English name

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For English names in biology, see Common name

English names are names used in, or originating in, England. In England as elsewhere in the English-speaking world, a complete name usually consists of a given name, commonly referred to as a first name or Christian name, and a (most commonly patrilineal) family name or surname, also referred to as a last name. There can be several given names, some of these being often referred to as a second name, or middle name(s).[1]

Given names[edit]

Most given names used in England do not have English etymology. Most traditional names are Latin or Romance, Christian or Biblical names/Hebrew (Daniel, David, John, Michael), Greek (Nicholas, Peter, Paul) or Germanic names adopted via the transmission of Old French/Norman, such as Robert, Richard, Henry or William. There remains a limited set of given names which have an actual English etymology (see Anglo-Saxon names); examples include Alfred, Edgar, Edmund, Edwin, Harold and Oswald. A distinctive feature of Anglophone names is the surnames of important families used as given names, originally to indicate political support or patronage. Many examples have now become normal names chosen because parents like them, and any political sense lost. Most are male names like Cecil, Gerald, Howard, Percy, Montague, Stanley or Gordon, though some have female versions like Cecilia or Geraldine. Other languages have few equivalents, although the saint's surname Xavier is often used by Roman Catholics.

During most of the 19th century, the most popular given names were Mary and either John or William for girls and boys, respectively. Throughout the Early Modern period, the variation of given names was comparatively small; the three most frequent male given names accounted for close to 50% of male population throughout this period. For example, of the boys born in London in the year 1510, 24.4% were named John, 13.3% were named Thomas and 11.7% were named William.[2] A trend towards more diversity in given names began in the mid-19th century, and by 1900, 22.9% of the newborn boys, and 16.2% of the newborn girls in the UK shared the top three given names. The trend continued during the 20th century, and by 1994, these figures had fallen to 11% and 8.6%, respectively. This trend is a result of a combination of greater individualism in the choice of names, and the increasing ethnic heterogeneity of UK population, which led to a wider range of frequent given names from non-European traditions.


English surnames appeared in about the 11th century. The introduction of parish registers in 1538 contributed significantly to the stabilization of the surname system, but it was not until the late 17th century that fixed surnames were introduced throughout England.

According to the Office for National Statistics.[citation needed], the top ten most frequent surnames in England during the 1990s were:

  1. Smith
  2. Jones
  3. Williams
  4. Taylor
  5. Brown
  6. Davies
  7. Evans
  8. Wilson
  9. Thomas
  10. Johnson

Compound surnames[edit]

Double-barrelled names may be formed for a variety of reasons, including combining of spouses' surnames upon marriage or, more commonly in the past, adding another family's surname as a condition of inheritance.[3]

Compound surnames in English feature two words, often joined by a hyphen or hyphens, for example Henry Hepburne-Scott, with some families having as many as three or four words making up their surname, such as Charles Hepburn-Stuart-Forbes-Trefusis, 21st Baron Clinton and Alexander Charles Robert Vane-Tempest-Stewart, 9th Marquess of Londonderry. However, it is not unusual for compound surnames to be composed of separate words not linked by a hyphen, for example Iain Duncan Smith, a former leader of the Conservative Party, whose surname is "Duncan Smith".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "English Names". 
  2. ^ Douglas A. Galbi. Long-Term Trends in Personal Given Name Frequencies in the UK, 2002 [1]
  3. ^ Denison, David; Hogg, Richard (2008). A History of the English Language. Cambridge University Press. p. 334. 

External links[edit]