Toponymic surname

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A toponymic surname is a surname derived from a place name.[1] This can include specific locations, such as the individual's place of origin, residence, or of lands that they held, or can be more generic, derived from topographic features.[2]

Toponymic surnames originated as non-hereditary personal by-names, and only subsequently came to be family names. The origins of toponymic by-names have been attributed to two non-mutually exclusive trends. One was to link the nobility to their places of origin and their feudal holdings and provide a marker of their status, while the other relates to the growth of the burgher class in the cities, partly via migration from the countryside. In London in the 13th century, toponymic surnames came to predominate. Also linked to this process was the increased popularity of the names of saints, leading to a reduction in the pool of given names used and the need or personal desire for by-names to distinguish increasing numbers of like-named individuals.[2]

Some forms frequently originally included an article, such as at, by, in, or of (de in French and Spanish), subsequently dropped, as in "de Guzmán" (of Guzman) becoming simply Guzmán. While the disappearance of the preposition has been linked to toponymic by-names becoming inherited family names, it actually predates this trend. In England, this can be seen as early as the 11th century, and although there is some regional variation, a significant shift away from preposition usage can be seen to have occurred during the 14th century.[3] In some cases, the preposition has coalesced into the name,[4] such as Atwood (at wood)[5] and Daubney (originating as de Albigni, from Saint-Martin-d'Aubigny)[6] Issues such as local pronunciation can cause toponymic surnames to take a form that varies significantly from the toponym that gave rise to them. Examples include Wyndham, derived from Wymondham, Anster from Anstruther, and Badgerly from Badgworthy.[7]

One must be cautious to interpret a surname as toponymic based on its spelling alone, without knowing its history. A notable example is the name of Jeanne d'Arc, which is not related to a place called Arc but instead is a distorted patronymic (see "Name of Joan of Arc"). Likewise, it has been suggested that a toponymic cannot be assumed to be a place of residence or origin: merchants might adopt a toponymic by-name to associate themselves with a place where they never actually resided.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Toponymic Surnames as Evidence of the Origin: Some Medieval Views", by Benjamin Z. Kedar
  2. ^ a b Iris Shagir, "The Medieval Evolution of By-naming: Notions from the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem", In Laudem Hierosolymitani (Shagir, Ellenblum & Riley-Smith, eds.), Ashgate Publishing, 2007, pp. 49-59.
  3. ^ P. H. Reaney, Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd ed., Routledge, 1991, p. xiv, xvi
  4. ^ P. H. Reaney, Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd ed., Routledge, 1991, p. xiv
  5. ^ John Henry Brady, A Critical and Analytical Dissertation on the Names of Persons, J. Nichols & Son, 1822, p. 4
  6. ^ J. W. Freeman, Discovering Surnames, 1920, p. 55
  7. ^ Earnest Weekley, Surnames, E. P. Dutton and Co., 1916

Further reading[edit]