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Dr Harry Parkin.

Smith, Jones, Williams, Brown, Taylor, Davies, Wilson, Evans, Thomas and Johnson - these are the most common surnames in Britain today.

Their origins and those of more than 43,000 family names are brought to light in a new book edited by a University of Chester lecturer.

From Aamir to Zygmunt, up-to-date explanations and insights are offered in the newly-published Concise Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain, edited by Dr Harry Parkin, a Senior Lecturer in English Language at the University.

Each entry in the Dictionary includes frequencies and main locations as evidenced in the 1881 Census, as well as historical detail.

It tells readers what type of name it is - which could be a relationship name such as Johnson, an occupational name such as Taylor, or a nickname such as Short - the name’s original language and culture, and any multiple origins.

New names listed in the Dictionary that did not have any bearers in Britain in 1881 but now have more than 10,000 are: Patel; Hussain; Begum; Akhtar; Bibi; Mahmood; Iqbal; Mohammed; Malik and Mistry.

The book is being officially launched with an online event, from 4pm on Wednesday September 15. The event will highlight how the Dictionary can be used, for example by genealogists and family historians, and will be introduced by Professor Richard Coates, Professor Emeritus of Onomastics (the study of names), at the University of the West of England.

It is an edited version of The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland, which was published to great acclaim in 2016. This was the result of a major research project into family names of the British Isles that made use of new principles, methods, and resources.

Dr Parkin said: “Many people are interested in the origins of surnames, and research of this kind can tell us a great deal about past stages of the English language, while also providing insights into wider history and identity.

“This Dictionary includes almost all the names originally covered, plus some additional rarer names, in a more concise and convenient format. It makes the unique family names content of the original four-volume set available to individuals and libraries, and will be a key new research tool for those investigating their family history.”

Dr Parkin added an example highlighting how the surname stock of Britain holds fascinating stories about global history.

“A linguistic analysis of the name Haastrup led to a tentative conclusion that it was the name of Danish migrants in Britain, probably from a place in Denmark called Håstrup (of which there appear to be two) or similar; the 1911 census for Lambeth, London, also records an individual called Oscar Haastrup who was a Danish national. On this evidence, the name’s connection to Denmark is clear, but it is not the full story.

“A search of present-day records shows that those with the surname Haastrup in Britain tend to have first names that are typically found in Nigeria. The story of how a Danish-derived name came to have a Nigerian history is complex, but the short story is that a Danish slave ship captain sponsored the education of a Nigerian slave, and this slave honoured the captain, whose surname was Haastrup, by using his name, becoming known as Frederick Kumokun Adedeji Haastrup, and then passing the name Haastrup on to the rest of his family, who continued this tradition.”  

Dr Parkin’s research interests also include place-name history and Middle English dialects.

For further information on the Dictionary, please visit:

To book a place at the launch event, please email:

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surnames names family history genealogy History English dictionary