The evolution of British surnames started with their first names being used as family names. These family names were adopted from conquests, immigrants, occupations, places, and other sources. Although most of these last names have been derived from their patronymic names, some have also originated from topographical or habitational names. An interesting point to note is that these surnames have a distinct history attached to them, with references spanning Scotland, Wales, and various other regions of the United Kingdom. Read on to know more about such unique British last names, their origin, history, meaning, and many other interesting facts.
Popular English (British) Last Names Or Surnames
It is derived from Adam, which means a ‘Man’ in Hebrew. This is one of the old English last names with origins dating back to the pre-medieval period. In the Old Testament, Adam is also referred to as ‘the earth’ from where God created the man.
Derived from ‘Alan’ this last name was first used somewhere in the 6th Century. It means a ‘Rock’. This was the name of several dukes of Brittany and many Breton settlers, who immigrated to England.
Anderson refers to ‘Son of Andrew’. Andrew, which first appeared in the 14th Century in Scotland, is a Greek word that means a ‘Man’ or ‘Manly’. Anderson is known to be one of the most common surnames in Sweden.
This surname originated from the Scottish borders. It is derived from an English nickname, which means ‘Someone with strong arms’. Another Irish meaning of this name refers to ‘Son of a strong man’.
Atkinson is a variation of Atkin, a name derived from the many forms of nicknames given to Adam. In Hebrew, Adam refers to a ‘Man’.
It is an occupational name and refers to a steward or official ‘Ballis’ or ‘Balif’. Another variation of this name can be locational, as ‘Bailey’ in Lancashire refers to ‘Berry wood’.
Baker is an occupational surname derived from the trade of bakery products or a person who bakes. A notable Baker famous for her singing and TV show is the English television presenter Cheryl Baker.
This unique surname is the shortened version of Baldwin. Another reference is from a name called ‘Balle’ which means a ‘Slope’ or a ‘Hill’ in Old Norse.
Barker is a spelling variant of Berker, an occupational name which refers to a ‘Tanner of leather’. The first reference of this last name goes back to the pre 7th Century by the Olde English men.
This topographic name or a metonymic occupational name belongs to the Middle English period and is referred to as ‘Someone who lived by a Barn’ or ‘Worked at a barn’.
This surname originates from the Old French era wherein ‘Bel’ means ‘Beautiful’ or ‘Fair’.
This last name belongs to the 12th Century and is derived from ‘Benedict’ or ‘Benedictus’ in Latin, which means ‘Blessed’.
Booth is the last name most popular in Northern England and Scandinavia. It is derived from the word ‘Both,’ which was used to denote various types of shelter such as a herdsman’s dwelling on a summer pasture.
This English last name is derived from the name of a place meaning ‘Broad wood’ or ‘Broad meadow’. The name also has certain references in Irish Gaelic culture.
The toponymic surname refers to ‘Someone residing near a stream’.
Typically a nickname, Brown has an English, Scottish and Irish origin and refers to someone who has brown skin or hair.
Burton is a habitational surname, which is a combination of two words. Burh means ‘Fort’ and tun means ‘Enclosure’ or ‘Settlement’.
This last name was brought to Ireland with the Anglo-Norman invasion in the 12th Century. It is an occupational name that refers to ‘a wine steward’ or ‘the chief servant of a medieval household’.
Popularized by the top model Naomi Campbell, this last name has Scottish Gaelic roots. It refers to someone having ‘a crooked mouth’.
Carter has an English, Irish, and Scottish origin and is an occupational name. It refers to ‘Someone who transports goods by a cart or wagon’.
This common last name means a ‘Trader’ or ‘Merchant’ or ‘Businessman’. The English comedian Graham Arthur Chapman is a famous bearer of this last name.
Clarke is an Anglo Irish surname, which refers to a ‘Clerk’. It is derived from the Latin word ‘Clericus’.
Cole means ‘swarthy’, ‘coal-black’ or ‘charcoal’ and has Middle English origin. A famous bearer of this name is the English singer and TV personality Cheryll Cole.
Originated in Britain and Ireland, Collins refers to ‘son of Colin’ and the Irish variation ‘cuilein’ that means ‘darling’.
