From Pauncefoot to Patel and Piotrowski: Traditional surnames are becoming extinct because of immigration, research shows
Charlotte Philby is a writer at The Independent with a weekly column on motherhood in The Independent Magazine. She was shortlisted for the 2013 Cudlipp award for excellence in popular journalism for her undercover investigative work, and writes for various cultural magazines.
Sunday 18 November 2012
Patel and Piotrowski are now more common surnames in the UK than Pauncefoot, new research shows.
The Guild of One-Name Studies says there are now up to half a million surnames in use in Britain and Northern Ireland.
Half of these have been introduced over the past 100 years as a result of immigration, replacing more traditional ones like Pauncefoot, Foothead and Mackmain, which have all but died out.
Across the country there are currently 400 identified “high-frequency” surnames, shared by at least 10,000 people according to the group, which investigates the origin and heritage of family-names.
At the other end of the spectrum with fewer than 200 bearers in the UK are Ajax, dating back to Hugenot refugees (but now better known as a cleaning product) and Edevane, deriving from the Old English “the younger prosperous one”.
Those deriving from months of the year – October, February, April – are also thought to be in particular danger.
There is no comprehensive database of British surnames, so the group estimated numbers according to information gathered from the electoral role among various sources.
Family names are a convenient way of tracking our history.
Traditionally deriving from a place or feature of the local landscape; a person’s trade; nicknames pointing to personal characteristics; or the father’s first-name.
A great number of the earlier names died out with the Black Death, while others like Murder – once a popular Scottish name, believe it or not – because of negative associations.
Smith remains the most popular British surname, followed by Jones.
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