B is for: A Genealogy Study

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This is a continuation of my alphabet surname posts. If you’ve missed the first installment, you can find it here: A is for…

I was actually surprised at how few ‘A’ names I’ve found so far in my family tree. Let’s look at B… as you can see, there was no shortage of B names, so I deleted all the common ones or ones that appeared only once in my family tree. I found a great deal of the following information on The Surname Database.

Barker: Firstly, it may be a metonymic occupational name for a tanner of leather deriving from the Olde English pre 7th Century “be(o)rc” and Middle English “bark(en)” meaning to tan (from the bark of a tree, which was used in the process). The surname may also have derived from the Old French “berch(i)er”, “berk(i)er” a shepherd.


Beaton: English,  this most interesting surname, recorded in the spellings of Betton, Beaton, and Bethune, has a number of distinct origins. Firstly, it may be a Norman locational surname, introduced into England and Scotland after the Conquest of 1066, from the place called “Bethune” in Pas-de-Calais, Picardy. The placename was recorded in the 8th Century in the Latin form “Bituinia” and is thought to be so called from an ancient Germanic personal name “Betto”, from “berht”, bright, famous. Secondly, Beaton may be derived from the medieval given name “Be(a)ton”, a diminutive of a short form of either the female personal name Beatrice, originally “Viatrix”, meaning “traveller” or the male personal name Bartholomew, from the Aramaic “bar-Talmay”, son of one rich in land. The latter source applies particularly in Scotland, and indeed the name Beaton is now found mainly in the Angus and Fife regions of that country.

Beier/ Beyer: German, a variant of ‘Bayer’; this was a locational name for someone from Bavaria (German ‘Bayern’) This region of southern Germany derives its name from that of the Celtic tribe of the Boii who once inhabited this area as well as Bohemia. In the 6th Century they were displaced by a Germanic people, a branch of the Marcomanni, who took the name ‘Boioarii’, or ‘Baiuoarii’. The surname dates back to the late 13th Century.

Beresford: English, a habitational name from a place in the parish of Alstonfield, Staffordshire named Beresford, from Old English ‘beofor’ ‘beaver’ (or possibly from a byname from this word) + Old English ford ‘ford’. The placenames are derived from the Olde English pre 7th Century words “beofor”, meaning beaver, plus “forda”, a shallow river crossing. The surname had clearly emerged by the 13th Century.
This name also became established in Ireland.

Bergen: Recorded in many spellings, this is a surname of Dutch, French, or Norwegian origins, and locational. It is usually from Burgandy and describes a person from that French region, but occasionally it may be from places called Bergen in both the Netherlands and Norway. It is possible that in all cases the derivation could be from a Gaulish tribe called the ‘Burgundii,’ who invaded much of Northern Europe and even as far south as Spain in the 5th-century a.d.

Bibb: Recorded in the spellings of Babb, Bebb, Bibb, and the diminutives Bibbin and Bibbins, this interesting and unusual surname is English. It derives from either of two Old English pre 7th Century female personal names Babbe or Bebbe, found in several place names, such as Babbacombe in Devonshire, recorded as Babbecumbe circa 1200. The meaning of the name is uncertain and is thought to be a “nursery” version of Barbara, from the Greek “barbados”, foreign or stranger.

Black: This very old and famous surname, equally popular in Scotland and England, has at least two possible origins, the first being a nickname given by the invading Angles and Saxons to the native Celts and Britons who were darker-haired and darker-skinned than themselves. There is an ancient fable that Wulfricus Niger, otherwise known as Wulfric the Black circa 980, received his name after blackening his face in order to pass undetected through his enemies. The second possible origin is a shortened form of Black-Smith, a worker in cold metals, as distinct from a White (Smith), one who worked in hot metals. The surname was popular in Scotland from the 15th Century. No less than ten Coats of Arms were granted to families of this name. Those borne by Gilbert Black, Dean of the Guild of Aberdeen (1672), depict a black saltire between a red mullet in chief and a red crescent in base, on a silver shield with a black chief. A demi lion proper is on the Crest, and the Motto, “Non Crux, sed lux”, translates as, “Not the cross, but its light”.

