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“What’s in a Name?”

Updated: Sep 4, 2019


Yesterday I made an appearance (if that is the right word!) on local community radio station Hillz FM. Hillz is based in Hillfields and is very much involved in projects aimed to benefit the local community. I had kindly been invited in by Kate Hills who interviewed me during her show about the work I am doing with my “In Godiva’s Footsteps” enterprise.


My grandma was born in Hillfields in 1901 and some of my points on local history naturally gravitated towards my own family. Although many people will have an interest in history for its own sake that would often have been triggered (as in my own case) by stories handed down and having been shown the historical aspects and relevance of the local neighbourhood.


A sense of wishing to discover more about your own roots is often a trigger for an interest in history (more about that tomorrow!) and one thing that anyone could try to do (and probably find interesting) is to look into the derivation of their own surname.


I was surprised when Kate asked where my own surname “Tutchings” had originated but was able to answer. My uncle Harry (my dad’s brother) had written to a Sunday newspaper in the 1960s as that publication carried a regular feature on the derivation of names. My own research confirmed the explanation given – i.e. that “Tutchings” is derived from the old English word “twichence” meaning a fork in a road (where two roads converge) and that I would have had ancestors who lived at such a place.


Surnames are often derived from identifying features such as locations (e.g Cross, Hill, London), family relationships (e.g Johnson – “son of John”) or occupation (e.g. Archer, Carpenter, Dyer and ex-Coventry City goalie Bill Glazier).


Variations of the “son of” them can be found in names beginning with “Mc”, “Mac” and “Fitz” – so if your surname is MacDonald one of your ancestors would have been a “son of Donald”.


If you wish to find out the derivation of your surname a starting point could be a visit to https://www.surnamedb.com - an excellent resource which allows you to enter your surname. The results for my own were in some detail. I tried entering the name “Adebola” (a Sky Blues link!) to see if African names were covered but got the message that “there are many surnames in the world and we don’t have entries for all of them”. However there was a link given to birth, death and marriage records for that name. If your name is not of British derivation then a google search should hopefully point towards similar tools.

I tried snother surname with a strong Coventry connection “Boocock”. The entry suggests that old Bee’s rider Nigel would have had an ancestor who was a “bold .....over enthusiastic player”. I watched Nigel ride for the Bees when I was around ten years old and nobody could have doubted his enthusiasm!


Not all cultures share the convention of a child taking their father’s surname. In Iceland the tradition is that a boy’s surname will be derived from their father’s first name (so if that tradition were applied here I would have been called “Philip Fredrickson”) and a girl’s surname derived from the first name of her mother (again applying this if I had been born a girl the name would perhaps have been Philippa Audreysdaughter!). Ex-Coventry City Icelandic International and long throw specialist Aron Gunnerson was son of Gunner. However if his family stick to tradition any sons would take the surname “Aronson”.

We also see in some cultures the sex of a child being indicated within their surname. In Polish many surnames end with “ski” for a male and “ska” for a female so to an unaccustomed eye it may appear that a brother and sister are unrelated.


Many Coventrians will share the surname “Singh” – although recognised as an offical surname in this country the entry on https://www.surnamedb.com tells us that every Sikh male receives the name (which means “lion” ) on achieving manhood. It is added onto the family name. All Sikh females traditionally carry the name Kaur.


I've found this a very interesting subject and will follow it up by looking a bit more at different communities in Coventry and how their naming conventions work but as I am writing this my concentration is starting to drift as I am constantly returning to the surname database to try to find derivatives for more of my ancestors – rambling off again! I’ll return to the blog tomorrow with another theme that I mentioned in Kate’s show – that we are all in a way “children of war”.


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