Vol. 61 No. 4 (2013)
Research Article

Surname Typology and the Problem of Inconsistent Classification

Published 2013-12-01


  • Fónagy,
  • Ivan: La Métaphore en phonétique and La Vive voix,
  • Genette,
  • Gérard: Mimologiques: Voyage en Cratylie,
  • gender in names and acts of nomination,
  • literary onomastics,
  • Le Guin,
  • Ursula K.: A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan,
  • phonetic metaphor,
  • names in fantasy literature,
  • sound symbolism
  • ...More



This paper analyzes methodological inconsistency in surname classification, and the implications this has for the comparability of different works. Many studies have organized surnames by type, based on each name’s ‘meaning,’ in order to identify national trends and regional differences in surnaming patterns. However, the ambiguity of ‘meaning’ and the lack of any standard classificatory practice mean that such studies are incomparable. By reviewing P. H. Reaney’s and R. A. McKinley’s classifications of surnames from the same sources, and identifying discrepancies in their calculations and methods, a case for a standard method of surname classification is made. Only when there is a greater level of consistency in the classification of surnames can the findings of separate studies be reliably compared, allowing for meaningful conclusions on surnaming patterns to be drawn.


  1. Kurath, H., S. M. Kuhn, and R. Lewis. 1952–2001. The Middle English Dictionary. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  2. Lyons, John. 1977. Semantics: Volume 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  3. McKinley, Richard. 1975. Norfolk and Suffolk Surnames in the Middle Ages. London: Phillimore.
  4. ——. 1977. The Surnames of Oxfordshire. London: Leopard’s Head Press.
  5. ——. 1981. The Surnames of Lancashire. London: Leopard’s Head Press.
  6. ——. 1988. The Surnames of Sussex. Oxford: Leopard’s Head Press.
  7. ——. 1990. A History of British Surnames. London: Longman.
  8. Postles, David. 1998. The Surnames of Leicestershire and Rutland. Oxford: Leopard’s Head Press.
  9. Reaney, P. H. 1967. The Origin of English Surnames. London: Routledge.
  10. ——, and R. M. Wilson. 1997. A Dictionary of English Surnames. Rev. 3rd edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  11. Redmonds, George. 1997. Surnames and Genealogy: A New Approach. Boston, MA: New England Historic Genealogical Society.
  12. ——, Turi King, and David Hey. 2011. Surnames, DNA, and Family History. Oxford: Oxford University Press.