Blunt: This unusual and interesting name has its origins in an English nickname for someone who was blond or fair-haired, or who had a particularly light, fair complexion. The derivation is from the Anglo-Norman French word “blunt”, meaning “blond”, itself derived from the Old French “blund” or “blond”, from the Latin “blondus”. The creation of surnames from nicknames was a common practice in the Middle Ages and many modern-day surnames derive from medieval nicknames referring to personal characteristics, as in this instance, “the fair-haired one”, or “white head”. A Coat of Arms granted to the Blunt family consists of six gold and black wavy horizontal stripes, the Crest being the sun in glory, charged on the centre with an eye issuing tears, all proper. The Motto, “Inter lachrymas micat, translates as, “It shines amidst tears”.

Bowen: This surname has two origins. Firstly, it can be of Welsh origin, being a patronymic form of the Welsh personal name “Owain”, itself coming from the Latin “Eugenius”, which derives from the Greek “Eugenios”, meaning well-born or noble, with the Welsh patronymic element “ab” or “ap”, son of; hence, “son of Owen”. Secondly, it can be of Irish origin, being an Anglicized form of the Gaelic “O’Buadhachain”, the prefix “O”, meaning grandson or descendant of, and “Buadhach”, a personal name meaning “victorious”; hence, “descendant of Buadhach”. The surname dates back to the late 13th Century. The Coat of Arms most associated with the family is a blue shield with a gold lion rampant within an orle of gold roses, the Crest being an arm couped at the elbow and erect habited black cuffed ermine holding in the hand proper a chaplet of laurel green.

Bradburn/Bradbourne: This interesting name is of Anglo-Saxon origin and is a locational surname derived from the village of Bradburne in the county of Derbyshire. It is composed of the Old English elements ‘biad’ meaning broad or wide, and ‘burna’ meaning stream. This surname is particularly well recorded in Derbyshire, and a Coat of Arms was granted to John de Bradburne in the reign of Edward III 1327 – 1377, consisting of a Silver Shield charged with Three Blue Palets and a Chief, in Red.


Bradbourne Village
The Lamppost in Bradburne, taken by the blogger, (c) 2014


Brandt: This name, with variant spellings Brand, Brandt, Braund, Braun(s) and Bront, derives from the Germanic male given name Brando, a short form of various compound personal name, such as Hildebrand, containing the element “brand”, sword or fire-brand, a derivative of “brinnan”, to flash. The names Brant and Brand form the first element of various place names, such as Brandeston, (Suffolk), and Branston in Leicestershire and Lincolnshire.

Bray: English, This ancient and distinguished surname, recorded in the spellings of Bray, Braye, Brea, and Bree, and having no less than twenty-one Coats of Arms, and several notable entries in the “National Biography”, has four distinct possible sources, each with its own history and derivation. Firstly, the name may be of Anglo-Saxon origin, and a locational name from the villages thus called in East Berkshire or Devonshire. Recorded as “Brai” in the Domesday Book of 1086, the villages were named from the Olde English pre 7th Century “breg”, or the Welsh, Cornish “bre”, meaning hill. Secondly the name may have originated as a nickname for one of great and noble bearing, from the Cornish “bregh”, meaning fine or brave. The third possibility is of Scottish origin, and locational from one or other of the places called Brae. Finally, it may be of Irish origin, and an Anglicized form of the Old Gaelic “O’Breaghdha” indicating a native of Bregia, an ancient territory in Co. Meath.

Britten: This name does not have anything to do with ‘Britain’ as in the British Isles of modern idiom, rather it is a national or ethnic name for someone from Brittany, France, a ‘Breton’. In the 6th Century, the Celtic-speaking Bretons were driven to South West England (indeed the name Britton is frequently found around Bristol) by Anglo-Saxon invaders, and many Bretons came to England with William the Conqueror in 1066.

