The traditional British surname is dying out? Good

A Sunday newspaper laments the passing of "traditional" names like Foothead and Pauncefoot. As a Lezard, I'm attuned to this kind of subtle racism

Share

So according to the Guild of One-Name Studies, an organisation devoted to the study of family names, “traditional English surnames” such as Mackmain, Bythewood, Foothead and Pauncefoot, are dying out. This news, delivered in a book by Mrs Debbie Kennett of that Guild, has been reported in a Sunday newspaper. “They are names that have been passed down through generations of Britons,” was how the article in the Sunday Telegraph glossed this. What on earth, I wonder, could they possibly be driving at?

I am attuned to this kind of subtle racism to a perhaps higher degree than many, bearing a surname which is neither common in nor native to these islands. It is not a Smith of a name. Any Lezards out there –  and I’m related to them.

Where it comes from is a matter none of us can agree on. We entertain our own crackpot theories  – my favourite, because most exotic, and therefore least likely, is that there is a Basque root somewhere. It is, though, much more likely that there is something Jewish going on, and that my French forbears were obliged to take names from the natural world in a kind of nominative equivalent of the yellow star.

It could have been worse – I mean, we’re still here – and while my contemporaries at school when I was growing up had the swift intelligence to remark that my surname had a passing similarity to the word “lizard”, the French word “lézarder” means “to bask”, and I like basking, so I wouldn’t now have it any other way.

In a recent spat with the right-wing writer Mr Peter Hitchens, I noticed he made sport with my name in the same way my young peers once did, which made me realise, helpfully, that we were not exactly engaged in an equal battle of wits.

But alas for those with “traditional” surnames who think they can trump people in argument or virtue if they have non-English surnames, the Pauncefoots et al are dwindling. I don’t think this is a problem.

Doubtless the Guild of One-Name Studies is motivated by historical curiosity and not snobbery but its findings are certainly not a matter for lamentation. If the Footheads have died out it is not because of a deliberate policy to wipe them from the face of the earth.

I am also pleased to report that my own children do not suffer from the idiotic name-calling I did: there are now all kinds of exotic names in our schools, the state ones at least, and hurrah for that. So by all means research our surnames, and track their disappearance, but let’s not get too hung up on “tradition”. And let us also remember that there is not much in a name, and that a rose by any other one would smell as sweet.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Emily Thornberry  

Left-leaning patriots unite! Let's get straight about Ukip

Katy Guest
Gary Catona has worked with a number of high profile singers including Stevie Wonder, pictured  

High pitch: In search of the next Whitney

Simmy Richman
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin