A name such as “Robertson” won’t really do because there are scads of Robertsons (Smiths, Joneses, Millers) all over the world. I’m wondering if there are names that really haven’t traveled so much, but are abundant enough in Britain to be recognizable as a common British surname.
Sort of like “Nigel” is for first names–no reason an American or an Australian can’t have it for a first name, but they don’t, generally.
Something suggestive - to people in Britain - of a social or regional stereotype. So Bickersdyke or Fosdyke suggests Yorkshire, anything hyphenated (especially if spelt wildly differently from how it’s pronounced -Feathersonehaugh, ffoulkes, Cholmondeley) suggests upper-crust English. There’d be different results for Scotland and Wales (IIRC, in Wales, surnames supplanted patronymics relatively late, which is said to account for the relatively few surnames typically associated with Wales).
Higgins is just as common in Ireland as in England (and other vassal states) so perhaps not so much an English identity as you might think (And I do differentiate strongly between ‘English’ & ‘Irish’).
First Higgins that comes to mind is the current President of the Republic, Micheal D. Higgins, followed closely by the first leader of a fully independent Chilean state, a certain Bernardo O’Higgins …
Not sure why your english suggestion needs to be so niche-ly upper class, considering the vast majority of English people are anything but - I’ve certainly never met someone with such a fanciful name. Smith, Brown, Johnson or Taylor would be more appropriate, but fail the OPs (in my opinion unachievable) criteria.
I tried a google, and it seems the only Fotheringay-Smythes in the world are invented characters - so it has a touch of the Austin Powers about: sounds a bit English, but doesn’t reflect real English people!
Aside from the revelation that Fotheringay-Smythe is a fictional surname (I also had thought I recognized it from a real source…!), the fact is that most or all “common” English surnames are also going to be pretty common in the United States, Australia, etc., as well, due to large scale emigration to these places over the past several hundred years. Which will reflect a lot of Smiths and Coopers, but not so much the Smoot-Hawleys of the world.
(Yes, I know what the name-pair “Smoot-Hawley” really refers to, but come on, it totally sounds British, doesn’t it, at least to an American, in the exact same way as Fotheringay-Smythe, and that’s the point of this thread?)
I’m going to say that a surname of a famous Brit would sound “very British” to Americans, at least, like “Churchill”. I can’t say I’ve ever encountered a person surnamed Churchill in real life, so my only mental image would be of Sir Winston talking about fighting Nazis on the beaches with blood, sweat, and tears.
Good shout - although I guess it sounds typically British only by virtue of a famous Brit. There’s probably other examples we could think of - Shakespeare, anyone? Thackeray? Dickens? Darwin? Constable? Gainsborough?
Thackeray is a pretty good example. It sounds very British to me (not a name I have ever encountered), I can only think of the 19th Century English novelist; and yet it is common enough that there is a pretty good-sized list of “notable” Thackerays in Wikipedia, nearly all British, with two South Africans (plus an Anglicized version of an Indian name propagated by a famous founder):