All About English Surnames

January 3, 2020  - by 
family on a picnic

Names are an integral part of personal and family identities. They can also illuminate your cultural heritage or your ancestors’ lives. If you have English heritage, it is likely that you have some English surnames in your family tree.

Old English names were widely inspired by a multitude of cultural influences. They commonly include Viking, Nordic, Scandinavian, German, and French roots. English names also take inspiration from religion, familial lines, nature, occupations, physical characteristics, and so on. 

Search your family tree to see if you can find English family names or old English surnames in your tree. 

English First Names

Whether you’re trying to find baby name ideas or you want to learn about English names in your family, this is a great place to look. Get an idea of name meanings and origins for English boy names and English girl names.

25 Common English Surnames, Their Origins, and Their Meanings

The following is a list of some of the most common surnames in England today, or read about English names for boys or English names for girls. Learn a little about the origins of the names and their meanings, which possibly can tell you about your ancestors’ lives if these names are in your family tree.

a man working at a smith, much like the origin of the surname smith

Smith (smith)

  • Origin: English
  • Meaning: Blacksmith or metal worker

In Old English, smitan means “to strike.” Smith is an occupational name, meaning your ancestors were probably blacksmiths, who were valuable members of society and who contributed weapons and tools.

Jones (jōnz)

  • Origin: Welsh
  • Meaning: God is gracious

The meaning comes from the name John, which evolved from the Hebrew word Yochanan.

Williams (wil-yəmz)

  • Origin: English
  • Meaning: Son of William

Originally from the Germanic Willahelm, William means “desire helmet or protection” or “brave protector.” You can be proud of your possible warrior lineage.

Brown (brau̇n)

  • Origin: English
  • Meaning: The color brown

Brown was often a name given to someone with brown hair or skin.

a tailor, much like the origin of the surname Taylor

Taylor (tā-lər)

  • Origin: English
  • Meaning: A clothing tailor

Your ancestors were likely tailors. Did you inherit the skills?

Davies (dā-vēz)

  • Origin: English, Welsh, or Scottish
  • Meaning: Son of David

David is a biblical Hebrew name meaning “beloved” or “uncle.”

Evans (e-vənz)

  • Origin: Welsh
  • Meaning: Son of Evan

Evan is the Welsh version of John, coming from the Hebrew word Yochanan, which means “God is gracious.”

Thomas (tä-məs)

  • Origin: Greek or Aramaic 
  • Meaning: Twin

While it is possible that your ancestors were twins, Thomas was more likely passed down as a given name made popular by Saint Thomas Becket or others.

Johnson (jän-sən)

  • Origin: English
  • Meaning: Son of John

This is the third name on this list derived from John, meaning “God is gracious.” It was clearly a popular choice.

Roberts (rä-bərts)

  • Origin: English
  • Meaning: Bright fame

Robert is an English name from the Germanic roots hrod, meaning “fame,” and beraht, meaning “bright.” Perhaps one of your ancestors was famous?

Lee (lē)

  • Origin: English
  • Meaning: Field or meadow

Your ancestors probably lived near an Old English lea, or meadow—sounds picturesque.

a group of walkers.

Walker (wȯ-kər)

  • Origin: English
  • Meaning: Someone who walks on raw, wet wool to clean and thicken it

This outdated occupation could also be called a fuller.

Wright (rīt)

  • Origin: English
  • Meaning: Carpenter, craftsman, or wagon maker

Don’t you love these occupational names? Can you picture your ancestors at work?

Robinson (rä-bən-sən)

  • Origin: English
  • Meaning: Son of Robin

Robin, similar to Robertearlier on this list, means “bright fame,” but it could also refer to the red-breasted bird.

st Thomas

Thompson (täm-sən)

  • Origin: English or Scottish
  • Meaning: Son of Thomas

Thomas means “twin,” but the name may not indicate that your ancestors were twins; it was a popular name.

White (wīt)

  • Origin: English
  • Meaning: The color white

White was a name often given to someone with white hair or a fair complexion.

Hughes (hyüz)

  • Origin: German, Welsh, Irish, French
  • Meaning: Bright heart, mind, and spirit

Seems similar to hue, right? It’s actually from the Germanic word hug.

Edwards (ed-wərdz)

  • Origin: English
  • Meaning: Son of Edward

Edward, meaning “wealthy guardian,” was the name of several Anglo-Saxon kings. It was a fitting name for a king, right?

Green (grēn)

  • Origin: English or Irish
  • Meaning: The color green or someone who lives near the village green

“Village green” doesn’t actually refer to a village name but rather to the common area in a village.

Lewis (lü-əs)

woman chopping wood
  • Origin: English, French, or German
  • Meaning: Famous warrior

Lewis is close cousins with the French name Louis and the German name Ludwig.

Wood (wu̇d)

  • Origin: English or Scottish
  • Meaning: Someone who lived or worked in a forest

Wood is another picturesque name that hints at your ancestors’ homes.

Harris (her-əs)

  • Origin: English
  • Meaning: Son of Harry

No, your ancestors weren’t named for being hairy. Rather, Harry means “army or estate ruler.”

Martin (mär-tᵊn)

  • Origin: Latin or Roman
  • Meaning: Servant of Mars, the Roman god of war

Martin was made popular by Saint Martin of Tours, who legendarily ripped his cloak in half in the middle of winter to share with a cold beggar.

Jackson (jak-sən)

  • Origin: English or Scottish
  • Meaning: Son of Jack

Jack is yet another name (fourth on this list) derived from John, a name with Hebrew roots meaning “God is gracious.”

Clarke (klärk)

  • Origin: English
  • Meaning: Clerk, cleric, or scribe

Clerk in Old English was clerec, originally meaning “priest.” 

English Surnames in Your Family Tree

Do you have any of these common English names in your family tree? Use to see if you can find any! 

Did you find any of the names in your tree? Did we miss any of your family names? Or perhaps your favorite names? Let us know in the comments below.

Here are a few more resources to find English surnames that may be in your family tree:

Your English Heritage

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  1. What about the name Till ? I can never find any information on that name which was my maiden name. Thank you. Nancy

  2. One of my family surnames is MARWOOD. My branch started out in Chard (Somerset, England) and eventually ended up in Leicester, England. How did this name come about?

  3. Thank you for a great article. I have a great difficulty with my Surname (Charles) and its origin. I traced my ancestor who is listed as being born 1795 in Swansea Wales. He then appears to have moved to what is now Telford, Uk. It has proven impossible for me to find out where his family were born or the origin of the name. Thank you again!

  4. I have a a uncommon surname which I found to be from a deserted Northampton Village in England,dating from the year 900,STOTES-Beri =STUCHBURY or any of the at least 60 plus variants,and still counting,.
    Hope this is of interest to someone there ??Kind Regards: Robin.

  5. I appreciate your notices, they are great. do you have information on the name of Slack, they came from England.