Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.


What's in a surname? Ask the doctor

I am glad to welcome back Dr Vernon Monicker, the well-known expert on the origin of surnames, who is going to answer all your questions on nomenclature. All yours, Vern!

I recently saw the classic film "The Lost Weekend" on television, which as you will remember is the film made by Billy Wilder about an alcoholic writer and his suffering, and it got me to thinking seriously about things ...

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: I am not really qualified to talk about medical matters such as alcohol addiction. Although I call myself doctor, I am no more a real doctor than other people who call themselves doctor such as Mawhinney and Paisley...

No, I wasn't going to talk about the alcoholism side of things. I was just mystified by the name of the lead actor, Ray Milland. Have you any idea where it comes from?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: I believe it is short for Raymond.

I was thinking of the surname Milland. Would it be a corruption of the Italian place name Milan?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: Unlikely, considering that the Italian place name is Milano and there is no "d" on the end.

Yes, wise guy, but there is in German. The German word for Milan is "Mailand", which may have given the surname "Milland".

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: Unlikely, Mr Show-off. Far more likely that Milland is a shortened form of "Mill hand". Don't forget that many surnames refer to the occupation of the ancestor. It is sometimes said that any football team or government cabinet will contain the names of at least two occupations in it.

Said by whom?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: By me, actually.

Go on then, give me the names of two occupations in the English football team!

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: Alan Shearer.

Go on!

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: David Seaman.

Oh, very clever. Any more?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: Certainly. Des Walker. Matt Le Tissier...

They're not occupations!

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: Certainly they are. Walker was the name given to the man who trampled the cloth in cloth-making, and "tissier" is an old Jersey French dialect word for "weaver". Extraordinary, really, that three people who have recently been in the England football team should have names connected with the cloth trade.

Make it easier to change the team strip!

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: No doubt.

All right, what about government cabinets? Anyone with an occupational handle in the cabinet?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: Clarke. Gummer. Major... Of course, it used to be more striking when both main party leaders had occupational names. Smith and Thatcher. But even today there is another party leader with an occupational name.

Oh yeah? What kind of work does an ashdown do, then?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: I was thinking of a man called Goldsmith, actually. Who has recently been joined by a man called Gardiner. All names of jobs...

To change the subject a bit, I noticed that James Dellingpole in "The Spectator" recently said that as his name began with a "De-", it was probably Norman in origin. Any truth in that?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: If there was a place in Normandy called Lingpole, it might be true. Some old Norman names do begin with "De-", like Delaware, but I think you would be hard pushed to find Norman origins for Delfont, Denmark and Dexter.

Marmaduke Hussey has an old Norman name, by the way, which comes from the Norman place La Houssaye. And there is a place in Normandy called Venables, so I expect that Terry Venables's forebears came across with the Conqueror, probably on a free transfer.

Is the name Norman St John Stevas a genuine Norman name?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: The name is authentic enough, but I believe that the man himself is completely made up.

Dr Vernon Monicker will be back soon, so keep those queries rolling in!