Family Names


It’s interesting when we start to look at our family history, one of the first things we often look for, is the meaning of the name and this can be very surprising, as many do not mean what we automatically think. Many are related to the trade carried out by our ancestor, the town, village or the place he lived but sometimes, it was a nick-name relating to what he looked like. Here is a list of a few:

Fletcher: A man who made arrows.

Blaxter: A bleacher.

Villin: A commoner or farm servant.

Bunn: Good, from the French “Bon”.

Fuller: A man who worked in the cloth industry.

Skipper: A man who owned a ship.

Redman: Red haired or someone with a high colour.

Athill: Someone who lived on a hill.

Deville: From the town.

Walsingham: From Walsingham.

See what you can find out about the origin of your own surname and, if you have any problems, let me know and I’ll see if I can help.

Ginger beer sellers Norfolk

When it comes to finding where your family originated from, you may think that you will never find out because the records in the libraries don’t tell you anything. Don’t give up as some names are typically from Norfolk: Rallison, Frary, Bennefer, Cason, Gurney, Grimmer, Filby, Hipkin, Howling, Foulger, Gotts and Skipper, are all names which are very common in Norfolk. In fact, if you are a Benefer, I can guarantee that your ancestor came from King’s Lynn! My great Grandmother was a Benefer and I have not yet found any Benefer who isn’t related to me.

Norwich Market

So, how do we find where our family name originated from? Obviously, if it is a name like Smith or Jones, it will be very difficult but if you have an unusual name, it is always worth putting the name in an early census search on a family history index site and see what comes up. If 99% of the hits are from one area, it could be a good place to start! If I put Rallison or Benefer into a search for the 1851 census, the only hits are people born in Norfolk.


I have been researching my own family history since 1977 and I have found that all of my ancestors lived within 50 miles of where I live today, even the families I have traced back to the 16th Century. Some are rare names, like Goll, Benefer and Ebdale but others are quite common like Burrows, Harvey and Claxton. How far have your ancestors travelled?


About Glynn

I have been researching local & family history since 1977 and I'm passionate about this beautiful county and the people who have made it what it is. All of my own ancestors, discovered up to today, lived within fifty miles of where I live today and that means I am, as far as I know, a real Norfolk Dumpling, with a tiny bit of me from North Suffolk. :) My early origins were obviously from Scandinavia but I suspect that I have a bit of Roman blood in there too, as there was a very large Roman presence in the area.

6 Responses to Family Names

  1. Julia Hurrell says:

    I have found your article very interesting regarding names from Norfolk – I am trying to trace a Margaret Maud Benefer who would be about 80 now ?? Please feel free to e mail me so I can give you a full explanation as to why this is, as this may be of interest to you and any Benefer’s
    Kind regards
    Julia Hurrell

  2. alison wells says:

    i found your article and am very interested i have found in researching my family tree a member with the first name of grimmer and i am dying to know where it came from and anything about the name as i find it so unusual
    the family member is called grimmer watts born 1869 lakenheath suffolk he married rebecca finchami found out it wasnt a nickname as it appears on 2 war memorials for his son ralf fincham watts b 1899 d 1918
    i would be so grateful if you could solve the origin of this name for me
    many thanks
    alison wells nee watts

    • admin says:

      Hi Alison

      Apologies that I haven’t got back to you. The message didn’t get through and I have only just found it.
      Grimmer is a name I know and is supposed to originate from another word for “helmet” or “mask”.

      It seems that the Christian name “Grimmer” came through the Fincham & Fears families too, as there were several Grimmer Finchams in various census of Norfolk & Suffolk & at least one Grimmer Fears in the census too. Searching the Census indexes for all people called “Grimmer”, they are all in Norfolk, Suffolk & Cambridgeshire.

      To actually find the origin of this as a Christian name, it would involve quite a lot of research in this whole area of East Anglia.

      Best wishes.


  3. Todd Matthew Morgan says:

    My Grandmother 1891-1980 was born in Kings Lynn as Beatrice May Ward . She left Norfolk in 1912 and moved to New Westminster, B.C. She married James Henry Francis Morgan from Hackney ,London .Are there any relatives. in Kings Lynn I might be related too ? Cheers !

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *