Great British Family Names is an interesting book that looks at the history behind a selection of family surnames in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
I was excited to open this and find names that were familiar to me. However, this book only contains a selection of names; ones of interest to the author or those he thought that readers might know, so it wasn’t as interesting as I first hoped. I did, however, enjoy the introduction, and I learnt a few new details about the history of surnames. I also went on to use some of the web sources that were listed under the references. Here I was pleased to discover some background behind my own family names.
The book is laid out in regional sections: North East and North West England, East and West Midlands, the South East and South West, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Each chapter lists family names in alphabetical order containing three to four paragraphs per name. A little background of the name is given, for instance some names have origins in Old English, Saxon or Norman words or places. The author connects these with any spelling variations and then goes on to mention snippets of historical interest about famous people with that name.
Overall this might be ideal as a ‘coffee table book’, or as a gift for people who are interested in family research.
View all my reviews on Goodreads
For better or worse, what we are is often determined by our family; the events that occurred many years before we were born, and the choices that were made by our forebears are our inheritance – we are the inexorable product of family history. So it is with nations. The history of Great Britain has been largely defined by powerful and influential families, many of whose names have come down to us from Celtic, Danish, Saxon or Norman ancestors. Their family names fill the pages of our history books; they are indelibly written into the events which we learned about at school. Iconic family names like Wellington, Nelson, Shakespeare, Cromwell, Constable, De Montfort and Montgomery… there are innumerable others. They reflect the long chequered history of Britain, and demonstrate the assimilation of the many cultures and languages which have migrated to these islands over the centuries, and which have resulted in the emergence of our language.
This book is a snapshot of several hundred such family names and delves into their beginnings and derivations, making extensive use of old sources, including translations of The Domesday Book and The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, as well as tracing many through the centuries to the present day.