A primer on English names

Note: To keep this from being my longest post ever, I’ll try to focus mostly on names of Anglo–Saxon, Norman, Old Norse, and Ancient Germanic origin, and common names adopted into the English language, instead of going over every single name used in the modern Anglophone world.

The Anglophone world includes England, the U.S., Ireland, Canada, Scotland, Wales, Australia, New Zealand, the island nations of the Caribbean, the Channel Islands, and South Africa. Many former British colonies also maintain English as an official second language, particularly India.

In the 21st century, English is a lingua franca of the international community. Gone are the days when French, German, Greek, or Latin was the most common second language.

Surnames:

English surnames began appearing in the 11th century, under the Norman occupation. The custom of surnames got an added boost in 1538, when parish registers were introduced. However, it wasn’t until the late 17th century when surnames took full root through the entire country.

Many surnames are patronymical (e.g., Williams, Jones, Johnson, Davies, Evans), occupational (e.g., Smith, Taylor, Baker, Fisher, Miller), Old Norse or Ancient Germanic (e.g., Osborne, Allard, Triggs), Old French (e.g., Pettigrew, Bannister, Devin, Tyson), geographical (e.g., Dorsey [from Orsay, France], Fairburn [Fern Stream], Haight [at the top of a hill], Kersey [watercress island], Rigby [ridge farm]), and personality traits (e.g., Sweet, Verity, White, Yap [clever or cunning], Hopper).

Nicknames:

The suffixes -kin(s) and -kyn formed many Medieval diminutives; e.g., Peterkins, Junnykins, Simkin, Wilkin, Atkyn (Adam), Malkyn (Mary), Perkyn (Peter). It’s akin to the still-used German diminutive suffix -chen. Another Medieval diminutive suffix was -ock, akin to the German -ich.

Some nicknames’ etymologies made sense in the Middle Ages, but confuse most modern people. It was common to replace the first letter of a nickname to create another nickname; e.g., Meggy and Peggy, Bob and Rob, Rick and Dick, Will and Bill. Jack is derived from Jackin, which in turn derived from Jankin, a Medieval nickname for John.

Other nicknames were created by dropping part of the name and/or adding the suffix -ie, -ey, -i, or -y; e.g., Pete, Jimmy, Betty, Abby, Charlie or Charley, Emmie, Judy, Nicky, Tina, Vicki, Minnie, Allie.

Traditional sample names:

Female:

Abigail
Acacia
Adelaide
Adele, Adela, Adeline
Adriana, Adrienne
Agatha
Agnes
Alana
Alberta
Alexandra
Alice
Alison, Allison, Alyson, Allyson
Amelia
Amy
Andrea
Anne
April
Audrey
Augusta

Barbara
Beatrice, Beatrix
Belinda
Berenice, Bernice
Bernadette
Bertha
Blanche
Bridget
Bryn, Brynn
Bryony

Camilla, Camille
Candace, Candice
Carla
Caroline, Carolyn
Cassandra
Catherine
Cecilia, Cecily, Cicely
Celia
Charity
Charlotte
Christina, Christine
Claire, Clare, Clara
Clarissa
Claudia
Constance
Cordelia
Corinne
Cynthia

Daisy
Daphne
Deborah
Deirdre
Delilah
Diana, Diane
Dinah
Dorothy, Dorothea

Edith
Edna
Elaine
Eleanor, Elinor
Elizabeth, Elisabeth (Elise, Elisa, Elsie, Eliza, Elsa, Ella, Ellie, Lisa, Beth, Liz, Liza, Lizzie, Lily, Libby, Betty, Bessie, Bess, Betsy)
Ellen
Eloise
Emily, Emilia
Emma
Emeline, Emmeline
Erica
Ernestine
Esmé, Esmée
Estelle, Estella
Esther
Ethel
Eugenia
Eulalia (Yu-LAHL-yah)
Eve, Eva

Faith
Fay
Felicia
Flora
Florence
Frances
Francine

Gabriella, Gabrielle
Gemma
Genevieve
Georgia
Geraldine
Gertrude
Gillian
Gloria
Grace
Guinevere
Gwendolyn

Hannah
Harmony
Harriet
Hazel
Helen, Helena
Henrietta
Hester
Honora, Honor, Honour
Hope
Hortense

Imogen, Imogene
Inez
Iona
Ione
Irene
Iris
Isabel
Isidora
Isolde
Ivy

Jacqueline
Jane, Jean (Jenny)
Jeannette
Joan
Josephine
Joy
Joyce
Judith
Julie, Julia, Juliana
Juliet, Juliette
June
Juniper
Justine

Karen
Kathleen

Laura
Leah
Leatrice
Lenore, Lenora
Letitia
Lillian
Lily
Lorna
Lorraine
Louise, Louisa
Lucy, Lucia
Lydia

Mabel
Madeline
Magdalene
Margaret, Margery, Marjorie
Marion
Martha
Mary
Matilda
Maude
May
Melanie
Mildred
Millicent
Miranda
Miriam
Mona
Monica
Morgan, Morgana
Muriel
Myra
Myrtle

Nancy
Naomi
Natalie
Noelle
Norma

Octavia
Odelia
Olive
Olivia
Ophelia

Pamela
Patience
Patricia, Patrice
Paula
Pearl
Penelope
Philippa
Philomena
Phoebe
Phyllis
Portia
Prudence

