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Friday, 18 November 2016

Four-volume dictionary of surnames published

The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland was published yesterday, with a four-volume hardback and a searchable online version (£) at OxfordReference (see below for temporary free access) providing details of the origins and geographical distribution of nearly 46,000 surnames.

According to the blurb: "Much of this evidence is new, drawn from previously untapped medieval and modern sources such as tax records, church registers and census returns. Each entry contains lists of variant spellings of the name, an explanation of its origins (including the etymology), lists of early bearers showing evidence for formation and continuity from the date of formation down to the 19th century, geographical distribution, and, where relevant, genealogical and bibliographical notes, making this a fully comprehensive work on family names. About 40,000 are native to Ireland and Britain, while the remainder reflect the diverse languages and cultures of immigrants who have settled on these islands since the 16th century, including French Huguenot, Dutch, Jewish, Indian, Arabic, Korean, Japanese, Chinese and African arrivals."

The study, by the University of the West of England at Bristol, took four years and explores the frequencies of each name at the time of the (UK) 1881 and 2011 censuses, the name's main geographical home hub in Britain and Ireland, its language or culture of origin, and in some cases, an explanation supported by historical evidence for the name. You can view a free sample – for the surname Hawkins – to see what the pages might reveal.

For the surname Santry, there are a couple of options for English origins. I've never heard English origins suggested before, so I was curious to learn more. However, in the 'early bearers' section were individuals such as Andreas Santry (b1815 near Bristol) and Henry James Santry (b1845 in Brixton); I know them to have been the sons of Daniel and Cornelius, both born in Ireland. Cornelius, in fact, was born in Bandon. So these specimens didn't strike me as very good examples of 'English origins' for the name.


The 'Irish origin' etymological details were the same as I'd gathered from other sources. Of the three 13th and 14th century examples of documentary evidence, I'd previously seen only one.

The main Irish location for the name was given as Cork, which is easy enough to find from Griffith's Valuation when there were no incidences of the name outside the county. The main GB location for Santry in 1881 (as per the England and Wales census) was given as 67, with which FindMyPast agrees.

The 'Current Frequencies' in BB were recorded as 177, which I've no reason to not accept. But when it came to 'Current Frequencies' for Ireland, the result was a big fat 0. I know a good few people, many of them still in County Cork, who might like to argue with that finding. I've no idea what sources were used to come up with this result. I have asked the question and been told it's been passed on to the Irish consultant.

Presumably the source dates to the same period of history where there were 23,713 Doyles in Ireland and only 37 O'Driscolls (the frequency numbers for those names)...?

I confess to being more than a little irritated that the Santry entry, as well as those for Tierney, Tobin, Crowley and Donovan, were accompanyied by a map of the name's distribution in Britain. There were no maps for Ireland. When you're dealing with dominant traditional Irish names, surely a distribution map of Ireland wouldn't have been too much to ask. If they didn't want to go to the bother themselves, they should have had a word with John Grenham.

At £400 for the package of 4 volumes, this Dictionary is obviously intended for institutional use rather than for the shelves of the individual researcher. I'm sure it will become a popular and standard reference work but while I respect the work that's gone into it and the stamina of those involved, my enthusiasm is somewhat muted, at least for the Irish entries.

Until the end of November you can get free access to the online version at Oxford Reference by using these login details: Username: fanbi / Password: onlineaccess


Edited 13:35pm to include free access login details (thanks Joe Buggy @TownlandOrigin) and remove resulting redundancies.