Given to us sometimes even before we’re born and with us throughout our lives, our names are a huge part of who we are! It’s unsurprising, then, that so many parents put plenty of research into the names that they are planning on giving their new baby, finding out where the name originated and what the secret meaning behind the name really is!
However, we don’t generally get to choose our surnames, with many family names having been passed down from generation to generation across hundreds of years, so we don’t tend to put so much thought into their origins and definitions. However, like first names, all last names have a story, too!
Here are the origins and meanings behind 10 beautiful British last names.
The name ‘Bell’ actually originates from the Old French era (8th-14th century), before making its way over to Great Britain as an occupational surname for men who worked as either bell ringers or bell makers.
These days, around 106,000 people across the UK share the surname Bell.
Hamilton is the first on our list that falls into the category of ‘habitational’ surnames - a surname that originally referred to those who lived in a particular area of the country. In this case, Hamilton is an area in Leicestershire, first mentioned in the Domesday book of 1086!
These days, however, Hamiltons can be found all over the place! There are currently around 56,000 people with the surname Hamilton around the UK.
This very pretty name is thought to have originated during the Anglo-Saxon period and is a derivative of the Olde English word ‘nihtegal’.
Shared by both the celebrated nurse Florence Nightingale and the common nightingale birds, the 10,000 people now named Nightingale across the UK will be pleased to hear that their surname means ‘someone with a sweet voice’!
The name Collins originated in Britain and Ireland and means ‘son of Colin’. In fact, a lot of names that originated within the Anglo-Saxon period share similar origins, with many common last names that we still use today originating from the name of an ancestral family patriarch!
Presumably, the majority of the 100,000 people in the UK named ‘Collins’ these days are not, in fact, a son of Colin - that would make their father’s name Colin Collins, wouldn’t it?
Another habitational surname, though this one is not derived from a specific village or town name - Burton actually finds its origins in the more common descriptives ‘buhr’ and ‘fort and tun’, names used for the fort settlements of the Anglo-Saxon period.
These days, it’s thought that there are around 50,000 people named Burton in the UK.
Slightly less complimentary than some of the other names on this list, Kennedy was originally derived from the Anglicised form of the term ‘Ceanneidigh’ - a word which came to mean ‘someone with an ugly head’!
We’re sure that the same can’t be true for every single one of the 65,000 Kennedys across the UK today…
A very pretty name, yet one of the UK’s least common, with an estimated total of just 99 Quintrells across England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales!
While those 99 may be scattered across the nation these days, the name Quintrell originated in Cornwall, where it is derived from the Celtic term for either ‘horn’ or ‘headland’.
Another name that derives from the patriarch of an Anglo-Saxon family, Dawson gets its meaning from the term ‘son of David’. The same can be said of similar names, such as Samson (son of Sam) and Benson (son of Ben), as well as names following the same format as the aforementioned Collins, such as Roberts (son of Robert).
Again, we’re sure that not every single one of the 50,000 Dawsons across the UK share a father named David - though that would be pretty interesting, wouldn’t it?
The name Odell originates from the village of Odell in Bedfordshire, while the village of Odell got its name from the words ‘wad’, ‘hyll’ and ‘woad’, a plant with leaves that produce a blue dye. Throughout the 18th century and in some families to this day, the name is spelled O’dell, the Gaelic spelling of the village’s name.
The name isn’t particularly common in the 2020s, however, with its village origins meaning that only around 3,000 Odells live in the UK today.
If you’ve been paying attention, you can probably guess that Adams is another patriarchal name, meaning ‘son of Adam’! Adam was a highly prevalent name in the pre-Medieval period thanks to its biblical origins - Adam, of course, was the man that God created from the earth in the book of Genesis.
For this reason, Adams is still a fairly common surname name in the UK, with an estimated 100,000 people using the surname across the nation today.