Surname Origins

Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as the Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to “develop,” often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling. Many of the early names recorded in medieval documents denote noble families but many also indicate migration from the continent during, and in the wake of, the Norman Conquest of 1066. There was a constant stream of merchants, workmen and others arriving in England during this time. In 1086 the Record of Great Inquisition of lands of England, their extent, value, ownership and liabilities was made by order of William The Conqueror (known as the Domesday Book).

As society became more stabilized, there was property to leave in wills, the towns and villages grew and the labels that had served to distinguish a handful of folk in a friendly village were not adequate for a teeming slum where perhaps most of the householders were engaged in the same monotonous trade, so not even their occupations could distinguish them, and some first names were gaining a tiresome popularity, especially Thomas after 1170. The hereditary principle in surnames gained currency first in the South, and the poorer folk were slower to apply it. By the 14th century, most of the population had acquired a second name. Spelling and pronunciation were not ‘normalized’ until the end of the 19th century, so it is not unusual to find family names spelled many different ways (even by the owner of the name).


  • English: nickname for a timid person, from Middle English ro ‘roe’; this is a midland and southern form of Ray.
  • Norwegian: habitational name from any of several farmsteads named Roe or Røe, from Old Norse ruð ‘clearing.’
  • English name adopted by bearers of French Baillargeon.


  • It may be of Anglo-Saxon origin, as a topographical name for someone who lived by a plum tree, from the Old English pre-7th Century word “plume,” plum (tree).
  • Or it may be of Old French origin, as a metonymic occupational name for a plumber, from the Old French “plomb,” itself from the Latin “plumbum,” meaning lead. This was later assimilated to the Old French “plummier,” a plumber. Other variants include Plumb, Plumbe and Plum(p)tre(e).
  • The first recorded spelling of the family name is Geoffrey Plumbe, which was dated 1208, in the “Charter Rolls of Suffolk,” during the reign of King John, known as “Lackland,” 1199 – 1216.
  • The surname is first recorded in the early 13th Century, when one Simon Plumbe is mentioned in 1251, in Records of the Abbey of Ramsey (Huntingdonshire). John Ploumbe is noted in the Subsidy Rolls of Suffolk in 1327, and Ralph Ploome is listed in 1327 in the Subsidy Rolls of Derbyshire.
  • A Coat of Arms was granted on June 10, 1563 to a family in Kent, depicting a black bend vair cotised on an ermine shield. Lendall Plome was christened on May 8, 1580 at St. Michael’s, Cornhill, London, while John Plumb married Ann Gabrill on April 22, 1664 at St. Paul’s, Covent Garden, Westminster, London.


  • Originally Scottish, taken from the place of the same name near Kilmarnock in Ayrshire. This name was originally Cuinneagan, from the Scots Gaelic cuinneag, meaning “milk-pail.”
  • It was given its present form through the mistake of a twelfth-century English scribe who transcribed the ending as “-ham,” a purely English suffix meaning “village.”
  • Many Scottish Cunninghams came to Ireland in the seventeenth-century Plantation of Ulster, and their descendants now form the bulk of those bearing the name in that province, where it is most numerous. As well as these, however, many of native Gaelic stock also adopted Cunningham as the anglicised version of their names.

Gwinn, Guinn

  • The name Guinn goes back to Wales to the Guinn/Gwinn/Wynn family of Gwydir Castle. Guinn in Welsh means “white” or “candid.” The Gwin coat-of-arms bears the legend, “vim vi pellere licet” —  “It is permissible to oppose force with force.”
  • The names Gwin, Gwinn(e), Gwyn, Gwynn, Gwynne, Guin(n), Guinn(e), Wynn, Wynne, and even Gowan are all derivatives of the original name of Gwynedd. This name has often been confused with the name of Given/Givin.
  • The earliest known Gwinn/Guinn to come to America was Capt. Owin Gwynn, Esq., son of Sir John Wynn of the Wynn family of Gwydir Castle, Wales in 1611. His son Col. Hugh Gwynne was the first to permanently settle in the US. Owin returned to Gwydir Castle when his father died to succeed to the baronetcy.


  • Howie was derived from the Old German Hughlin, a diminutive of Hugo; baptismal name ‘the son of Hugh.’
  • The name was originally brought into England in the wake of the Norman Invasion of 1066, and HUGELINUS (without surname) appears to be the first of the name on record in Hampshire. Hugelyn Bourbeyn of the County of Huntingdonshire in 1052 and Robert Huelin of Wales was documented in 1202.
  • Richard Hulin of the County of Suffolk appears in 1275 and John Huwelyn of the County of Worcester in 1327. Hugo Hullin of Yorkshire, was listed in the Yorkshire Poll Tax of 1379, and Edward Huelyn of Yorkshire, was mentioned in County Lancashire in 1400.
    Robert Howlinge of the County of Essex was recorded in 1549.
  • Recorded as Howie and Howey, this famous Scottish name is locational. It derives from an estate known as “The lands of How” in the county of Ayrshire, although the precise location is now lost.
  • It is claimed that the origin is from the Ancient British-Strathclyde ‘hoh,’ a word which pre-dates written history, and describes a hollow or deep valley, from which also developed the surname How or Howe. The name as Howie or Howey is probably a diminutive meaning Little How, the suffix ‘ie’ or ‘y’ being a popular Scottish and North of England endearment.
  • Early examples of the surname include John Howy, a servant of the Earl of Cassilis, who in 1526 was accused of murder; however, he was reprieved! William Howye, also in 1526, was appointed Sergeant at Arms of the town of Brechin, during the reign of King James V of Scotland, 1513 -1542.In 1590 Robert Howie was recorded as being the Principal of Marischal College, Aberdeen, while in 1625, Archibald Howey was elected a burgess of Glasgow.
  • John Howie (1736-1793) wrote the long-accepted standard work called The Scots Worthies, published in 1774.  Ayrshire nameholders have a long tradition that they descended from Flemish weavers, who escaped persecution in their homelands.


