Names Studies

Names-StudiesThe area of Names Studies encompasses the history and development of first names, surnames and place-names. Oxford Reference provides more than 149,000 concise explanations of the derivation and meaning of names in a wide range of areas, from world place-names to American family names.

Our coverage comprises authoritative, highly accessible information on the very latest research in the field of names studies and is written by trusted experts for researchers at every level.

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                      The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland    A Dictionary of First Names   The Concise Dictionary of World Place-Names   Dictionary of American Family Names

See all the Names Studies books available on Oxford Reference >

Sample resources

Discover Names Studies on Oxford Reference with the below sample content:

Quotations about names from Oxford Essential Quotations

A few entries from The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland: Bodger, Ebenezer, Hawkins, and Stark.

The Chronology and Languages of English Place Names’ from A Dictionary of British Place Names

'London Place‐Names and their Meanings' from A Dictionary of London Place-Names

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Featured Author

A. D. Mills

A D Mills

A. D. Mills is Emeritus Reader in Medieval English, University of London, and member of the Council of the English Place-Name Society and of the Society for Name Studies in Britain and Ireland. He has made a life-long study of the origins and meanings of place-names, and as well as detailed investigations of the place-names of Dorset, the Isle of Wight and Suffolk, he is the author of A Dictionary of British Place-Names and A Dictionary of London Place-Names.


Author Q&A

What is the one term or concept that everyone—from students to everyday web users—should be familiar with? Why?

In elucidating the etymologies of place-names, in arriving at their most likely origin and meaning, the key concept has to be the crucial importance of early spellings collected from documentary sources of all kinds, both in manuscript and in print. The careful interpretation of such spellings for an individual name, taking into account the dialectal development of the sounds of the appropriate language, a comparison with similar or identical names, as well other linguistic, geographical and historical factors, should yield (for most old names) a plausible etymology.

Which historical events have most influenced your subject?

All the great historical events have contributed to the extraordinary richness and diversity of British place-names: the various migrations and settlements of Celtic peoples, the Roman invasion and occupation, the Anglo-Saxon conquest and settlement, the raids and colonisations of Scandinavian Vikings, and the Norman Conquest itself. As noted above, all place-names need to be carefully interpreted, as far as is possible, within their appropriate historical and linguistic context: in turn, the evidence provided by place-names is uniquely valuable, considerably enhancing our knowledge and understanding of those same historical events and of the various languages once spoken in these islands.

What do you think is the most commonly held misconception in your subject area?

I suppose a common misconception is that place-names can be taken at face value and interpreted on the basis of their current form. Such instant etymologies (often known as ‘popular or folk etymologies’) are usually a delusion even though they can result in colourful local legends. Many names that look obvious or easy to interpret prove to have quite unexpected origins and meanings in the light of the evidence of early records, often because they have been subject to sound changes or because they contain old words and personal names that have long gone out of use. Thus among the hundreds of possible examples, Beer in Devon is ‘the grove’ and did not have a brewery, Crowfield in Suffolk is ‘the nook or corner’ and not named from the bird, Harefield in Greater London refers to a Viking army and not to hares, Ratcliffe in Leicestershire is ‘red cliff’ and not named from its rodents, and Slaughter in Gloucestershire is ‘the muddy place’ and not the site of a battle!

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Featured blogs

2016’s most popular baby names and their meanings
December 2016
We've delved into the epithetical etymology of the top five girls’ and boys’ baby names. Has your name made the list?

The history behind selected family names in Britain and Ireland [map]
December 2016
Find out the history behind these British and Irish surnames - can you find yours?

For more Dictionaries and Lexicography blog posts delve in to the OUPblog archives >

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