British last names are distinct from those used in other countries. Each region of Britain – England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales, also has its own popular surnames.
Besides regional last names, occupational and habitational names are common in Britain. Many surnames are also inherited from the clan or male lineage of a person’s ancestors.
Apart from these common types of last names, a lot of British surnames are also an anglicization of older Latin words and other foreign terms, particularly Old French words.
Popular British Last Names for Boys & Girls
Let’s explore the most common British last names and their individual origins and meanings!
Adams is a very popular surname in England and Scotland, meaning “son of Adam.” The surname is thought to be of Hebrew origin, deriving from the word “Adama,” which means “earth.”
Allen is a popular surname in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. It means “manly” or “rock.” It is thought to be an anglicization of the popular Scottish surname McAllen or MacAllen.
Anderson is one of the most common British last names worldwide, not just in Britain. It means “son of Andrew” and is particularly popular in Scotland, where the patron saint is St. Andrew.
Armstrong is a Scottish surname that is thought to mean “strong of arm” or “strong man.”
The surname Atkinson is particularly popular in Northern England. It is a variant of the surname Atkins and Aitkens and means “son of Adam.”
Ball is an English surname thought to mean “son of Baldwin.” The surname Ball also derives from the words ball, bolle, balle, and bealla, which mean “bald” and “round ball.”
Bailey is a popular Old English surname originating from the French surname Baillis. This surname is related to the Latin word baiulivus, which means “attendant,” “stewart,” or “porter.”
Baker is a popular Old English occupational surname denoting someone who bakes. The surname is thought to originate from the words bakere and bacan, which mean “to dry by heat” or “to bake.” The surname also has ties to the Scottish clan surname Baxster.
Bell is an Old English surname that originates from the word belle. It is thought to be an occupational surname for a bell ringer.
Black is a popular English and Scottish surname deriving from the words blac, meaning “white,” and blak, meaning “black.” It is thought to mean someone of dark complexion or light complexion with dark hair.
Brown is an Old English surname deriving from the French word Brun, which literally means “brown.” It is thought to be used to describe someone with brown hair or a darker complexion or someone who wore a lot of brown garments.
Burton is an Old English surname that is thought to be a habitational surname for someone living in a town. It derives from the words burh, meaning “fort,” and tun, meaning “settlement.”
Carter is an English occupational surname deriving from the French words caretier and caret, meaning “carrier.”
Chapman is an occupational surname originating from the word céapmann, meaning “merchant” or “marketman.” Céapmann is a compound of ceap, meaning “to barter,” and mann, meaning “man.”
Clarke, Clerk, or Clark is an occupational surname originating from the Latin word clericus, meaning “clerk.”
Collins derives from the name Colin, which is a diminutive of the popular name Nicholas. The surname is also thought to originate from the Old Norse name Kollungr or Koli, meaning “dark.”
The Cole surname is of Cornish origin, meaning literally “cole,” “black,” and “charcoal.”
Corbyn is a popular British last name that derives from the French word Corbeau, meaning “raven.”
The regional and habitational surname Cox is thought to originate from the Old English, Cornish, and Welsh words cocc, meaning “little,” coch or cogh, meaning “red,” and cock, meaning “hills.” It is thought to mean “someone from the red hills.”
The surname Cooper derives from the Dutch word Kuper, meaning “tub” or “container.” It is thought to be an occupational surname given to those who repaired wooden containers such as tubs, barrels, and casks.
The regional surname Cornish originates from the Old English word Cornisc, which is a compound of Kernow, meaning “headland,” and isc. As such, it was usually given to those hailing from Cornwall.
Davies is a Welsh surname derived from the name of St. David, the patron saint of Wales. The name David also means “beloved” in Hebrew.
Davidson is an English surname meaning “son of David” or “son of the beloved.”
Dawson is an English and Scottish surname originating from the diminutive of David – Daw or Dow. The surname also means “son of David.”
Dixson is a Scottish surname, meaning “son of Richard.” It derives from the diminutive nickname of Richard – Dick.
Edwards is an English and Welsh surname meaning “son of Edward.”
Elliot is both a Scottish clan name and an Old English name meaning “bravely and boldly” and “the Lord is my God.”
Evans is an English surname meaning “son of Evan.” The name Evan or Ifan is a Welsh name that means “gift of God.”
Fisher or Fischer is an occupational and habitational English last name commonly given to fishermen or those who lived near a fish weir.
Fletcher is an occupational English, Scottish, and Irish; the last name was given to those who made (arrowsmith) or sold arrows. The surname originates from the Old French Flecher and fleche, meaning “arrow.”
Ford is an English habitational surname often given to those who lived near a bridge or river crossing. It derives from the word ford or Old Norse word, fjord, meaning “river crossing.”
