Curious English Surnames

[Library Ireland edit: N.B. that the title in the original uses “sirnames” rather than “surnames”[1]]

In any city or town, a rambler through the streets must be struck with the variety of surnames inscribed over shop doors, in an almost equal variety of letters, according to the tastes of the denizens within. But to spare the necessity of a ramble we will take up a common “Directory of London,” and therein, make a survey of the cognomens of some of the millions of inhabitants of that city.

First we are struck with the names denoting the colour; of which we find: Brown, Blue, Black, Blackstone, Green, Grey, Pink, and White. Here are others expressing comparisons of colour: Light, Darke, Darker. In some few instances the names of colour unites in interest: Brown and Green; Brown, White, and Brown.

Of the names of animals we find: Buck, Bull, Bullock, Cow, Deer, Fox, Hare, Hart, Hogg, Lion, Roebuck, Wolf, Chicken, Cock, Dove, Drake, Duck, Finch, Gander, Goldfinch, Goslin, Gull, Hawks, Jay, Lark, Peacock, Woodcock, Crab, Dolphin, Dorey, Gudgeon, Herring, Salmon, Seal, Whale, Wasp. By calling all these people together a tolerable menagerie might be established without having a wild beast in it.

Of names expressive of qualities of character, there are: Blunt, Cross, Greedy, Idle, Jolly, Manly, Nice, Noble, Patient, Pretty, Surley, Slow, Sharp, Sly, Smart, and Tame.

An odd class of names are: Fudge, Gabb, Gamon, Fretwell, and the like.

The anatomy of the human body very nearly finds expression in surnames: Beard, Body, Bone, Boniface, Cheek, Chinn, Foot, Hair, Head, and Whisker.

The shortest surnames are those composed of three letters: Old, Ott, Ogg, Ord, Orr, Day, Eve, Pim, Ray, Six, Try, and Ure.

Mr. Spring, Mr. Summer, and Mr. Winter are to be found, but Mr. Autumn does not appear.

A feast without food might be contrived by calling together: Freshwater, Bacon, Beer, Butter, Cakebread, Cream, Ham, Parsley, Pepper, Figg, and Orange. And especially if Messrs. Eatwell and Drinkwater were invited to attend.

The following group comes together in natural order: Church, Churchyard, Parson, Clerk, Grave, Sexton!

East, West, North, and South might “cross hands” in a quadrille with great propriety!

The following should always get on in the world: Mr. Silver, Mr. Gold.

In the long category of names both Angels and Devilles are to be found.

Of natural phenomena we find Snow, Rainbow, Rains, Dew, Fog, Frost, Gale, Flood, and Wind.

The transposed arrangement of the Christian and the surnames in the Directory causes the reading to appear very droll at times, thus:—Fry Joseph Storrs, and Son; Fry Henry, Fry George, Fry Charlotte! Again: Idle George, Idle James, and Idle Charles and Sarah! Then we have Jolly John, Jolly Joseph, and Jolly Sam. To crown all we have King John, cow-keeper; King Henry, umbrella maker; and King Mary-Anne, who keeps a lodging house.

Of the names of countries we find: England, Flanders, France, Holland, and Ireland.

Among the fair people we have Fairhead, Fairfoot, Fairbrother, Fairchild, and Fairburn.

Among the loving ones are: Love, Loveday, Lovegrove, Lovejoy, Lovelace, Loveland, Lovelock, Lovering, and Lovely.

Among the good folk are: Good, Toogood, Allgood, Goodall, Gooday, Goodbehere, Goodbody, Goodchild, Goodman, Goodair, Goodale, Goodfellow, Goodheart, Goodspeed, Goodway, Goodwill, Goodyear, and Faultless.

Sometimes it happens that the name and trade of an individual occur in peculiar association: Mr. Alehouse keeps the “King’s Head;” Mr. Bacchus, the “Rising Sun;” Mr. Brewer is a brewer; Mr. Liquorish keeps the “Ships;” Mr. Hopps is a wine merchant; Mr. Death is a butcher; Mr. Black, an undertaker; Mr. Wedlock, a locksmith; Mr. Field, a land-surveyor; Mr. Hemp, a sheriff’s officer, etc.

Among the very curious ones are: Mr. Inkpen, Mr. Fretwell, Mr. Eatwell, and Mr. Gotobed!


[1] Surnames: For further information on this subject the reader is referred to a very interesting work by C. L. Lordan, Romsey, England, entitled:

Of Certain English Surnames and their Occasional Odd Phases when seen in Groups. London: Houlston and Sons; and its author, Romsey.