A Non-Possessive Last Name.

English surnames are pretty easy to figure out.

Ford is a shallow crossing in the stream. Atwater means “at-the-water”. And so forth.

Possessive are pretty easy to figure out too. Johnson means “John’s son”. Peters means “of Peter”.

And then there are single word last names, with no possessive or “son” which I have never been able to figure out.

A person might be named John James for example. Or Peter Robert.

What does a proper last name mean without the possessive or son?


The same thing as the ones with the -son.


Anglo family names are basically of four types—

Patronymics — Johnson, Jones, John, Johnkin, etc.

Occupational — Fuller, Fletcher, Webster, Chandler, Baxter, etc.

Place names — Hill, Rivers, etc.

Personal characteristics — Black. Long, etc.

It gets complicated but as Chronos pointed out most are still patronymic.

Patronal -man or kil- and trade membership seem to be the most common non-patronymic sources for England. Note also that when patronymic Welsh surnames were anglicized they were typically given an “-S” suffix but some like “John” often did not.

It was also not uncommon for names to gain an affix at a later date.

I se my family tree had a name as the surname, let’s say “Robert”. Then somewhere toward the mid 1700’s it went from “Robert” to “Roberts”. Not sure why.

There was little standardization for a long time. People weren’t so hung up on the “proper” spelling or pronunciation of my name, so things were fluid and changed a lot.

My ancestor acquired the chief estate in the small hamlet of “Iron Shrubbery on a Sandy Hill” back in 1670 or so. So he and his male descendants were hence known as “First Name” “Of the court of Iron Shrubbery on a Sandy Hill”. That eventually got shortened to Mercotan in the local language, of course. One must be pretty accomplished to get awarded that honorific The, however.

[sub]I’m not the most famous Mercotan, actually. That honor goes to Uncle Roger. He was in a rather famous movie. They translated and shrank our surname into english in that picture. Perhaps you’ve seen it . . .[/sub]

[sub]and I’m actually mostly serious in this post; that was the hamlet’s name in the local language and my ancestor did buy the farm there. [/sub]

The reason is probably lost to time, but could have just been some guy in a church who hadn’t liked the s on the end was replaced by someone who did.

While it won’t solve that mystery, do you know if it has Norman or Huguenot origins?

I once read through a book on surnames from, I think, the 1300s through the 1400s. My favorite locative surnames were In The Ditch (explained as indicating that their farm was on low-lying land) and a surname that would be spelled At Chiltern, today. At the time it was spelled Ate Children.

Jones is Welsh, not Anglo, but has been established in England for centuries.

It is an Anglo name that became popular in Wales as an Anglicized form of what otherwise might have been Mabioan or Upjohn or some other Welsh form.

Other surnames which are patronymics include ‘Wilkins’ – son of William or Wilkin – and ‘Price’ – son of Rhys (from Welsh ‘ap Rhys’.)

Surnames derived from locations should be divided into two groups depending on whether the location is a common noun (surnames like ‘Atwood’ or ‘Banker’) or a proper noun (surnames like ‘Compton’ or ‘Ashburn’). Some surnames could come from either a common- or proper-named location.

Many surnames have different possible origins. (The cases might have been spelled differently once, but spellings often merge.) Different lineages of the surname ‘Grey’ might come from a nickname (e.g. hair color) or a place-name (the town Graye in Normandy) … or even be a shortened form of the patronymic ‘McGraw.’

Agreed. Jones isn’t a Welsh name, but you do get a lot of Welsh people called Jones.

Also the Combined Patronymic-occupational
Smithson -The Smith’s Son.

Clarkson - The Clerk’s Son.

Says who??? :dubious:

The book. Sorry I can’t remember the book’s name as it was nearly twenty years ago that I read through it. It was in the UC Davis main library, if that helps.

Atte was also a common spelling of at. I’ve seen that many places. The Chiltern/Children spelling I only saw that one place.

Google Books finds several hits on “atte Children”, mostly from Kent, e.g. https://books.google.co.th/books?id=_2lnAAAAMAAJ&q=“Atte+Children”&dq=“Atte+Children”&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj5p6iP4ejdAhUBfysKHWnfAGYQ6AEITTAH

I don’t know about “ate Children” — any hits are drowned out by books about people(?) who actually … ate children! :eek:

I’m not sure how rigorousthis website is, but it includes a cite for “ate” used instead of “atte” for another surname. Same database, another surname. Different database and name.

This does not prove that “Ate Children” was a surname but, together with the cite from septimus, it suggests a strong possibility. It fits with the usage of the time.

Are you basically asking why the surnames John, Peter, etc exist, not just Johnson, Peterson, Johns and Peters?

My theory is it’s to do with the s-less and son-less names coming from traditions that used Mac, Ap or O (especially Ap) and then at some point, probably after the Johnsons and Peters were already established, dropped the ap, o or mc and kept the name part. If you go on to this site, http://named.publicprofiler.org/ and check for the common regions for surnames in the UK, I might be right. John is much more common as a surname in South Wales than anywhere else in the UK and Peter centres on a specific region in Scotland.

There are a few others like Benjamin or Isaac that presumably come from a Jewish ancestor somewhere - I don’t know anything about Jewish historical surname traditions in the UK.

Obviously this is not England, but the UK.

Names and spellings get changed for many reasons over time. Some surnames get changed because somebody a few generations ago got angry at his parents. One of my nephews has shortened his to No. I know a couple families that didn’t know the original spelling until recently. One retrieved the final “s” ; the other found out they had once been “-zinger,” but kept the “-singer.”