Home/ Surnames
British Last names

British last names, also known as surnames, have a rich and diverse history that reflects the country's complex cultural and linguistic heritage. Many British surnames originated from occupations, locations, personal characteristics, or patronymic (based on the father's name) and matronymic (based on the mother's name) origins. Many British surnames derive from the occupations of individuals or their ancestors. For example, names like Smith, Baker, Taylor, and Cooper indicate professions like blacksmithing, baking, tailoring, and barrel-making, respectively. Some British surnames are derived from the given names of ancestors, indicating patrilineal or matrilineal descent. Examples include names like Johnson (son of John), Williams (son of William), and Robertson (son of Robert). British migration to various parts of the world, including the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, spread British surnames globally, where they continue to be used and adapted by diverse populations.

Traditions and procedures of last name changes in british


Historically, one of the most common ways for individuals to change their last name in Britain is through marriage. Traditionally, women often took their husband's surname upon marriage, although this practice has become less common in recent years. In the case of divorce, any changes to surnames can be reverted, but it is not mandatory.

Patronymic Naming

In the past, British surnames often followed a patronymic naming convention, where a child's surname was derived from their father's first name (e.g., Johnson, meaning "son of John"). This tradition influenced the way surnames were passed down through generations. The traditions have begun to slowly alter in recent years, but currently, this is the most common naming convention.

Heraldic Names

Some British families have surnames that are associated with heraldic symbols or coats of arms, reflecting noble ancestry or historical titles. These names may have specific traditions and meanings attached to them and are often seen as a way to connect back to one’s ancestry.

Legal Procedure

In modern times, individuals in Britain can change their name legally through a legal process called deed poll. A deed poll is a legal document that confirms a person's intention to change their current name. This document is signed and witnessed, and it serves as evidence of the name change.

Statutory Declaration

Another method for changing one's name in Britain is through using a statutory declaration. This involves making a formal declaration of one's intention to change their name in the presence of a solicitor or commissioner for oaths. The declaration is then recorded and used as evidence of the name change.

Updating Records

Once a name change has been legally recognized, individuals must update their records and documents accordingly. This includes notifying government agencies, banks, employers, and other relevant parties of the name change. In some cases, individuals may be required to publish notice of their name change in a local newspaper as part of the legal process. This serves to publicize the change and provide an opportunity for objections to be raised.

Common prefixes or suffixes in british last names & their meaning
  • Mc/Mac
  • This prefix is of Scottish or Irish origin and means "son of." It is often found in surnames derived from Gaelic patronymic naming conventions.

  • O'
  • Similar to "Mc/Mac," the prefix "O'" is of Irish origin and also means "son of."

  • Fitz-
  • This prefix is of Norman French origin and means "son of" or "descendant of." It is often found in surnames of Anglo-Norman origin, denoting a connection to the Norman nobility.

  • St
  • This prefix, derived from the word "saint," is often found in surnames associated with places or individuals named after saints. Examples include St. John, St. Clair, and St. Pierre.

  • -son
  • This suffix means "son of" and is commonly found in patronymic surnames of English origin. Examples include Johnson (son of John), Wilson (son of Will), and Richardson (son of Richard).

  • -s/-es
  • This suffix indicates a possessive form or a plural form in English. It can denote ownership or descent. Examples include Roberts (son of Robert) and Jones (son of John).

  • -ing/-ings
  • This suffix is often used to denote a place of origin or association. It can also indicate a connection to a particular family or group. Examples include Hastings (from Hastings town) and Billings (associated with Bill's family).

  • -ton/-ington
  • These suffixes denote a place name or settlement in English. They are often derived from Old English words meaning "town" or "settlement." Examples include Washington (town of Wassa's people) and Middleton (middle settlement).

  • -shire
  • This suffix denotes a historical county or administrative region in England. It is derived from Old English and means "district" or "region." Examples include Yorkshire and Lancashire.

    Migration patterns

    British migration patterns out of the country have been significant throughout history, driven by various factors including economic opportunities, political events, and colonial expansion. British colonial expansion led to the establishment of colonies and settlements around the world, particularly in North America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. Large-scale migration occurred as British settlers, traders, soldiers, and administrators relocated to these colonies.

    The British Caribbean colonies, including Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago, saw substantial British migration during the colonial era, primarily for plantation agriculture and trade. The importation of African slaves also contributed to the demographic composition of these colonies.

    After World War II, British migration patterns shifted due to changes in the global geopolitical landscape and the end of the British Empire. Significant migration occurred to countries such as Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as to former colonies in Africa and Asia.

    Membership in the European Union facilitated migration between Britain and other European countries. Large numbers of Europeans, particularly from Eastern Europe, migrated to Britain for work and settlement, while many Britons also migrated to other EU countries.

    british migration to the USA

    British historical migration to the USA has deep roots that date back to the colonial era and continue to influence American society today. With one of the longest histories of migration to the USA, there is a lot to look at.

    Early Migration

    The earliest British migration to what is now the United States occurred in the early 17th century with the establishment of colonies such as Jamestown in Virginia (1607) and Plymouth in Massachusetts (1620). These colonies were primarily settled by English migrants seeking religious freedom, economic opportunities, and new beginnings. New England became a major destination for British migrants, particularly from England, Scotland, and Ireland, during the colonial period. The Puritans, seeking religious autonomy, settled in Massachusetts, while Scots-Irish migrants contributed to the population of New Hampshire, Connecticut, and other New England states.


    As the United States expanded westward in the 19th century, British migrants continued to contribute to this movement. Many settlers from Britain, particularly from Scotland and Ireland, migrated to areas such as the Appalachian region, the Midwest, and the Pacific Northwest, where they established farms, towns, and industries.

    Post-World War II Immigration from Britain:

    In the post-war period, there was also a flow of skilled professionals from Britain to the USA. This included individuals in fields such as academia, science, technology, engineering, and medicine. The USA's growing economy and opportunities in these sectors attracted many British professionals seeking career advancement and better prospects. British companies also expanding their operations globally often transferred employees to their offices or branches in the USA. These corporate transfers brought British professionals to the USA for work assignments ranging from short-term projects to long-term postings.

    FAQs about british last names
    What are the origins of British surnames?
    Do British surnames have meanings?
    How do British naming customs differ from other cultures?
    Are there regional variations in British surnames?
    How do British names reflect the country's history and diversity?
    Are there naming trends in modern British society?
    Do British women change their surnames after marriage?
    How do British immigrants' names impact the country's demographics?
    What role do British surnames play in genealogy and family history research?
    Are there famous British namesakes that have influenced naming trends?

    Full list of surnames in the USA.

    There are 242746 people with last names in the USA. The most common last name is .