What’s in a Name?Category: Land + People
The way in which British surnames have developed is very complicated.
Before the Normans arrived, the use of surnames wasn’t really known. Many English surnames were originally connected with a person’s job— Charles Baker, Margaret Thatcher; someone’s size — Jack Long, Mary Little; or a family relationship — Robin Williamson (Robin, son of William), Peter Richardson. The most common Welsh surnames were all originally Christian names in some form: Dylan Thomas, Roger Davies (a form of David), Geoffrey Jones (from John), David Williams, etc. Many other names come from the tradition of calling a child ‘son of’ his father using the Welsh word ap (or ab). This ‘p’ can be found at the beginning of many common Welsh names, such as Gary Pritchard, which is the same as the English Richardson. Other examples are Prees, Price, Parry, and Pugh.
Welshmen living in England are often called by the nickname ‘Taffy’. This may come from the River Taff, which runs through the capital Cardiff, or may come from Dafydd, the Welsh form of David.
Years ago, all Irish people spoke Gaelic, and this language is still spoken in some parts of Ireland, although today all Irish people speak English also. Evidence of Gaelic is still found in place-names, for example ‘bally’ —town, ‘slieve’ — mountain, ‘lough’— lake, ‘inis’ —island, ‘drum’—mountain top, ‘glen’—valley.
The influence of Irish Gaelic is also found in the names of people. Here are some typical Gaelic first names:
Sean — same as John;
Seamus — same as James;
Liam — same as William;
Seanna — same as Joanna.
Paddy (short for Patrick) and Micky (short for Michael) are not Gaelic names but they are found so often in Ireland that these two names are sometimes used jokingly to mean ‘an Irishman’. Many Irish surnames begin with:
O’… meaning ‘from the family of’;
Fitz… meaning ‘son of’;
Mac… meaning ‘son of’;
Kil… meaning ‘son of’;
Gil… meaning ‘son of’.
Here are some examples: