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Unearthing Surnames That Were Nicknames


Many of those who contact us about Surname Heritage are fascinated by surnames and their origin. In this last video in the series, we explore Surnames that were Nicknames.

Our previous videos in this series are Find Out Where Surnames Originate, Where Does Your Local/Place Surname Come From?, Behind Surnames of Relationship and What Does Your Occupational Surname Say About You?

If you’ve ever wondered where the surname Murphy came from, it’s a safe bet your surname started as a nickname. These unusual surnames reveal your ancestor stories from many centuries ago.

Research Surnames

There are 4 main types of surname – Local Surnames, Surnames of Relationship,  Surnames of Occupation and Nicknames. Here we will look at Nicknames, which people were called because of a feature they had such as the way they looked or a characteristic.


Physical Description:someone might be brown in complexion, short in stature or strong. This was adopted as their surname. In Ireland, Kelly meant bright-headed; Campbell in Scotland was ‘crooked mouth’. 

Character: a person might be good, smart or wise, so that became their surname. The most common Irish surname Murphy meant sea-battler.

Animal/Bird: Many people were named after an animal or bird such as a fox, lamb or wren.

There were many other nicknames such as those named after seasons e.g winter; and others including vulgar ones that perhaps descendants changed later on.

Join the many thousands of people experiencing and researching Surnames Ancestry and open a side of your past you never knew existed.

If you’ve got a ‘Nickname’ in your family tree, and would like to know more, please get in touch with us to book your free consultation. We will have a look for you, then get back to you with our suggestions of how we can help to bring your ancestors to life.

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Contact us today to find out how we can help you research your family history

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