Sunday, 18 November 2012

Extinct and endangered surnames

My new Surnames Handbook has received a very welcome mention in an article in today's Sunday Telegraph. However, there are a number of errors in the article which I would like to correct. The article gives the impression that the extinct and endangered surnames featured in the article are mentioned in the book, but in fact I don't cover the subject, though I do discuss the differing distribution patterns of many surnames.The survival of surnames is indeed a random process but some surnames have multiple origins and have a much better chance of surviving than a surname with a single origin.

Surnames were in fact in use in Ireland before they were introduced in England following the Norman Conquest. In Scotland the situation is more complicated but, as a result of English influence, some surnames were in use in Scotland after the Conquest, but surnames developed much later in the Gaelic-speaking areas in the Highlands. While there are some "seasonal" surnames which are from days of the week (Friday), festivals (Christmas) and months (February, May), the derivation is not always what it appears. Reaney and Wilson suggest, for example, that the surname May is derived from the Middle English word may meaning "young lad or girl" or that it might be a pet form of Matthew, from Mayheu or Mayhew.

In the book I did discuss the difficulties in trying to establish how many surnames there actually are. There are no precise figures available for England and Wales, and it is almost impossible to say how many surnames there actually are in the world. The General Register Office does of course keep records of all births, deaths and marriages in England and Wales, but their records are not available in a database format that can be searched to produce comparative statistics for surnames. Recent electoral registers are not available for public inspection, though it is possible to search an edited version on websites such as

The information on the extinct surnames that were used in the Telegraph article was provided by some of my fellow members of the Guild of One-Name Studies. As the Telegraph only provided very brief details of these surnames I have taken this opportunity to provide further information and I've added a few more names to the list which arrived too late to be included in the article. If you know of any more extinct or endangered surnames do let me know.

Guild member Andrew Millard is studying the surname Bodimeade. He tells me that some of the variant spellings of his surname have now died out.  The last bearer of the surname Bodiman died in 1820, and the last member of a family which consistently spelled their name Bodymead died out in 1901. You can read more about Andrew's study on his Guild profile page.

Guild member Phil Hand is studying the surnames Boyell, Boyall and Boyall. Boyell is a variant spelling of Boyall and first appeared in the records in about 1810. There are only about 45 people born with the Boyell variant spelling, all of whom are descendants of a Richard Boyell who had the 'a' of his surname crossed out on his 1814 marriage entry and an 'e' written above it. The name is now held by a single lady in England, though there are also a couple of Boyells in the USA. The Boyells in the US appear to be Boyles who have changed the spelling of their surname quite recently. The surname Boyall is centred around Lincolnshire and Rutland.

The surname Bythewood has been investigated by Guild member Ros Dunning though she has not as yet registered the surname with the Guild. The surname became extinct in Britain in the middle of the nineteenth century but a single Bythewood emigrated to the United States.  Ros tells me that "he had so many children both legitimate and illegitimate (by slaves) that he managed to keep them going in the States!" The surname Bythewood does not appear in any surname dictionaries but is most probably not an occupational surname as the reporter supposed but was probably a topographical surname which would originally have been written as "By the wood".

The surname DOOGOOD, which is being studied by Guild member John Hill, is on the brink of extinction in the UK though it is alive and well in Australia. There are no more than seven people with the surname in England and Wales and, as far as John knows, none in Scotland or Northern Ireland. John's research indicates that the living male Doogoods have either not married or had no male children so there appears to be little chance of the surname continuing in use.

It is probably a nickname which probably arose independently in several locations. Prior to about 1800 there were Doogoods in various counties including Hampshire, Norfolk, Lincolnshire, Somerset, Herefordshire and Worcestershire as well as in London. There were also a few in Scotland. John's research has shown that all the other branches died out. All the living Doogoods can be traced back to the parishes of Leigh and Bransford in Worcestershire in the mid 1500s. They remained in this area until about 1800. Further information about the Doogood surname can be found on John's Guild profile page.

Guild member Michael Simpkin is studying the surname Earthridge which appears to be extinct in the UK, though it's possible that it might still be found in North America and in the Republic of Ireland. Having studied the surname for some time Michael has come to the conclusion that it is probably a rare variant of a group of surnames of which Etheridge is the most common.

The surname Foothead is being studied by Guild member Carol Gilbert. The surname is now extinct in the UK but still lives on in Australia and New Zealand. Carol's great grandfather Edward James Foothead was at one time the only male of the name in the world. He emigrated to New Zealand in 1874 where he had ten children, all but one of whom were boys. Most had children of their own so there are a few more now than there were though still not many.  You can read more about Carol's research into the Foothead surname on her profile page on the Guild's website.

Guild member Pamela Bishop is studying the surname Hudgill. This name is on the verge of extinction and there is currently just one living male left in the whole world with this surname. Hudgill is a variant of the name Hudgell which, in contrast, has continued to thrive. Further information on the Hudgill surname can be found on Pamela's one-name study website.

