Surnames as we have come to know them came about in may different ways. For the British Isles surnames did not become hereditary till the Norman Conquest in 1066. Prior to this people were generally identified via a nickname, such as “John the Strong”, or they lived in small enough towns and hamlets that everyone knew each other anyway, and identifying nicknames weren’t needed.
During the Norman Conquest, barons began to introduce surnames, and gradually the practice spread. Places of origin, trades, nicknames, and father’s names become fixed and used as surnames, being passed on to successive generations. By the 1400’s most English families and those in Lowland Scotland had started the practice of passing surnames on. Many early Saxon and Celtic personal names disappeared during the Norman Invasion.
William the Conqueror most certainly had thousands of men with him during the invasion and more specifically at the battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, but there are less then two dozen that were recorded at the battle and are considered by experts to have definitely been at the battle. From these men we can see that certain Norman names spread through England taking hold even into today, such as; Mowbray, Montfort, Beaumont, Fitz Osbern, Malet, Giffard, and Montgomery.
Ireland, the Highlands of Scotland and Wales derive their surnames from Gaelic personal names, and would use the patronymic system at times, even still the cultural difference between the Scots of the Lowland and the Scots of the Highlands could be seen in the way surnames were passed on. These areas did not fully adopt the English practice of passing surnames on till the countries unified in 1536. The idea of a fixed surname is a relatively new idea in Scottish history, generally a byname was attached to a forename, and these would eventually become fixed surnames.
The most common form of a surname, and probably the oldest in origin are surnames derived from a place, landscape, or geographic feature; such as Hull, Hill, Knolles, Woods, Greenwood, etc. Others taking their name from their town or hamlet; such as Thorpe, Boroughs, Burg, Lubbock, etc. Tree’s themselves have given rise to many surnames, such as Stock, Zouch, and Curzon, which all mean stem, and Oak, Maple, Elms, etc.
Occupational surnames are probably the next oldest after surnames based on locations a geographic features. Most surnames ending in “smith”, “man” or “er” generally imply an occupation or trade skill; Goldsmith, Nailor, Potman, Milner, Mason, Chapman, etc. Some occupational surnames have a military back ground, such as Pike, Bowman, and Fletcher, which was an arrow maker.
Baptismal names have also become surnames over time, with “s” and “son” being added to a son’s name. Adding “s” to the end of the name was favored more in the south of England and along the western border along Wales, with the Welsh adopting the practice much later. Adding “son” was favored more in the northern half of England and lowland Scotland, developing later on.
In Wales the patronymic system of taking the father’s forename for the child’s surname continued into the 17th century. This system would mean there was a change in names at each generation. For example Lewis Evans would be the father of Gwen Lewis. Gwen Lewis marries William Jones, and they are the parents of Elizabeth Williams. Elizabeth Williams marries Hugh Price and they are the parents of Lewis Price. This example is from the upper Conway valley in Caernarvonshire, Wales.
Ashton is an Anglo-Saxon name that came from the village of Ashton in Lancashire. The first part of the name “Ash”, has to do with ash trees. Originally the person with this name may have lived in an ash tree forest, or he may have felled ash trees. There are many variations of Ashton, and noting this can be helpful for research purposes.
Spelling variations: Asshton, Asheton, Ashtown, Assheton, Ascheton.
The Ashton’s surname has had many notable bearers in history. Among them is Sir Ralph Assheton, 1st Baronet of Lever. Chester H. Ashton, American Democrat politician, Delegate to the Democratic National Convention from Pennsylvania, 1928. Charles W. Ashton, American Republican politician, Burgess of McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, elected 1941. On 6 December 1917, W. H. Ashton was stationed aboard the S.S. Picton, from South Hampton, England, and was killed in the Halifax Explosion.
In 2010 there were 12,263 people with the surname in the United States, according to the Social Security Administration, and United States Census. Out of thousands it ranks as 2,922 on the list.
The surname Salisbury has a long history in England, dating back to 900 CE, in Wiltshire, as the name of a town. At the time it was spelled Searobyrg. Over a hundred years later it appears in the Domesday Book as Sarisberie, and by 1206 it is recorded as Salesbir in The Charter Rolls.
Spelling variations: Salesbury, Sallsbury, Salusbury, Salsbury, Sarsbury, Solesbury.
The Salisbury surname has also had many notable bearers in history. William Salisbury, who lived from 1580 to 1660, was a Welsh privateer, poet, politician, and governor of Denbigh Castle. Harry Salisbury, Major League Baseball pitcher for 2 seasons. Rollin D. Salisbury, American geologist.
According to the Social Security Administration, and United States Census there were 13,038 people with the surname Salisbury. It’s ranking is 2,768.
McCoy was originally found in County Cork (Corcaigh), on the southwest coast of Ireland, but can also be seen with origins in Scotland and Manx. It is derived from the old Gaelic name Mac Aodha. The first recorded instance of this surname, Cucail Mac Aedha, appears in the Dictionary of Manx Names, in 1098.
Spelling variations: MacCoy, MacCooey, McKoy, McCay.
Notable bearers of the McCoy surname include Michael Charles McCoy, American Football cornerback for the Green Bay Packers. Sir Frederick Mac Coy, a naturist from Dublin who was known for his work in Australia. Major General Robert Bruce McCoy, American officer in the National Guard, awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and the Croix de guerre during World War I.
In 2010 there were 110,744 people with the surname McCoy, according to the Social Security Administration, and United States Census. It’s ranking is 278.
Research More About Your Surname
The links below provide very reliable and cited information, and can help researching, especially when looking up name variations.
“England Pre-Norman Conquest Surnames (National Institute).” Family Search. June 2012. Accessed July 20, 2017. https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Pre-Norman_Conquest_Surnames_(National_Institute).
Blake, Paul. “What’s In a Name? Your Link to the Past.” Bbc.co.uk. April 26, 2011. Accessed July 20, 2017. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/familyhistory/get_started/surnames_01.shtml.
“Welsh naming.” Bbc.co.uk. Accessed July 20, 2017. http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/history/sites/themes/society/family_03_welshnaming.shtml.
“Ashton Surname, Family Crest & Coat of Arms.” House of Names. June 23, 2017. Accessed July 21, 2017. https://www.houseofnames.com/ashton-family-crest.
“Last name: Ashton.” The Internet Surname Database. 2017. Accessed July 21, 2017. http://www.surnamedb.com/Surname/Ashton.
Koranki, Susan. “Your Guide To Scottish Surnames.” Scottish At Heart. 2017. Accessed July 21, 2017. http://www.scottish-at-heart.com/scottish-surnames.html#History.
“Last name: Salisbury.” The Internet Surname Database. 2017. Accessed July 21, 2017. http://www.surnamedb.com/Surname/Salisbury.
“Salisbury Surname, Family Crest and Coat of Arms.” House of Names. May 5, 2017. Accessed July 21, 2017. https://www.houseofnames.com/salisbury-family-crest.
“Last name: McCoy.” The Internet Surname Database. 2017. Accessed July 21, 2017. http://www.surnamedb.com/Surname/McCoy.
“McCoy Surname, Family Crest and Coat of Arms.” House of Names. May 2, 2017. Accessed July 21, 2017. https://www.houseofnames.com/McCoy-family-crest.