Foster, Forster, Forrest, Forester, Forrester, or Forest is an English occupational surname. The name was given to those caretaking and guarding the hunting territories, usually forests, belonging to the monarchy and clergy.
Fox, Foxx, or Foxe is a common English and Irish surname deriving from the English word “fox.”
Gibson is a popular Scottish and English surname meaning “son of Gilbert.”
The surname Grant has a few suspected origins. The name could derive from the Gaelic, na granteach, meaning “from the plains of the sun.” Or, from the Norman word graunt or graund, meaning “tall,” “big,” or “grand,” which derives from the Old French and Latin words grant or grandis.
Grey, Greye, or Gray is another popular British last name originating from the Scottish-English borders. It is thought to derive from the term “the grey,” a nickname for those with grey hair.
Graham is an English and Scottish last name thought to derive from the word grand, meaning “gravel,” and grasgham, meaning “grey home.”
Green is a habitational English surname commonly given to those living near a village green or other turfy ground.
Griffiths, Griffith, or Gruffydd is a common last name of Welsh origin. It is a compound surname made up of the words gruff, meaning “strong grip,” and udd, meaning “lord” or “chieftain.”
Hall is a common English place name originating from the Old English, German, and Norse words heale, halle, and holl, meaning “hall” or “spacious house.”
Harris is an English surname meaning “son of Harry.”
Harrison is an English surname meaning “son of Harry.”
Hamilton is a popular Northern Irish and Scottish habitational surname referring to someone who lived on or near a crooked hill. It is thought to be a compound name deriving from the Old English words Hamil, meaning “crooked,” and dun, meaning “hill.”
Harvey is an English surname. It derives from the compound word Huiarnviu – hoiarn or huiarn, meaning “iron,” and viu, meaning “blazing.”
Hill or Hyll is an English habitational surname that refers to someone who lived by or on a hill.
Holmes is another popular British last name made famous by Katie Holmes. The surname derives from the Old English word holm, which means “island.”
Hughes is a popular Irish and Scottish surname that originates from the clan name McHugh. Hughes means “son of Hugh” and derives from the name Hugh, which means “fire” or “inspiration.”
Jackson is a popular Irish, Scottish, and English last name meaning “son of Jack.”
James is an English last name deriving from the name Jacobus and Hebrew name Yaakov, which means “heel.”
Jenkins is a Cornish surname that means “kin of John” or “son of John.” The unusual suffix, -kins, comes from the Dutch suffix, -kjin, which means kin or kinfolk.
Johnson is a Scottish and English last name meaning “son of John.” It originates from the Latin name Johannes, which derives from the Greek Iōannēs and Hebrew Yohanan, which means “gift of God” or “favored of Yahweh”
Jones is an English surname meaning “son of John” and “favored of God.”
Kelly is an Irish surname that derives from the traditional last name, O’Ceallaigh, meaning “son of strife.” O’Ceallaigh is a compound of O’, which is a prefix denoting a male descendant, and Ceallach, which means “strife” or “contention.”
King is an Old English surname deriving from the word cyning, meaning “leader” or “lord. It is thought to have been given to those working in the King’s household.
Knight is a popular English surname. It is thought to have been given to those who were knights or worked in the household of a knight.
The name Lawrence is an anglicization of the Latin name Laurentius. Laurentius is a name given to men of Laurentium, a town in Italy characterized by its bay laurel trees.
Lee is a popular English surname worldwide. It derives from the Old English word lea, or Leah, meaning “meadow,” “clearing,” or “glade.” This surname is also popular amongst those of Korean and Vietnamese descent and originates from the traditional Asian surnames Lý, Rhee, and Yi.
The Lewis last name derives from the Germanic name Lowis, Hlodwig, or Lodovicus, meaning “renowned battle” or “famous battle.” The name is a compound of hlod, meaning “fame” or “renowed” and wig, meaning “war” or “battle.”
Lloyd is a Welsh surname deriving from the name Llwyd, meaning “sacred” or “gray-haired one.”
The English surname Martin derives from the Latin name Martinus, related to the Roman God, Mars. As such, the name Martinus means someone who is “warlike,” “of Mars,” or “of war.”
Marshal or Marshall is an English occupational surname. It is a compound name deriving from the Frankish words, mare, meaning “horse,” and skalkoz, meaning “servant.” It’s also a popular Scottish surname meaning “lover of horses.”
Mason is an English occupational surname referring to someone who did stonemasonry.
Matthews is an English surname meaning “son of Matthew.”
McDonald or MacDonald is a popular Scottish surname meaning “son of Donald.” It derives from the Gaelic Mac Dhamhnuill, meaning “world ruler.”
