What’s In A Surname?


My surname? Corlett. That’s C-O-R-L-E-T-T.

It just rolls off the tongue. Such that I don’t wait to see if people need it spelled out, I just do it automatically.

It’s fine, really — it’s not a super-common name, unless you live on the Isle of Man. So I don’t mind an accidental “Corbett” or two.

Sometimes, though, I did wish I was “Smith” or “Jones”, just to make life a bit easier on the phone. And I genuinely don’t know how somebody managed to get “Coplopp” from me when I booked a restaurant.

I quite like the meaning of my surname, though – it means “Thor’s people”, from those Vikings that eventually settled on the island.

That’s the name from my dad’s side, my mum’s is Caswell, meaning “where the watercress grows”.

I think the history of surnames is fascinating. We’re most of us interested in where we came from and what our families once did, and there’s no quicker way of finding a wee clue or two than looking up the meaning of your surname.

Nominative Determinism

They can also be fantastically entertaining when it comes to something called “nominative determinism”, a theory that suggests what you’re called may have some influence on what you end up doing for a career.

There’s flimsy evidence of this at best, but it’s still great when it happens. American lawyer Sue Yoo, C of E vicar Reverend Vickers and the author of a book about the polar regions called Daniel Snowman are all great examples.

What does your surname say about you?

Alex Corlett

Alex is the "Friend's" Features Editor, working with the talented Features Team to bring you everything from cryptic crosswords to financial advice, knitting patterns to international travel and inspirational real life stories. Always on the hunt for a new feature idea, Alex also enjoys cycling and loves a good tea room.