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Can you guess people's backgrounds by their surnames in England?

(22 Posts)
sweetestB Tue 15-Jan-13 14:03:12

The reason why I'm asking this is because in my home country we can clearly know people's background (poor or working class, middle class or upper class) by their surname. I've lived in the UK for a while now and I have no clue if here there is the same phenomenon....if so, can you give any examples?

YDdraigGoch Tue 15-Jan-13 14:06:46

I don't think so.
It used to be that people with double barrel names were more likely to be upper class, but so many people hyphenate their names on marriage these days to keep the woman's maiden name, or give their DCs double barreled surnames if (eg) the parents are not married, that the class distinction is no longer relevant.

sydlexic Tue 15-Jan-13 14:06:55

Historically that would be possible but it wouldn't mean anything now.

Sugarbeach Tue 15-Jan-13 14:07:06

I'd say no...the UK, especially London, big towns and cities are too mixed and diverse for that.

SeeYouSoon Tue 15-Jan-13 14:07:31

No, I don't think you can.

ScentedNappyHag Tue 15-Jan-13 14:07:53

I guess a long time ago, yes, what with Baker, Smith,Taylor etc.
But I wouldn't say so anymore.

sweetestB Tue 15-Jan-13 14:11:02

In my country, some girls with 'bad' surnames even choose their boyfriends by the sounding of their surnames in case they get married so the girl can boost up her own surname as well as her children's.

sweetestB Tue 15-Jan-13 14:12:20

So it is funny here reading the 'other' thread, and this section too when people are so worried about the first name because in my country we need to worry about the surname too.

Sugarbeach Tue 15-Jan-13 14:12:40

shock which country is this?

sweetestB Tue 15-Jan-13 14:15:48

Not saying, sorry. Obviously if a girl falls in love with a guy with bad surname, she won't mind, unless she is deeply shallow but when you are kind of flirting you need to find out the surname asap and decide if you like it, if it goes well with yours, etc.

YDdraigGoch Tue 15-Jan-13 14:27:26

Why won't you tell us the country sweetest?

sweetestB Tue 15-Jan-13 16:24:19

Because there is other info about me in other threads and I don't want to out myself.

Ranthambore Tue 15-Jan-13 16:34:03

No, I don't think there is any correlation and if you take your husband's name on marriage you lose that link with your background anyway.
My maiden name was a very obvious link to my background if you have a bit of political/historical knowledge but my married name could put me anywhere in the social spectrum.

OneLittleToddlingTerror Tue 15-Jan-13 16:41:20

I'm sure you can change your surname if you so wish in the UK.

In NZ, tthere was even a woman who successfully argued in court she doesn't need a surname after a divorce grin.

OneLittleToddlingTerror Tue 15-Jan-13 16:43:37

SweetestB so what you are saying doesn't apply here. See the following link on deed polls. The girl in your example can just pay a bit of ££ and get herself a upper class surname

sweetestB Tue 15-Jan-13 16:46:06


OneLittleToddlingTerror Tue 15-Jan-13 16:52:37

sweetestB another interesting link for you.

This is about foreigners came to the UK and adopting English surnames or anglicizing their names. So it's nothing new where people change their surnames.

sweetestB Tue 15-Jan-13 17:00:46

I adopted an English surname through marriage but I always have been very happy with my surnames (in my country you people have 2 surnames from both sides) so now I have my own name and 3 surnames...

TheSurgeonsMate Tue 15-Jan-13 17:02:45

I agree we can't tell. An exception would be where person's name ends "of that Ilk." That would usually be a posh person.

Alisvolatpropiis Tue 15-Jan-13 17:30:47

It depends,generally not, but a surname like Montgomery Fortescue Smythe suggests a particular social class.

YDdraigGoch Tue 15-Jan-13 18:23:24

I'm Welsh, but my married surname is Irish.

MadBusLady Tue 15-Jan-13 18:37:37

Generally, no. I think you can recognise a traditionally "aristocratic" name - the Montgomery Fortescue Smythes etc - when you see it, but there are so many counter-examples of backgrounds and names not matching that it's not a reliable guide.

But there was an interesting study about this recently (link opens as a PDF). They found that surnames associated with higher status in England in 1800 actually were more likely to also be associated with higher status in the present day than surnames without high status associations in 1800 - social mobility has not moved as fast as we think it has to iron out differences.

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