Guild member James Mackman is studying his own surname Mackman. During the course of his research he has also studied the surname Mackmain. He tells me:
The name Mackmain seems to have died out. At one time we thought it was related to Mackman but we've never found a connection. On the off-chance that there was a connection I have spent many hours checking Mackmain references. Altogether I have about 70 Mackmains. The last one (Norman Langford Mackmain) died in 1964. There are no Mackmains in any phone book I've come across anywhere in the world. There are no references to living Mackmains on Google.
James has been able to trace his own Mackman name back to a James Makeman who was christened on 10 January 1747/8 and is the common ancestor of 411 of the 477 living Mackmans he has traced. Fifty-three Mackmans are descended from four different ancestors whose surname changed to Mackman for various reasons. The ancestors of the remaining 13 Mackmans have yet to be identified. The origin of the common ancestor's surname is not known.

Oal or Oall
Guild member Donald Grant is studying the surname Scoon, but has supplied information about another surname Oal or Oall which he has also researched. This surname appears in Caithness in the late 18th century as an Anglicisation of the Scots dialect name Auld. For some reason, most of the line(s) in which this happened gradually reverted to the Auld spelling, so the name (but not the lines) died out by 1910. Some later Auld death certificates indicate that the name was "formerly Oal".

Pauncefoot is a surname which appears in my own family tree.  I am descended from the Pauncefoots of Compton Pauncefoot in Somerset on my father's side of the family. My most recent Pauncefoot ancestor is Anne Pauncefoot, the daughter of Sir Walter Pauncefoot, lord of the manor of Compton Pauncefoot, and Tomasine Baumpfield. Anne was born on 4th July 1485, and we have a delightful proof of age document for Anne in which many of the local villagers turned out to testify to the date of her birth.2 Anne married John Whiting or Whyting, lord of the manor of Woode in the parish of Kentisbeare in Devon. The research on the early Pauncefoot tree has been done by my distant cousin the author Fay Sampson.

The earliest occurrence of the name is in the Domesday Book of 1086 where a Bernhard Pauncevolt was recorded as holding several manors in Hampshire. In early records the name appears with a variety of different spellings such as Pancefot, Pauncefot, Pauncefort, Pantesfort and Pauncheout. The Paunce element of the surname is derived from panche (Middle English), pance (Old French) or panche (Old Norman French) meaning "stomach". Volt is an Old French word for face, but also means "vaulted" or "arched". It is therefore suggested that the name refers to a man with an "arched and rounded belly". Alternatively the name may derive from the place name of Ponsford in Devon.3

The most recent reference to the surname that I can find dates from 1939 when a Miriam Pauncefoot was listed in the UK Electoral Register living at 3 Heythorp Street in Putney, London. The FreeBMD website has a single reference to the surname - the death of Emma Pauncefoot at the age of 67 in Hackney, London, in 1892.

Although the surname is now extinct the name is preserved as a manorial affix in the Somerset village of Compton Pauncefoot. There is a stone in the church in memory of my ancestor Anne Whiting née Pauncefoot, which also includes the coats of arms of both the Whiting and Pauncefoot families.

De Rippe
Ann McDonald has registered the surname Corner with the Guild but it is the De Rippe surname in her family tree which has become extinct. The last person with the name died in the 1890s. Ann has provided the following information on the surname:
The first records I can find of the De Rippe family (also spelt D'Rippe plus about 27 other deviant spellings!) are in Wakerley, Northamptonshire in the late 17th century.  I haven't been able to find any record of them in the Huguenot registers I've looked at but there is a family with a similar name, generally Darripe or D'Arippe, in Portarlington, Ireland who did come from France.  I can't establish a link between the two families but Abraham and Isaac are names common to both (a red herring?)  The name Derippe is still current in France.

The De Rippes were mostly farmers or bakers and in the mid-18th century some of them moved to London establishing successful businesses as bakers and merchants.  My heroine is Elizabeth who separated from her husband, a tea dealer in the City of London, in the late 18th century through Doctors' Commons, set up as a tea merchant on her own account, and was far more successful than her erstwhile husband.  A famous descendant of the family with a De Rippe grandmother was Edward Aveling, a Socialist with a Congregationalist minister father, who lived for sometime with Karl Marx's daughter Eleanor.  Eleanor committed suicide after Edward married another woman. The last person with the name was Charlotte who died in Epsom, Surrey in 1895 aged 94.

There are any number of us scattered throughout the world descended through the female line and De Rippe still appears as a middle name in some families to this day.  I've been able to tie pretty well every occurrence of the name as a surname or middle name in England, the USA and Australia to the one extended family.
Rowbree is a variant of the surname Rowberry which is being studied by Guild member Polly Rubery. Polly tells me that there are now just two living people with the surname Rowbree, neither of whom are likely to carry it forward. You can read more about the Rowberry surrname and its variants on Polly's website, where she also provides detailed information on the origin of the surname.

Guild member Gillian Stevens is doing a one-name study of the surname Blofeld, but has also been researching other surnames in her family tree including the rare surname Tillcott. She tells me:
My 3 x great grandmother was Jane Tillcott 1782-1842 which I believe to be an at risk surname.

