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Great British Family Names and Their History (Paperback)

What's in a Name?

Family History P&S History > British History World History > UK & Ireland > England > London World History > UK & Ireland > England > Yorkshire & Humberside

By John Moss
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 336
ISBN: 9781526751553
Published: 6th November 2019



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For better or worse, what we are is often determined by our family; the events that occurred many years before we were born, and the choices that were made by our forebears are our inheritance - we are the inexorable product of family history. So it is with nations. The history of Great Britain has been largely defined by powerful and influential families, many of whose names have come down to us from Celtic, Danish, Saxon or Norman ancestors. Their family names fill the pages of our history books; they are indelibly written into the events which we learned about at school. Iconic family names like Wellington, Nelson, Shakespeare, Cromwell, Constable, De Montfort and Montgomery… there are innumerable others. They reflect the long chequered history of Britain, and demonstrate the assimilation of the many cultures and languages which have migrated to these islands over the centuries, and which have resulted in the emergence of our language.

This book is a snapshot of several hundred such family names and delves into their beginnings and derivations, making extensive use of old sources, including translations of The Domesday Book and The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, as well as tracing many through the centuries to the present day.

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Transactions of the Halifax Antiquarian Society Volume 30 2022

As featured in

Family History Society of Chesire

As the title suggests, the book covers all areas of Britain, including Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. Being laid out in area segments, the reader finds it easy to navigate to the area they require. As a further assistance, it also includes a full index of all the names included in the book, facilitating quick identification of the name and page required.

Should the reader be engaged in their own research, there is an excellent bibliography and a list of suggested useful websites.

I found that the book did indeed live up to its claim and would recommend it as an excellent resource book to add to any genealogist’s collection.

Read the full review here

Grace Ancestry

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Nottinghamshire Family History Society

"There is a need for books, such as Great British Family Names by John Moss. This is a
history book of some stature and of value to anyone researching their family history."

Family and Community Historical Research Society

Featured on the 'Christmas Bookshelf'

Somerset Life, December 2019

Listed in 'The best of this month's Hertfordshire-linked books and book news'

Hertfordshire Life, November 2019

Featured as prize in competition

24seven Lifestyle Magazine, September 2019

This book is a snapshot of several hundred family names and delves in to their beginnings and derivations making extensive use of old sources.

Cumbria FHS

'For Your Bookshelf'

Antiques Diary, September/October 2019

Article: 'Sorting your Bakers from your Bassetts' as featured by

Shropshire Star, 9th August 2019 – words by Toby Neal

Article: 'History which lies behind some of Lancashire's oldest family names' as featured by

The Garstang Courier, 7th August 2019

As featured by

Shropshire Star, 3rd August 2019

A useful reference book. Recommended.

Read the full review here

The Miniatures Page

Featured in

Glasgow and West of Scotland Family History Society

Article: 'Great names began with load of Normans' as featured by

Shropshire Star (online), 20th July 2019 – words by Toby Neal

Author interview with presenter Bernie Keith

BBC Radio Northampton, 4th June 2019

Author interview with presenter Rach Houghton (sitting in for James Thomas)

BBC Radio Wiltshire, 11th June 2019

Author article: 'What's in a name?' as featured by

Lancashire Post, 19th June 2019

"Moss gives so much historical information by way of his extensive research that it is not a book for a single sitting but a reference book to dip in and out."
- Full review here
A Writer's Blog]

A Writer's Blog, July 2019

With several map diagrams complete with key, Moss gives so much historical information by way of his extensive research that it is not a book for a single sitting but a reference book to dip in and out.

The world is a better place for the intricate and curious minds of people like Moss.

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For the Love of Books

All in all, an absorbing read with an excellent foreword, comprehensive biliography and list of useful web resources.

Glamorgan Family History Society

Freelance reviewer Paul Digget review.

See review here:

Guardian Bookshop
Library Thing

Paul Digget, Freelance Reviewer

For Your Bookshelf

Antiques Diary, July 2019

As featured on The Lost Cousins Newsletter

Lost Cousins

Adele Emm article `marriage matters`

Family Tree, June 2019

As featured by

WDYTYA?,July 2019

`For your bookshelf`

Antiques Diary, July-August 2019

I recommend this book to authors, historians, and researchers looking for general information about the big British families and their origins, and also to people interested in learning more about an area’s history and about how the ownership of the big properties in a region have changed over time.

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Author Translator, Olga Nunez Miret

Attention to the 300 plus profiles captured here uncovers a well structured and succinctly presented catalogue of surname origins and variants, coupled with pen-portraits of key individuals bearing the subject family name and the key historic events that touched their lives.

