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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits  

So who, really, is David Cameron, our re-elected ‘one nation’ Prime Minister?

Andrew Grice
Time travel: Thomas Cook has been trading since 1841  

A horror show from Thomas Cook that tells you all you need to know about ethical consumerism

Janet Street-Porter
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?