: Sunstone
  • Trumpeldor: Trump
  • Weinstein : Weinstone
  • Yaroshevitz : Yarrow

Italian surnames[edit]

Italian surnames were often anglicised in the United States: for example, the i-ending of a number of Italian names becomes y, e, or ie.[10]

  • Amici : Ameche
  • Barbieri : Barber
  • Bevilacqua : Drinkwater
  • Bianco : White
  • Bonfiglio : Bonfield
  • Borgnino : Borgnine
  • Brucceleri : Brooklier
  • Canadeo : Kennedy
  • Castiglia : Costello
  • Cestaro : Chester
  • Cilibrizzi : Celebrezze
  • Cipulli : Cipully
  • Cucco, Cuoco : Cook
  • DeCesare : Chase
  • Mercante : Merchant
  • Perri : Perry
  • Piccolo : Little
  • Rossellini : Russell
  • Rossi : Ross
  • Sangiovanni : St. John
  • Saraceni : Sarazen
  • Scalice, Scalise : Scalise, Scalish
  • Scornavacca, Scornavacco : Scarnavack
  • Ta(g)liaferro : Tolliver, Toliver
  • Trafficante : Traficant
  • Valentino : Valentine
  • Vinciguerra : Winwar

Dutch surnames[edit]

When Dutch immigrants arrived in the United States, often their names got changed. This was either done on purpose, to make the name easier to write and remember, or by accident because the clerk didn't know how to spell the name and wrote it down phonetically.[11][12]

  • Aalderink : Aaldering, Aldering
  • Buiel : Boyle
  • Damkot : Damcott
  • de Jong : Dejong, DeYoung
  • Dijkstra : Dykstra
  • Filips : Philips
  • Gerritsen : Garrison
  • Glieuwen : Glewen
  • Goudswaard : Houseworth
  • Janszoon, Janssens : Johnson
  • Kempink : Camping
  • Konings : King
  • Kuiper : Cooper
  • Langstraat : Longstreet
  • Meester : Master
  • Nieuwenhuis, Nijenhuis : Newhouse
  • Piek : Pike
  • Pieterszoon, Pieters : Peterson, Peters
  • Smid : Smith
  • Van Cruijningen : Cunningham
  • Veenhuis : Feenhouse
  • Welhuis, Welhuizen : Wellhouse, Willhouse
  • Zutphen : Sutphin

Colonization by English-speaking countries[edit]

North America[edit]

Coastal Salish[edit]

Coastal Salish people were often given "Boston Names" by early European settlers. These English names often had similar sounds to original Lushootseed names.[13][14][15]

When Lushootseed names were integrated into English, they were often recorded and pronounced very differently. An example of this is Chief Seattle. The name Seattle is an Anglicisation of the modern Duwamish conventional spelling Si'ahl, equivalent to the modern Lushootseed spelling siʔaɫ IPA: [ˈsiʔaːɬ]. He is also known as Sealth, Seathle, Seathl, or See-ahth.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Frederick Wilgar Boal, J. Neville H. Douglas, Jenitha A. E. Orr Integration and division: geographical perspectives on the ... Northern Ireland 1982 - Page 42 "Substantial assimilation in the form of the anglicisation of personal names, language, religion, or the adoption of new agricultural practices, house forms, and other aspects of British material culture could only be anticipated in the lowland"
  2. ^ Eric Siblin The Cello Suites: J. S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a ... 2011 - Page 234 "Known as the "London Bach," he travelled to Italy, converted to Roman Catholicism, and enjoyed celebrity status in England, going by the name John Bach. Only fourteen years old when Bach died, Johann Christian apparently occupied a ..."
  3. ^ Mencken, all editions, passim
  4. ^ Greek Personal Names (revised and updated by Anastasia Parianou, 2007 ed.), Central Intelligence Agency, 1 June 1962[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ Greek Boston, "Greek Name Day Calendar"
  6. ^ Kalmakoff, Jonathan. "Changes of Name of Persons of Doukhobor Ancestry in Alberta, 1935-1975" (PDF). Doukhobor Genealogy Website. Retrieved 18 September 2019.
  7. ^ Kalmakoff, Jonathan. "Changes of Name of Persons of Doukhobor Ancestry in British Columbia, 1936-1975" (PDF). Doukhobor Genealogy Website. Retrieved 18 September 2019.
  8. ^ Kalmakoff, Jonathan. "Changes of Name of Persons of Doukhobor Ancestry in Saskatchewan, 1917-1975" (PDF). Doukhobor Genealogy Website. Retrieved 18 September 2019.
  9. ^ Conovaloff, Andrei. "Taxonomy of 3 Spiritual Christian groups: Molokane, Pryguny and Dukh-i-zhizniki — books, fellowship, holidays, prophets and songs". Spiritual Christians Around the World. Retrieved 19 September 2019.
  10. ^ Joseph G. Fucilla, Our Italian Surnames, Genealogical Publishing Com, 1949, p. 238. ISBN 0806311878
  11. ^ "English versions of Dutch last names", by Yvette Hoitink,, 15 may 2005.
  12. ^ "Making Sense Of Your Dutch Surname" Archived 2017-07-10 at the Wayback Machine,, 27 june 2010.
  13. ^ Comeford, T. F. (November 1908). Wilhelm, Honor L. (ed.). "Marysville, Washington". The Coast. Seattle: The Coast Publishing Company. XVI (5): 329–332. OCLC 81457448. Retrieved March 18, 2017 – via Google Books.
  14. ^ Hunt, Herbert; Kaylor, Floyd C. (1917). Washington, West of the Cascades: Historical and Descriptive. Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Company. p. 395. OCLC 10086413. Retrieved April 10, 2017 – via Internet Archive.
  15. ^ "Chief Seattle (Seattle, Chief Noah [born si?al, 178?-1866])". Retrieved 2018-10-06.


  • H. L. Mencken, The American Language, 2nd edition, 1921, Chapter X, part 2. full text
  • H. L. Mencken, The American Language, 4th edition, 1936, pp. 510–525.
  • H. L. Mencken, The American Language, Supplement Two, 1948, pp. 516–525.