Rare English Surnames

There are many family names or surnames that have or are nearly about to become extinct – no longer exist. So how does this happen and have you come across a long-time family name that also appears to be extinct?

Time of war can wipe out a whole generation of young men in a small town or village and very few remain to have children and keep the surname going through the generations. The same is true of wide-spread epidemic diseases killing people of all ages. Even without two such major events, a certain male family line who no longer has male children that the line dies out.

Changing the spelling of a family name causes the original spelling to disappear also. An example, the surname today of ‘Kershaw’, an English family name. In the early 1300s in England, it was ‘de Kyrkeschawe’ and ‘del Kyrkeshagh’ by late 1300s. People changed surnames especially when they moved to other countries. It has been figured that in England and Wales (both with a long history) that since 1901 about 200,000 family families have disappeared. Some examples include: Raynott, Southwark, Nithercott, and Harred.

Other English names are considered ‘endangered’ with less than 50 people in England and Wales with that surname. Examples are: Nighy, Febland, Fernard, Portendorfer and Pober.

Yet, another list is also suffering with high percentages of less families with those names. They include: Butterworth, Ashworth, Haigh, Sutcliffe, and Clegg.

One method popular today is to use the hyphenated surnames – two family names joined with a hyphen.

Here is a new angle to check with your ancestors, especially any spelling changes.

Photos: Family Names and Surnames

Related FamilyTree.com Blogs:


Surnames are about what?

English Surnames

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