Memorial bricks with various surnames family names image by  Tupungato AdobeStock_14274845

​Friday 15 May is the International Day of Families

To mark the United Nations International Day of Families, the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and Oxford University Press are providing free access to the Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland. This access starts today and continues until 21 May 2020.

Discovering what our family names mean and where we have come from is fascinating to find out and fun to share. The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland has over 45,000 entries.

Sarah Williams, editor of Who Do You Think You Are? magazine, told the Arts and Humanities Research Council:

“The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland is the most authoritative resource for anyone wanting to understand the origin of their family name. Having free access to this huge body of research will delight family historians across the globe.”

Did your family name start out as a nickname?

It offers information just about every surname that has more than 100 bearers (and more than 20 in the 1881 census). Including where names originated, names of early bearers, geographical distribution, and variant spellings.

Perhaps your family name started out as a nickname, for example, Longbones or Goodfellow. Or maybe you are named after a place, think Green, Sutton or Leicester.

Is your name associated with a particular occupation? Maybe you’re a Tanner, Websteror Franklin.

The most common family names in the country? Yes, it’s Smith, followed by Jones, Williams, Brown, Taylor, Johnson and Lee.

Mike Collins, Head of Public Engagement at the Arts and Humanities Research Council, said:

“This amazing database covering tens of thousands of family names was made possible by careful and painstaking research over many years by a team of researchers at UWE Bristol.

“It feels so appropriate to give people across the UK and Ireland free access to this searchable database for a week as we celebrate the international day of families. At a time when many family members are apart it will help bring people together as they discuss the biographies of their surnames.”

The Oxford Dictionary is based on a research project – Family Names of the United Kingdom. It was funded by the AHRC and led by Professor Richard Coates and a team of researchers based at UWE Bristol that ran between 2010 and 2016.

The Dictionary can be accessed here. (Please note the Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland is experiencing unusually high levels of traffic due to the interest in this offer).