Surnames dictionary in the UK goes free for a week

An online dictionary explaining the meanings and origins of more than 45,000 British and Irish surnames is being made accessible to all in the hope that it might help bring families separated by Covid-19 closer together.

For the next week – until May 21 2020 – people will be able to tap into the Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland for free and find out where their surnames – and thus perhaps their ancestors – came from. The dictionary was compiled by a team of researchers from UWE Bristol. It includes every surname that currently has more than 100 bearers, and all those that had more than 20 bearers in the 1881 census.

ANS member Richard Coates, a professor emeritus of onomastics at UWE Bristol, who led the research, said he thought it was a “splendid” idea to open it up. “There seems to be perpetual interest in where surnames come from. It can be an excellent way of helping people begin to trace their family histories.”

The dictionary suggests nearly 40,000 family names are native to Britain and Ireland, while the remainder reflect the diverse languages and cultures of immigrants who have settled since the 16th century.

The dictionary can be accessed here. Families are being invited to post a photo or image that sums up what their name means to them with the hashtag #familynames202.