Sometimes I enter a book shop and a peculiar thing happens to me: I get a sudden desire to buy ALL OF THE BOOKS and I have a big splurge. My bundle of books always includes popular science books and fantastical fiction, but sometimes I end up with a black sheep, like What’s In A Surname? by David McKie.
When I spotted it, I found myself blinking and realising I really didn’t know anything about surnames and decided on the spot to do something about it (I’m rather spontaneous, especially with books).
David McKie swiftly introduces you to the immense complexity and mystery surrounding the origins of British surnames. Interestingly, he chooses to use examples of different places called Broughton to illustrate and explore his points about surnames and how they differ place to place. His, and by extension, our journey is taken mostly via academic research, graveyards and censuses, though he also finds his way into a pub or two! The way the book is written not only makes you feel like you are travelling with the author, but also like he’s chatting to you amicably along the way.
Due to the enormous number of British surnames, there is no way he was ever going to go through the origins of every surname, but he does allow the reader to generally understand how a name might have arisen and what to look out for.
The main reason I enjoyed this read was one I was not expecting at all – it’s actually really funny. David McKie isn’t stupid (I mean, if you read the book you sense that right away) and he’s clearly noted that a non-fiction book is much easier to get through if it has a few laughs. And so he provides the reader with plenty!
Surprisingly, the book has also helped me understand a few historical events that have required someone to change their name, which I didn’t fully appreciate before. If you love British history then I recommend this book – it’s charming, amusing and informative (an unusual but winning combination)!