Bruce:  This ancient and distinguished surname, so celebrated in the history of Scotland, is of Norman-French origin, and is a locational name either from an extensive fortress, built by Adam de Brus at Brix between Cherbourg and Valognes, Normandy, and called “Chateau d’Adam”, after him, or from Brieuze, a place two leagues from Falaise in Normandy. The surname was introduced into England by the Normans during the Conquest of 1066, the first recorded name-bearer being the leader of the Brus contingent in the Army of William the Conqueror.

Brudenell: This is an ancient and honorable English surname, the family name of the Earls of Cardigan. The name is locational; there are two places called Breidden Hill or Breedon on the Hill. The first in Montgomeryshire on the Welsh Borders, the other in Leicestershire. The meaning for both places is the same, being the almost unique Hill-hill plus a further hill from the Ancient British ‘bre’, the later Olde English ‘dun’, both meaning hill, and the still later ‘hyll’, a hill. The existing Brudenells are believed to originate from the Welsh village. The Brudenell’s have always played a part in the fabric of English society.

Burley: This notable surname is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and is locational from any of the various places so called, for example, Burley in Derbyshire, Rutland, Shropshire and the West Riding of Yorkshire. The name in all cases derives from the Olde English pre 7th Century “burg”, a fort, and “leah”, a clearing in a wood; hence, “the clearing by a fort”.

Burton: This name is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and is a locational surname deriving from any one of the numerous places called Burton in England, found mainly in the midland and northern counties. Most of the places are recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as, variously, “Burtone, Bortune” or “Bortone”, and most share the same meaning and derivation, which is “the settlement by a fort”, derived from the Olde English pre 7th Century “burg, burh”, fort, often referring to a Roman or other pre-English fort, sometimes a fortified manor, with “tun”, enclosure, settlement. Some of the places mean “settlement belonging to a fort”, from the same Olde English elements, while Burton in Somerset means “the settlement on the River Bredy” or “Bride”, and Burton in Sussex translates as “Budeca’s settlement”.

Butler: This famous aristocratic surname is of Norman-French origins and is one of the very few to be accepted as being pre-1066 in origin and recording, and even rarer still to be recorded in France itself. It is in a sense job descriptive, deriving the Olde French ’bouteillier’ and meaning “one who supplies the bottles” but more specifically the wine.  That the original ‘Butlers’ were much more than servants of any sort is shown by the fact that when Theodore Fitzwalter accompanied King Henry 11 on his conquest of Ireland in 1171, he was not only appointed ‘Chief Butler of Ireland’ but he subsequently adopted ‘Butler’ as his surname. In England and Ireland, no less than ninety-four Coats of Arms have been granted to Boteler and Butler, the first being to Robert de Pincerna, butler to Randolf, Earl of Chester, in 1158, and the first of the Butlers of Cheshire. This original and ancient arms has the blazon of a red field, a bend between three goblets, all gold.

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11 thoughts on “B is for: A Genealogy Study

  1. I just compared my B names with your B surnames…It looks like we share Bruce and Butler. Thanks for posting this, Amanda!

      1. When I research surnames, like you, I prefer to use Surname Database. It is indeed a great resource.

        If I fails to find the answers I seek through that site, I consult Almwch Data, Behind the Name, Irish Origenes, Surname Meanings and Origins, Surname Web, or even Wikipedia.

        Sometimes, even these resources fall short; at which point, I make an educated guess, looking at the components that make up surname in question. Wiktionary is a great resource for this endeavor.

        For example, when researching my spouse’s families’ C surnames—https://kindredconnection.wordpress.com/2016/09/08/surnames-letter-c/, there were a couple of Italian surnames,Caimi and Culatina, whose origins completely eluded me. So I looked to the roots/components of the words and hypothesized their possible meaning. I did the same with several other surnames, including Damourvell—https://kindredconnection.wordpress.com/2016/10/04/surnames-letter-d/ and Huggart—https://kindredconnection.wordpress.com/2017/03/31/surnames-letter-h/.

        Sometimes, despite my best efforts, I come up short. In that case, I skip those surnames in an effort to save my sanity. GOOD LUCK in your research, Amanda!

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