Rachel
Ramona
Rebecca
Regan
Regina
Rena
Rhiannon
Rhoda
Rhonda
Roberta
Rosalie
Rosalind
Rosamund
Rose
Rosemary
Rowena
Ruby
Ruth

Sabrina
Sarah, Sara
Serena
Sharon, Sharona
Sibyl, Sybil
Simone
Sophia, Sophie
Stella
Susan, Susannah, Susanna, Suzanne
Sylvia, Silvia

Tabitha
Tamsin, Tamsyn
Thelma
Theodora
Theresa, Teresa
Ursula

Valerie
Vanessa
Vera
Veronica
Victoria
Viola
Violet
Virginia
Vivian

Wendy
Winifred
Yolanda
Zelda
Zoe

Male:

Aaron
Abner
Abraham
Adam
Adrian
Alan, Allan, Allen
Albert
Alexander
Alfred
Ambrose
Amos
Andrew
Anthony
Arnold
Arthur
Aubrey
August, Augustine

Bailey
Bartholomew
Baxter
Benedict, Bennett
Benjamin
Bernard
Bertram (Bright raven)
Bertrand (Bright shield rim)
Blake
Bruce
Byron

Caleb
Calvin
Carl, Charles
Cecil
Cedric
Chester
Christian
Christopher
Clarence
Clark, Clarke
Claude
Clement
Clifford
Clive
Clyde
Conrad
Cornelius
Craig
Curtis
Cyril
Cyrus

Damian
Daniel
Darius
David
Dennis
Dexter
Dominic
Donald
Douglas
Duncan
Dwight

Earl
Edgar
Edmund
Edward
Edwin
Eldred
Elias, Elijah
Elliott, Eliot
Emery
Emil
Emmanuel
Eric
Ernest
Ethan
Eugene
Evan
Everett
Ezekiel
Ezra

Felix
Ferdinand
Floyd
Francis
Frank
Franklin
Frederick

Gabriel
Geoffrey
George
Gerald
Gerard
Gideon
Gilbert
Giles
Gordon
Graham
Grant
Gregory

Harold
Harry
Harvey
Heath
Hector
Henry
Herbert (Bright army)
Herman (Army man)
Homer
Horace, Horatio
Howard
Hubert (Bright heart)
Hugh, Hugo
Humbert (Bright warrior)
Humphrey (Peaceful warrior)

Irwin
Isaac
Isaiah
Isidore
Ivor

Jacob
James
Jared
Jasper (Treasure)
Jeremiah
Jeremy
Jerome
Jesse
Joel
John
Jonah
Jonathan
Joseph
Joshua
Josiah
Julian
Justin

Keith
Kendall
Kenneth

Lambert (Bright land)
Lance
Laurence, Lawrence
Leo
Leon
Leonard
Leopold
Leroy
Leslie, Lesley
Lester
Levi
Lewis, Louis
Lindsay
Lionel
Lloyd
Lucian
Lucius
Luke
Luther
Lyndon

Malachi
Malcolm
Marcus
Mark, Marc
Marshall
Martin
Marvin
Mason
Matthew
Maurice, Morris
Maxwell
Maynard
Melvin
Meredith
Merritt
Mervin, Mervyn
Michael
Miles, Myles
Millard
Milo
Milton
Mitchell
Montgomery
Morgan
Mortimer
Morton
Moses
Myron

Nathan
Nathaniel
Neil
Neville
Newton
Nicholas
Nigel
Niles
Noah
Noel
Nolan
Norbert
Norman

Ogden
Oliver
Orson
Orville, Orval
Osbert
Osborn
Oscar
Osmond
Oswald
Oswin
Otis
Owen

Patrick
Percival
Percy
Peregrine
Peter
Philip
Pierce
Piers
Preston
Prosper

Quentin
Quincy
Quinlan
Quinn

Ralph
Randall
Randolph
Raphael
Rastus
Ray
Raymond
Reginald
Reuben
Rex
Reynold
Richard
Robert
Robin
Roderick (Famous power)
Rodney
Roger
Roland
Rolf
Rollo
Ronald
Roscoe
Ross
Rowan
Roy
Rudolph
Rudyard
Rufus
Russell

Samson
Samuel
Sanford
Scott
Sebastian
Seth
Seymour
Shelby
Sheldon
Sherman
Sidney, Sydney
Silas
Simon
Sinclair
Solomon
Spencer
Stanford
Stanley
Stephen
Stewart, Stuart
Sylvester

Taylor
Terrence, Terence, Terrance
Terry
Thaddeus
Theodore
Thomas
Thornton
Timothy
Tobias
Todd
Travis
Trent
Trenton
Trevor
Tristan
Troy
Truman
Tyler
Tyrone
Tyson

Ulysses
Upton
Vance
Vaughn
Vernon
Victor
Vincent
Virgil

Wade
Waldo
Walker
Wallace
Walter
Walton
Ward
Wardell
Warner
Warren
Warrick
Warwick
Wayland, Waylon
Wayne
Webster
Weldon
Wendell
Wesley, Westley
Weston
Wilbur (Wild boar)
Wilburn
Wilford
Wilfred
William
Wilmer
Wilson
Wilton
Windsor
Winfred (Friend of peace)
Winslow
Winston
Winthrop
Winton
Woodrow

Xavier
Yancy
Yorick
York
Zachary, Zechariah

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