Victorian Surnames in England and Wales

The idea of surnames, or last names, is not a common nor universal practice. Surnames supposedly evolved from a medieval naming practice known as “byname,” where a person’s occupation, residence, or nickname would be added to distinguish two people with the same Christian name. The fifty most common surnames in England and Wales for 1853 are listed in alphabetical order below. “More than half of the surnames are derived from the Christian or fore-name of the father,” and based on a total of 3,253,800 people, “nearly 18 in every 100 persons” was known by one of these fifty surnames.

Allen
Davis
Jackson
Morris
Thompson
Baker
Edwards
James
Parker
Turner
Bennett
Evans
Johnson
Phillips
Walker
Brown
Green
Jones
Price
Ward
Carter
Griffiths
King
Roberts
Watson
Clark
Hall
Lee
Robinson
White
Clarke
Harris
Lewis
Shaw
Williams
Cook
Harrison
Martin
Smith
Wilson
Cooper
Hill
Moore
Taylor
Wood
Davies
Hughes
Morgan
Thomas
Wright

 

In the next chart, the fifty surnames are further identified with the first column displaying the popularity rating between 1838 and 1853, and the second column showing the three most common surnames are Smith, Jones, and Williams, respectively. Apparently, on “average one person in every 28 would answer to one … of these three [sur]names.” The third column lists the number of persons using the surname in 1853, the fourth column shows the commonality of the surname based on the entire population, and the last column shows how the surname was derived with “more than half derived from the Christian or fore-name of the father.”

Popularity Rating 1838-1853
Surname
No. of Persons in 1853
1 of
Surname Derived From
1
Smith
253,600
73
Occupation
2
Jones
242,100
76
Christian/Forename
3
Williams
159,900
115
Christian/Forename
4
Taylor
124,400
148
Occupation
5
Davies
113,600
162
Christian/Forename
6
Brown
105,600
174
Peculiarities
7
Thomas
94,000
196
Christian/Forename
8
Evans
93,000
198
Christian/Forename
9
Roberts
78,400
235
Christian/Forename
10
Johnson
69,500
265
Christian/Forename
11
Robinson
66,700
276
Christian/Forename
12
Wilson
66,800
275
Christian/Forename
13
Wright
62,700
293
Occupation
14
Wood
61,200
301
Locality
15
Hall
60,400
305
Locality
16
Walker
59,300
310
Occupation
17
Hughes
59,000
312
Christian/Forename
18
Green
59,400
310
Locality
19
Lewis
58,000
318
Christian/Forename
20
Edwards
58,100
316
Christian/Forename
21
Thompson
60,6000
304
Christian/Forename
22
White
56,900
323
Peculiarities
23
Jackson
55,800
330
Christian/Forename
24
Turner
56,300
327
Occupation
25
Hill
52,200
352
Locality
26
Harris
51,900
355
Christian/Forename
27
Clark
50,700
363
Occupation
28
Cooper
48,400
380
Occupation
29
Harrison
47,200
390
Christian/Forename
30
Davis
43,700
421
Christian/Forename
31
Ward
45,700
402
Occupation
32
Baker
43,600
422
Occupation
33
Martin
43,900
420
Christian/Forename
34
Morris
43,400
424
Christian/Forename
35
James
43,100
427
Christian/Forename
36
Morgan
41,000
449
Christian/Forename
37
King
42,300
435
Other
38
Allen
40,500
454
Christian/Forename
39
Clarke
38,100
483
Occupation
40
Cook
38,100
483
Occupation
41
Moore
39,300
468
Locality
42
Parker
39,100
471
Occupation
43
Price
37,900
486
Christian/Forename
44
Phillips
37,900
486
Christian/Forename
45
Watson
34,800
529
Christian
46
Shaw
36,500
504
Locality
47
Lee
35,200
523
Locality
48
Bennett
35,800
514
Christian
49
Carter
33,400
551
Occupation
50
Griffiths
34,800
529
Christian

 

One English author argued against surnames altogether. He noted:

“The head of a family seems to be the only person properly signified by them … [as] they serve as a sort of artificial memory by which, when we only hear … [the surname], we immediately recollect who was his great-grandfather.”

The author claimed that might be all well and good if the man was an upstanding person, but if a man retained the name of his family and the ancestor was “deemed a dishonorable man,” all the following ancestors would never forget the disgrace. Or if a child was born out of wedlock, he argued:

“Supposing a child to be born in such a manner that there might be some doubt of the identity of its father, and the mother to have been plainly no intent that he should have come into the world at all, what could be prettier name for the little poppet than Chancy? But this would become very improper and injurious, when continued to a man whom we well know to have been born in wedlock, and begotten according to law. Instances of these and the like absurdities … are innumerable, all of them arising from the custom of continuing [sur]names from father to son.”

References:

  • Brady, John Henry, A Critical and Analytical Dissertation on the Names of Persons, 1822
  • Lower, Mark Antony, Patronymica Britannica, 1860

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