This is another occupational surname, which originated from the Anglo-Saxon tribes in Britain. It is used for someone who worked as a cook, seller of cooked food, or a keeper of an eatery.
Bradley Cooper, the world-renowned actor, is a bearer of this last name. This occupational last name refers to ‘Maker’ or ‘Repairer’ of wooden vessels.
Corbyn is referred to as someone having ‘raven hair’. It could have derived either from Corbon in Calvados or Corbon in Orne, France. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is a famous bearer of this name.
Cox is derived from an Anglo-Saxon word Cooc or Cock, which means a ‘Rooster’. This occupational surname is also native to Belgian and Dutch Limburg.
Originated from Scottish, northern English, and Jewish regions, Davidson refers to the ‘Son of David’. David, in Hebrew, means ‘beloved’.
Davies is a variation of Davis or Davie and refers to David. The association of this last name is said to be from Wales.
This is a baptismal name meaning ‘the son of David’. Dawson is of Anglo-Saxon descent that spread to the Celtic countries of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
Dixon is a variation of Dickson, which is a patronymic surname. First originated in Scotland, Dixon refers to ‘Son of Dick’. Alesha Dixon, an English singer and TV personality, is a famous bearer of this name.
It is a variation of Edwardes and Edwardson and originated from Olde English pre 7th Century. Edwards refers to ‘Prosperity guard’.
This last name has various references, and the most common usage was seen during medieval times. It is derived from Elis or Elijah, which means ‘Jehovah is my God’.
Having originated from the Welsh regions, this patronymic last name refers to ‘Son of Evan’. It is the 8th most common surname in the UK, and Hollywood actor Chris Evans is a famous bearer of this last name.
Fisher is an occupational last name and refers to people who derived their livelihood from fishing or lived by a fishing weir. Actress Carry Fisher was a famous bearer of this last name.
Fletcher is the last name of Scottish, English and Irish origin. The occupational surname refers to ‘Arrowsmith’ or ‘Seller of Arrows’.
The habitational surname referred to people who lived near a ford. Another variation is the Irish surname O Fuartháin, which refers to ‘descendant of O Fuarthán’. Harrison Ford is a famous bearer of this surname.
Foster is derived from Fostre, Forstrian or Forster, which refers to ‘nourish’ or ‘rear’.
This last name belongs to the Old English pre 7th century period. The name is taken from the animal Fox and was first used in England and Ireland. Actress Emilia Fox is a noteworthy bearer of this last name.
This is a surname of English and Scottish origins. Gibson is derived from Gilbert and refers to the ‘Son of Gilbert’ or ‘Son of Gib’.
Originated from Old English, Graham is a variant of Grahame or Graeme and refers to a ‘Grey home’.
Grant originated in English and Scottish regions and is derived from the Anglo-Norman words Graund or Graunt, which mean ‘Tall’ or ‘Large’.
Originated in Scotland, Gray is nicknamed for people having grey hair. Gray is also a habitational name and referred to someone who belonged to Graye, Calvados.
It is derived from the word ‘Grene’ and basically a reference to the color Green. The origins of this last name date back to the 7th Century.
Originated in Wales, this last name is a patronymic name. This name probably means a ‘Strong chief’ or ‘Son of chief’. Other variations of this name are Griffin, Gruffin or Griffith.
Hall is a variation of Heall, Halle or Holl and is derived from a spacious part of the residence. The name originated from the Scottish, German, English, Irish, and Scandinavian regions.
Originated in Scottish and Northern Irish regions, Hamilton is a habitational surname. It refers to the village of Hamilton, Leicestershire, England.
Originated from English, Irish and Scottish parts of the UK, Harrison is another common British last name and means ‘Son of Harry’.
Harvey is derived from the Celtic words that refer to ‘battle’, ‘ardent’, ‘worthy’, or ‘strong’. It has English and Scottish origins.
This common Scottish surname is derived from a patronymic form of Hendry or Henry. It means ‘Son of the Home-ruler’.
Hill is the 36th most common last name in England. Though it has an English origin, it is derived from the Greek or Latin name Hillary, which means ‘Who lives on a hill’.
Holmes is a habitational or geographical last name that originated in the Northern Middle English region called Holm, meaning ‘An Island’. This last name also has an Irish reference, which means ‘Son of Thomas’. The most famous bearer of this surname is fictional super detective Sherlock Holmes.