  • This rare and interesting surname is ultimately of Hebrew origin, from the personal name “Laban.” The given name originated as a byname, deriving from the Hebrew “laban,” white, and would have been given to one with white hair or a fair complexion.
  • The name is referred to by Shylock in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, in the following: “When Laban and himself were compromised that all the yearlings which were streak’d and pied should fall as Jacob’s hire.”
  • Also found as Leban, Labin and Labon. Recordings of the surname from London Church Registers include: Barbara Laban who married Charles Berry on July 2nd 1607 at St. Mary Mounthaw; Mary Laban who married John Mason on September 12th 1631 at St. Andrew by the Wardrobe; and John, son of Edmund and Ann Laban, who was christened on February 26th 1632 at St. Botolph Bishopsgate.
  • The first recorded English spelling of the family name is shown to be that of John Labin, who, on December 25th 1600, was witness at a christening at St. Mary Whitechapel, Stepney, London, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1, known as “Good Queen Bess,” 1558-1603.


  • Recorded in over 40 spelling forms from Lambert, Lambard and Limprecht, to Lambrich, Lambertini and Lemmens, this surname is of very early German origins. It started life in the 12th century, but the derivation is from a pre-5th century personal name. This was ‘Landbehrt’, composed of the elements “land,” meaning territory, and “berth,” bright, and while the meaning may have been “Bright land,” it might not have had any meaning at all!
  • St. Lambert, Bishop of Maastricht in 700 was highly venerated, and a source of the name’s popularity.
  • The first recorded spelling of the family name is Richard Lambert, in the ‘Pipe Rolls’ of Hampshire in 1148. This was during the reign of King Stephen of England, known as “Count of Blois,” 1135 – 1154.
  • Examples of the early recordings include Gozelinus filius Lamberti of Yorkshire, England, in the famous Domesday Book of 1086, but clearly this name was not hereditary, nor was that of Tiddemus filius Lamberti of Hamburg in 1262.
  • Another source of the name can be the Olde English ‘Lambhierd’, representing the occupation of lamb-herd(er), the first recorded namebearer being William Lambhyrde, in the 1255 Assize Court Rolls of Essex.
  • Charles Lambert, aged 23 yrs., was an early settler in the New World Colonies, leaving London on the “Expedition” bound for the Barbadoes, in November 1635.


  • Origin: English–Coat of Arms: Silver with a gold cross and at the top a crown.  Crest: A beaver.  Motto: En droit devant. Motto: “Vivere Sat Vincere.” “To live is conquering enough.” –Spelling variations include: Molyneux, Molines, Molinieux, Molinaux, Molineaux, Molineux, Molinex, Mullenaux, Mullinex, Mullenix, and many more.
  • Mullen –The name Mullen in Ireland is often a variant of Mullins but is also derived from the native Gaelic O’Meallain Sept of County Tyrone who more usually anglicized their name as Mallon. Mullen can also derive from the Mac Maolain Sept of Ulster Province where it is often a form of the Scottish name MacMillan. There are many variants of this name, including Mullen, Mellon, Mullan, Millane and Mullane.
  • The name Mullenax/Mullenix/Molyneux originated in France. Some theories suggest that the name came from the Norman French name for mills (wind or watermills) so prevalent in northern France:  Moulin (modern French) or moline/molines/molinex, etc. and then was changed over time.  In the Dark Ages and Medieval times, most of the populace were illiterate, so any document “signed” would often have the signature written by a priest or monk (they were literate) with the actual signatory making an “X” beside the name; the upper classes also sealed their documents with an identifying mark (thus, signet rings) that even illiterate peasants could recognize.
  • First found in England in Lancashire where they were seated from very early times and were granted lands by Duke William of Normandy (aka William the Conqueror), their liege Lord, for their distinguished assistance at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 A.D. Vivian De Molines/Molyneux was the 1st Norman Mullenax given English titles and lands by William.
  • As men like Vivian De Molines/Molyneux acquired property, wealth, and status, their “assumed” names became their surnames, and even the peasants who toiled on their estates would have begun to use the name to help identify them. Over the centuries, the name(s) became permanent, but they often changed in pronunciation, accent, and spelling. The French pronunciation, for example, might be: “Duh Mull In Oh” (De Mullenaux), “Duh Mull In Ex” (De Molyneux), or “Duh Mull Een-Ess” (De Molines).
  • The Norman French, who were really Vikings (Danes, for instance) who had settled in France and adopted its culture, still spoke French centuries later with a distinct germanic accent, putting a hard gutteral sound where the French would have no sound or a softer sound. Mullenaux (“Mull In Oh”) in French would have been “Mull In Ex” in Norman French. Without systematized spelling and pronunciation guidelines and very low literacy, people tended to pronounce and (eventually) spell names (even their own!) in many different ways. Thus, De Molines/Molinex crossed the English Channel to become De Molyneux (and some Englishmen pronounced this name “Moll E New”), and as the family spread across the UK and sailed the Atlantic to “found” America, the people came to be called Mullenaux, Mullenax, Mullinex, Mullenix, Mollenix, Mullinix, Mullins, and so on.
  • So, Priscilla Mullins of Mayflower fame was distantly related to all the rest of the Mullenaxes. Some of the first American settlers of this name or some of its variants were: Jonathon Molineaux settled in Maryland in 1726; Samuel Molineaux settled in Philadelphia in 1846; Edmund Molineux settled in New York in 1820; Edward Molineux settled in Virginia in 1719.


Dictionary of American Family Names, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-508137-4

© Copyright 2015 Linda L Labin, PhD