Morgan is a British last name of Celtic origin deriving from the Welsh name Morcant. Morcant is a compound word comprised of the words mor, meaning “sea,” and cant, meaning “circle.”
Morris is an English and Scottish last name derived from the Old French name Maurice. Maurice is thought to originate from the Latin name Mauritius and French more, meaning “Moorish” or “of dark complexion.”
Murphy is an anglicized English surname deriving from the Gaelic name Ó Murchadha, meaning “male descendant or son of Murchadh.” Murchadh is a compound name, meaning “sea-warrior” made up of the words muir, meaning “sea,” and cath, meaning “battle.”
Nixon is an English, Irish, and Scottish surname meaning “son of Nicholas.”
Osborne is an anglicized English surname deriving from the Old Norse compound word Ásbjørn, meaning “divine bear.” It derives from the words Ás, meaning “God,” and bjørn, meaning bear.
The surname Owen is an anglicized version of the Welsh name Owain, which originates from the name Eugene, meaning “of noble birth.”
Palmer is an English occupational surname given to pilgrims. The name is thought to originate from the palm worn by those undertaking the journey.
Payne is a habitational English surname deriving from the Old English word paien and Latin word paganus, meaning “countryman.”
Peterson is a surname of Scandinavian origin, meaning “son of Peter.”
Ramsey is a Scottish habitational surname deriving from the words hramsa, meaning “wild garlic,” and, eg, meaning “lowlands.”
Ratcliffe, Radcliffe, Radcliff, or Ratcliff is a famous British last name popularized by British actor Daniel Radcliffe. It is a habitational surname deriving from the words read, red, and cliff.
Richards is a Norman surname brought to England during the Norman Conquest in 1066 AD. It derives from the German name Ricard, meaning “powerful” and “brave.”
Roberts is a surname of Welsh origin, deriving from the name Robert. Robert is a compound name made from the German words hrod, meaning “renowned,” and beraht, meaning “bright.”
Robinson is an English surname meaning “son of Robert” or “son of Robin,” which is a diminutive form of Robert.
The last name Sallow derives from the Middle English word “salwe,” a type of willow tree.
Scott is a regional last name denoting someone from Scotland or a person who spoke Gaelic. It derives from the word scotti, a nickname used by Romans for the Gaelic raiders.
Simpson is an English and Scottish last name, meaning “son of Simme.”
Smith is a common occupational surname given to those who were blacksmiths. The last name derives from the Anglo-Saxon word smitan or smite, which means “to strike.”
Stevens is the last name brought to England by the Normans during the Norman Conquest of 1066 AD. It derives from the name Stephen, meaning “crown” or “wreath.”
Stewart is a popular Scottish last name thought to derive from the Old English compound word stigeweard. Stigeweard means stewart or house warden and comprises of the words stige, meaning “hall” and weard, meaning “warden.”
Taylor is an anglicized occupational last name deriving from the Old French word tailleur and Catalan tauler, meaning “board or tile cutter.”
Thomas is a popular English, Scottish, Irish, and Welsh surname meaning “son of Thomas.”
Thompson or Thomson is a Scottish surname meaning “son of Thomas.”
Turner is an occupational Scottish and English surname driving from the Old French word tornier and Latin tornarius, meaning “lathe.” It was given to those who made items out of natural materials like bone or wood using a lathe.
Walker is an extremely common English last name deriving from the German term walker, meaning ‘a fuller of cloth.”
Walsh is a popular Irish surname meaning “foreigner” or “Welshman.” It was used for the Welsh and British soldiers invading Ireland.
Watson is an English last name meaning “son of Walter.”
Webb is an occupational English last name given to those who were weavers of cloth.
White is a popular British last name meaning “of fair complexion.” It derives from the Old English word whit, meaning “white.”
Williams is an anglicized English last name meaning “son of William.” The name also derives from the compound surname Willems or Willhelm. Will means “desire,” and helm means “helmet.”
Wilson is an English last name meaning “son of Will” or “son of William.”
Wood or Woods is an English habitational last name given to those who lived near or worked in the wood or a forest.
Wright is an English occupational last name. It derives from the Old English word wryhta or wyrhta, meaning “woodworker” or “wood shaper.”
Yates is a habitational and occupational English last name deriving from the Old English words yate or geat, meaning “gate.” It was given to those who lived near the city gates or worked as a gatekeeper.
Yardley is an English surname deriving from the Old English words gerd or gyrd, meaning “stick,” and leah, meaning “wood” or “clearing.”
Young is an English surname deriving from the Old English word yunge or yonge, meaning “young.” It’s similar to junior as it was commonly used for the son or younger of another man.
As you can see, British last names have an interesting history and origin. Now you know more about them; perhaps you can pick a cute one for your baby from the above!
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