‘Cameron’ means crooked mouth: Sam Leith has fun with the meaning of surnamesOf course the first thing you do is look for your own surname in the index. Who wouldn’t? I’m afraid the chances are that it’s not there. This is not that sort of book. Rather, it is in its rambling way the sort of book that tells you about that sort of book.What’s in a Surname? is in part a social history of surnames in general, in part a digressive meditation on their meanings (in local politics, in social hierarchy, in fiction), and in part a history of the people who have been interested in them – beginning with William Camden, the 16th-century researcher “whose findings on surnames would not be greatly enhanced for centuries afterwards”.McKie both opens and closes his book with the section from the beginning of Tess of the D’Urbervilles in which the meddlesome Parson Tringham, self-styled antiquary, bumps into drunken old John Durbeyfield and tells him that he’s actually a D’Urberville. On this mistake turns the whole tragedy of Tess. It offers two key principles: that names can be and have been a matter of life and death; and that amateur antiquaries are prone …read more

Via: The Guardian | Books