Derived from a Norman name Huard or Heward, this last name has Anglo-Scandinavian origin. It means ‘High’ or ‘Chief warden’.
Hughes originated in the regions of Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and France. It is a patronymic name that refers to ‘Son of Hugh’. Hugh means ‘Mind’ or ‘Spirit’.
This Old English occupational last name refers to a ‘Hunter’.
It is an occupational last name originated during Olde English pre 7th Century period, and refers to Hunta or Huntian, meaning ‘Hunter’.
James is a Latin form of Hebrew name Jacob and has a reference in the New Testament. It refers to a ‘Supplanter’ or ‘One who follows’. James is a common last name in South Wales.
It is derived from John, which refers to ‘God has graced me with a son’. This last name originated in Cornwall, England and is also popular in Wales.
This patronymic last name of English and Scottish origins refers to ‘Son of John’. It is derived from the Latin term Johannes or Yohanan, meaning ‘Jehovah has favored’.
This habitational last name originated in Scotland. It refers to ‘John’s town’ or ‘St. John’s town’.
It is a variant of Johnson but has Welsh origins. Jones refers to ‘Son of John’ and is a popular last name in Wales and South Central England.
Kelly is an Irish last name derived from Ceallach that means ‘Bright headed’ or ‘Troublesome’.
Kennedy means ‘Someone with an ugly head’ or is derived from the Anglicized form of the term Ceanneidigh referring to the ‘Descendant of Ceanneidigh’.
In Old English, this last name referred to tribal leaders. It was also referred to someone who served in a Royal household. King has origins in the regions of England, Scotland, and Ireland.
The origins of Knight date back to the Anglo-Saxon culture of Britain. It is derived from the Old English word ‘Cniht’ that refers to ‘Servant’ or a ‘Common soldier’.
Lawrence has its origins in English, Italian, and French. The habitational last name refers to ‘Someone from Laurentium’ , a town near Italy.
Lewis originated in England and Wales. This last name has several variants such as Lewes, Louis, or Luis. It means ‘Winner’ or ‘Victor’.
It belongs to both Old Welsh and Medieval English origins and is derived from the pre 7th Century term Llwyd meaning ‘Grey’.
Derived from ‘Mareschal’, this last name is of ancient Norman origin. It has certain Germanic elements such as ‘Marah’ meaning ‘Horse’ or ‘Who tended to Horses’. Jim Marshall, known as the Lord of Loud, is a famous bearer of this surname.
A derivative of Mars, this last name has its origins in various countries such as France, Scotland, Germany, and Ireland. It was taken from Martis or Mars, the Roman god of fertility and war.
This surname originated from Italian, English, Irish or French regions. It is derived from ‘Maso’, which means ‘Someone who does stone masonry work’. Actor James Mason is a famous bearer of this last name.
This popular Scottish patronymic name refers to ‘Son of Donald’. Donald means ‘World ruler’.
Miller is the last name having Old English and Scottish origin. The occupational name refers to ‘Someone who operates or works at a mill’. Actress Sienna Miller is a famous bearer of this surname.
Mitchell is a variant of Michael that refers to a ‘Gift from God’. It has French, Irish, and English origins.
Moore is a topographical last name that derived from Moor. Moor refers to an ‘Area of uncultivated land’. It originated in England.
Morgan has Celtic roots and belongs to ‘Britons of Wales’. The name is derived from the term ‘Morcant’ which refers to ‘Sea circle’. Television personality Piers Morgan is a noteworthy bearer of this last name.
A very popular last name in the British Isles, Morris is derived from Maurice or Maurus which means ‘Dark’ or ‘Swarthy’.
Morrison is an Anglo Scottish last name which is also very popular in Ireland. The patronymic surname derived from Morris and refers to ‘Son of Morris’. Morris means ‘Dark’ or ‘Swarthy’.
It is a variant of Murchadh, Murphey, or MacMurphy. Murphy, meaning ‘Sea warrior’, originated in Ireland.
Murray is a famous last name across Ireland and originated from both Scottish and Irish regions. In Scotland, it is derived from ‘Moray’, which means ‘Settlement by the sea’ and the Irish derivation is from ‘Muireb’ meaning ‘Seafarer’.