In 1841 there were 2 Tillcotts in the census, the brother and sister in law of the above Jane. These 2 had died by 1851 and there are no other Tillcott in this census. The only other census transcriptions in the census were 1871 via Ancestry where the Tillcott should have been Tallbott and via findmypast where a 15 year old servant was indexed as Tillcott (not sure what her name should be).

With regard to civil registration.There are 8 marriages from 1918 to 1948 all in the Hackney Registration District but I do not know where this "family" came from. There is one birth in 1930 of a Jean Tillcott belonging to one of the Hackney marriages. There are 3 deaths in Warwickshire 1837-1850 all relations of my Jane (her father and the two mentioned above) plus 8 London deaths including 3 from Hackney during the 20th century (I assume persons from the 8 Hackney marriages).

From Family Search there appears to be a small number in Canada and Ohio US. Similarly Google produces an extremely small number of the surname.
Gillian's Tillcots trace back to Northamptonshire but the origins of the surname are not known. The name does not appear in any surname dictionaries.

Alan Wellbelove registered his surname and the variant spellings Welbelove, Welbeloved, Wellbeloved and Wellbeluff with the Guild of One-Name Studies in 2008. His one-name study is small with fewer than 400 name-bearers in England and Wales in 2002, and probably no more than 600 in total worldwide. These were the only spellings of the surname to survive into the twentieth century. Alan has provided the following information:

- Wellbeluff became extinct worldwide in 1986 with the death of the last name-bearer.
- Welbeloved became extinct in England & Wales in 2004, but still survives mainly in New Zealand and Australia.
- Welbelove numbers were estimated at 21 in 2002 and the name is rarely found outside of the UK, so it is in most danger of extinction.
- Wellbelove is the most common variant with an estimated 273 in England & Wales in 2002.
- Wellbeloved is found especially in South Africa and the USA. There were only 88 in England and Wales in 2002.

Since the nineteenth century the surname has occasionally been abbreviated to Welby/Wellby/Wellbye as a nickname and sometimes an alias. There is no single explanation for the use as an alias, but it has occurred not only in England, but also with different families in Scotland, South Africa and the USA. Alan is exploring these links with Guild member Daniel Welby who is studying the surname Welby with variants Welbee, Welbey, Wellbie, Welbye, Wellby and Wellbye. Further information on the surname Wellbelove and its variants can be found on Alan's Guild profile page. Further details on the Welby one-name study can be found on Daniel's Welby profile page.

1. Reaney, PH, and Wilson RM. A Dictionary of English Surnames. 3rd edition. Oxford University Press, reprinted 2005, p304.
2. Proof of Age. Inquisition 1502. Chancery Series II. VII 15 (57). Typed transcript from the Moget collection at the West Country Studies Library in Exeter, Devon.
3. Reaney, PH, and Wilson RM. A Dictionary of English Surnames. 3rd edition. Oxford University Press, reprinted 2005, p342.

© Debbie Kennett 2012


Alan Savin said...

Most of the above examples are not cases of extinction but the dying out of branches which are of a spelling variation to the main surname or the name survives elsewhere in the world. This is a lesson in itself.

Debbie Kennett said...

It all depends on whether you regard variants as separate surnames or not. Most people cling to their particular spelling of a name and it gives them a strong sense of identity. I suspect that Foothead is a variant of Footit which still thrives and is not registered with the Guild.

Anonymous said...

Roaf seems to be dying out in England.

Debbie Kennett said...

Thanks for the information about the Roaf surname. I'm now keeping a list of extinct and endangered names. If I ever get the chance to do a second edition of the book I will include something on these names as the subject seems to have attracted so much interest!

Anonymous said...

My maiden name is Farnen. I cannot find out whether there are any other people with this surname in the UK. My only living relative with this name is my mum. I would be interested to know if there are any other people called Farnen in Britain, or if the name is classed as extinct. I would imagine it is certainly endangered.

Debbie Kennett said...

The name Farnen does not seem to be in danger of extinction. There are 94 people with this surname listed in the electoral registers at Many people opt out of the published electoral register so this is not a complete listing. There are 208 Farnen births in England and Wales in the England Wales Birth Index 1916-2005
at You can find partial listings of Farnen BMDs at

Daniel said...

My own surname, "Mayton" appears to be extinct, or nearly so, in the UK. Records of the surname appear at least as early as the mid-seventeenth century, and possibly much earlier. Although I haven't been able to trace my ancestry very well, I did find that there was once a village in east-England named "Mayton" in the Doomsday Prophesy book. Additionally, there is a "Mayton Street" in London. The surname is alive in America, although the name is still pretty rare. If anyone has additionally information, I'd much appreciate you sharing your knowledge.

Debbie Kennett said...

Mayton is perhaps a variant of another surname. Often surnames evolve differently in the US. Your surname sounds like an ideal candidate for a one-name study. Have you ever considered joining the Guild?

Unknown said...

Re. Tillcott
Have a dau inlaw Tapscott ( taps, cott ) may be born or lived in Taps cottage

Unknown said...

My surname is Mulford, its origin is old English. Never met another person who wasn't family with that surname. in America only 1 in 100,000 people have that surname. Its considered pretty rare, our family has a lot of girls. At the moment, only one boy is in my family to carry on the name.