A Journey from Abercrombie to Zwicker
A brilliant journey through the nation's surnames
THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER
Surnames are much more than convenient identity tags; they are windows into our families’ pasts. Some suggest ancestral trades (Butcher, Smith, Roper) or physical appearance (Long, Brown, Thynne). Some provide clues to where we come from (McDonald, Evans, Patel). And some – Rymer, Brocklebank, Stolbof – offer a hint of something just a little more exotic or esoteric.
All are grist to the mill for David McKie who, in What’s in a Surname?, sets off on a journey around Britain to find out how such appellations have evolved and what they tell us about ourselves. En route he looks at the surname’s tentative beginnings in medieval times, and the myriad routes by which particular names became established. He considers some curious byways: the rise and fall of the multi-barrel surname and the Victorian reinvention of ‘embarrassing’ surnames among them. He considers whether fortune favours those whose surnames come at the beginning of the alphabet. And he celebrates the remarkable and the quirky, from the fearsome Ridley (the cry of which once struck terror in the hearts of their neighbours) to the legend-encrusted Tichborne, whose most famous holders were destined to suffer misfortune and controversy. Elegiac and amusing by turns, he offers a wonderfully entertaining wander along the footpaths of the nation’s history and culture, celebrating not just the Smiths and Joneses of these islands but the Chaceporcs and Swetinbeddes, too.
“David McKie's incredibly detailed research and his diamond-sharp prose make this book a delight, full of wisdom and fun.”
“We are all slaves to our surnames. There is no escape from them. Be they grand or humble, David McKie sees behind every one a trail of genealogy and history, wealth and poverty, celebrity and shame. Names are the nation's most secretive record, our island still in code. It is brilliantly revealed in this book.”
“Endlessly entertaining ... [McKie] buzzes like a bee from source to source, collecting all the sweetest things.”
Craig Brown, The Mail on Sunday
“[A] delightful book ... [McKie] remains throughout both a beguiling and erudite guide.”
Andrew Holgate, The Sunday Times
“A book of great zest and interest ... wonderful eruptions of bare lists of strange or silly names, beguiling anecdotes, and interesting titbits ... McKie has a whimsical cast of mind and a fine sense of humour.”
Sam Leith, The Guardian