Owen is derived from a Welsh first name called Owain and refers to ‘Noble’ or ‘Well-born’.
The surname Palmer has originated from the Old French word Palmer, derived from the Latin term ‘Palmifer’ meaning ‘Palm bearer’. The original bearer of the surname was a pilgrim who carried palm branches back from the Holy Land.
It is an Old English occupational last name, which refers to the ‘Keeper of the park’.
Payne is derived from ‘Paien’ or the Latin word ‘Paganus’ meaning ‘Rustic’ or ‘Countryman’. It is an Old English patronymic last name. Singer Liam Payne is a popular bearer of this surname.
Having its roots in the Anglo-Saxon tribes as well as English, Irish and Welsh regions, Pearce derived from ‘Piers’ a form of Peter. Peter means a ‘Rock’.
Derived from Piers, Pearson is a patronymic last name meaning ‘Son of Peter’. It is common in Ireland but is said to be originated in England. Neil Pearson is a famous bearer of this last name.
Welsh or English in origin, Perry refers to ‘A Pear tree’. Some other reference of the name also describes Perry as ‘Stranger’ or ‘Traveler’.
It belongs to the early Medieval English era. Phillips is derived from Philein, which refers to ‘A lover for horses’.
This last name is of the Welsh origin and is the Anglicized form of the term Hywel or Howell, which means ‘Eminent’. Powell refers to ‘Son of Hywel’.
Reid is an Old English term that means ‘Red’ or ‘Ruddy complexioned’.
Reynolds is derived from ‘Reginald’ that means ‘A powerful ruler’. It belongs to English and French origins.
Richards was brought to Great Britain by the Normans in the year 1066, and the origins are said to be Germanic. It means ‘Powerful’ or ‘Brave’.
This is a patronymic name which refers to ‘Son of Richard’. Miranda Richardson is a famous bearer of this surname.
Robert means to ‘Bright’ or ‘Renowned’. It is a British last name having a patronymic origin.
Robertson is the last name having a patronymic origin that refers to ‘Son or Robert’. This name originated in Scotland and England.
This is patronymic last name of English origin, and refers to ‘Son of Robin’. The name Robin means ‘Fame’ or ‘Bright’.
Having originated from Anglo-Saxon and Norman regions, Roger means ‘Fame’ or ‘Renowned’.
Derived from the flower ‘Rose’ this last name originated from various regions of the world such as France, Ireland, England, Scotland, and Germany.
Ross is a habitational last name and originated from Scotland and England. It is derived from a Gaelic word which means ‘Headland’.
One of the most famous last names in British history, Russell was brought into the country by Normans. This patronymic name refers to ‘Son of Red’ or in French variation it refers to ‘Little Red-haired’.
Originated during the Medieval English era, Scott refers to people who belonged to Scotland. Scott is derived from the pre 7th Century word ‘Scotti’.
Shaw is a topographical last name and refers to ‘Someone who lived by a thicket or a copse’. The name originated from English and Scottish regions.
Simpson is a patronymic Anglo-Scottish surname and is derived from the words ‘Symson’, ‘Simme’ or Simon’ that refer to ‘Son of Simon’.
Originated in England, Smith is derived from the word Smitan, which means ‘To smite’.
This last name is used in reference to a butler or steward. During the Norman Conquest of 1066, it is believed that the ancestors of the Spencer family migrated to England.
Steves is a British surname but has a Greek origin. It is derived from the word Stephanos that means ‘A crown’ or ‘Wreath’. Dan Stevens is a famous bearer of this surname.
This surname is a variant of ‘Steward’ and has a Scottish origin. Steward is derived from the pre 7th Century Old English word ‘Stigeweard’ that means ‘Hall guardian’ or ‘Warden’.
Originated from the British Isles of French and Latin origin, Taylor is an occupational last name that refers to a tailor or means ‘To cut’. Elizabeth Taylor was a famous bearer of this surname.
Thomas is a common last name of Scottish, Welsh, English, Dutch, German, French, and Danish origin. It means ‘Twin’.
Though similar to Thomas or Thompson, Thomson is a surname that originated from the Welsh and Scottish regions. It refers to ‘Son of Thomas’ or ‘Son of Thom’. The word of Thomas is derived from the Aramaic word that means ‘Twins’.
Turner is a surname of English and Scottish origins and refers to ‘Maker of objects from wood or metal’. Sophie Turner is a popular bearer of this surname.
Originating from English and German regions of Europe, this last name has many variants such as Welker, Walcher, Welcker, or Wallker. It means ‘A walker or someone who walked on a raw and damp cloth to thicken it’.
This is a common Irish last name that originated from the British and Welsh community of soldiers. It refers to ‘Briton’ or ‘Foreigner’ literally meaning ‘Welshman’.
After the Norman conquest of 1066, this last name migrated to England. Ward is an Old English word that means ‘Guardian’ or ‘Watchman’.
Watson is a patronymic last name that originated from England and Scotland. It means ‘Son of Walter’. Actress Emma Watson is a famous bearer of this surname.
Watts belongs to Norman-French and Germanic pre 7th Century origin. Watts is a short form of Walter meaning ‘Ruler’ or ‘Warrior’ and is an Anglo-Scottish surname. Actress Naomi Watts is a popular bearer of this last name.
Webb is derived from Webber or Web, which means ‘To weave’. It belongs to the Olde English pre 7th Century era.
Webster has an Anglo-Saxon origin and is a famous last name in Yorkshire, Lancashire, and the Midlands. The occupational last name is given to a weaver.
West is a topographical last name that refers to ‘Someone who lived by the west of a settlement’. This surname originated from English and German regions.
This surname is of Irish origin and belongs to the Isle of Wight, near Hampshire, England. Thus, it is a topographical last name.
This Anglo-Scottish last name originated in England during the Viking Invasions. Wilkinson refers to the ‘Son of Wilkin’. The name Wilkin is derived from the words will or desire.
This is a common Welsh last name and is derived from the Belgic term ‘Guild-helm’ that refers to ‘Harnessed with a gilded helmet’ or ‘The shield or defense of many’.
It is a common English patronymic last name, which refers to the ‘Son of William’.
This is an English and Scottish surname, derived from ‘Will’ a popular medieval name. Will refers to ‘desire’. A notable person having this last name is Owen Wilson.
A famous surname among English folks, the origin of Wood dates back to pre 7th Century Old English period. It is derived from the word ‘Wudu’ that refers to ‘A forest’ or ‘Wood’.
This occupational surname refers to ‘Wryhta’ or ‘Wyrhta’ which means ‘A worker’ or ‘Shaper of wood’. It originated during 700 AD in England.
Young is an interesting surname which belongs to Anglo-Saxon pre 7th Century era. It is derived from the word ‘Geong’, which means ‘The young one’.
Discover More Names
When you have to choose a name for your baby, a few hundreds of names may not be just enough. Keep digging our mine of baby names until you find that one precious gem.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What are the rarest surnames in the UK?
Dankworth, Villan, Fernsby, MacQuoid (Scottish), and Miracle (Welsh) are some of the rarest surnames in the UK. Though they have been there for centuries, you can hardly find anyone with these names now.
2. What are old English surnames?
Old English surnames can provide information about the ancestors and help uncover family history such as the origin of the name or the occupation of the family. Crapper, Black, Jones, Taylor, Windsor, Churchill, Fleming and Smith are some old English surnames.
3. How do British surnames compare to surnames in other countries?
British culture follows the more common naming system of using either parent’s surnames or both and thus may share similarities with most countries’ family names. Like many other surnames, British surnames also have roots in historical, linguistic, and cultural origins. One distinct characteristic may be that the United Kingdom has experienced significant immigration and cultural diversity over the centuries, leading to the adoption of surnames from various backgrounds.
Surnames help you distinguish yourself and your clan from the rest. It will help one be identified as per the family lineage they belong to. This long list of English or British surnames will acquaint you with the most popular ones. It can help you guess a person’s ethnicity just by knowing their names.
Infographic: British Last Names Or Surnames
When we think of Britain, we think of its royalness and unforgettable rulers. If you are searching for some regal British surnames for naming your little one or are just curious to know what these names mean, this infographic lists some popular British surnames for your perusal.
Learn to pronounce common British surnames like Smith, Jones, Taylor, and Brown. Improve your English pronunciation today!