Alde Valley Suffolk Family History Group, June 2019

The author has made extensive use of old sources such as the Domesday Book and Anglo-Saxon Chronicles and includes a useful bibliography and list of websites for those wishing to research in more detail. There is also a comprehensive index of names and places.

Bristol & Avon FHS

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I wouldn't say that this is a "sit down and read" it book, but this is a fantastic reference book. I have already used this in some of my own research- when you come across a random family or estate in your research, it is incredibly useful to have a guide like this handy. I do enjoy the inclusion of the current state of the peerage, as it nicely connects the history of it with the present!

NetGalley, Jessica Storoschuk

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A good reference book about the roots of great British family names. A helpful book to be used during the recreation and search of our family tree.

NetGalley, Jo M

This little book is all about British names and their origins, and it is an illuminating read. Its one of those books that you can have on the sideboard or on the book shelf and pull it out and any time, you don’t have to read it in order but flick through it at your own pleasure. Its not a taxing read, in fact I wiled away many hours with this and before I knew it I had devoured it... Each name is thoroughly researched, the author has kept their history light but precise so your not bombarded by constant names and facts. I like the brief account of each family name in the book, it is fascinating to read

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Chicks, Rogues and Scandals

An excellent book, well worth the money, and a book that can be used for many years to come.

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Ideal as a 'coffee table book', or as a gift for people who are interested in family research.

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Rosie Amber, Blogger

I recommend this title which in a simple and pleasant way makes known the origins of existing and extinct families. Another beautiful and useful book published by Pen & Sword!

Read the full Italian review here

Old Barbed Wire Blog

This would make a great reference book for anyone studying their British family tree. The entries are concise and there is plenty of information.

NetGalley, Kirsti Farmer

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Since these families were those who played vital roles in British history this book will be useful to anyone studying medieval as well as British history in general.

NetGalley, John Brown

This is a well-referenced book that I’m sure many will turn to in family research! I was surprised at how detailed the sections were. 4 stars

NetGalley, reviewed by Megan Ireland

Good addition to any genealogy library. Good information in a good format. Nice for anyone researching British history.

NetGalley, reviewed by Lou Davis

It is interesting to see which families died out, which families lost their titles, which ones married each other, and which ones are still around.

NetGalley, reviewed by Jennie Cole

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is a brilliant reference book for anyone researching their family tree and those with an interest in the origin and history of their surname. An extremely well researched account, organised by area which makes it more interesting to read. I headed straight to the North-East section, where I live and have ancestors, and was delighted to find names familiar to me and also in my family tree. Thoroughly recommend.

NetGalley, reviewed by Jill G

Very readable reference book. The author took a very difficult subject and gave it interesting highlights. How amazing to find that some of the most notable names in Great Britain came from a hill, a creek or a dale. Those famous families lost favor and sometimes their lives by supporting the losing side during a war or belonging to the wrong religion. Sometimes I mused back to Downton Abbey plots as I received a better understanding of inheritance, death taxes and heirs. Quite a bit of research had to go into the creation of this book.

NetGalley, reviewed by Donna Pingry

This was a well-researched snapshot of the history of great British family names written in a factual way. It is especially interesting to historians and genealogists.

NetGalley, reviewed by Lisa Sanderson

This book is great for anybody who would like to research their family's history, or who is interested in where their family name originated from. I actually liked the etymological aspect; especially tracing names back to their origin and original meaning that are not place names.

NetGalley, reviewed by Julia Guttzeit

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

My family has a strong English heritage, so I was looking for last names of relatives, and I did find a few. I also read several name descriptions for people I'm not related to because the history was so fascinating in general. I thought the writing was really accessible and interesting, not dry. Charlotte Bronte is even mentioned as an acquaintance of certain families, and I thought that was a neat tidbit.

NetGalley, reviewed by Teresa Cavagnaro

This is an enjoyable collection of potted histories of some of the ancient families of Britain and Ireland. I was hoping for a little more linguistic analysis of the names, but in most entries this is limited to a sentence or two, mostly pointing out that the name derives from a locational word. However, this is still very interesting, and has a lot of research behind it. It would be very useful for anyone interested in the British aristocracy, or for writers of historical fiction!

NetGalley, reviewed by Asha Hartland

As someone who is investigating their family tree this book was interesting and a valuable resource especially if one of the names in your tree is in there. It covers different families from different counties with many different stories. Well worth the read for history and genealogy fans.

NetGalley, reviewed by Kate Kenzie

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About John Moss

John Moss studied Fine Arts and English in Wolverhampton and Manchester Art Schools, before taking early retirement after teaching and lecturing in Art & Design. He founded a Graphic Design company in 1997. Retired at last, he began writing: a science fiction trilogy in 2013. His first two non-fiction books were Great British Family Names and A History of English Placenames, both written for Pen and Sword: this will be the third history book in the series.

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