What's in a Surname?: A Journey from Abercrombie to Zwicker Hardcover – 29 Aug 2013
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"David McKie's incredibly detailed research and his diamond-sharp prose make this book a delight, full of wisdom and fun." (Simon Hoggart)
"We are all slaves to our surnames. There is no escape from them. Be they grand or humble, David McKie sees behind every one a trail of genealogy and history, wealth and poverty, celebrity and shame. Names are the nation's most secretive record, our island still in code. It is brilliantly revealed in this book." (Simon Jenkins)
"Endlessly entertaining ... [McKie] buzzes like a bee from source to source, collecting all the sweetest things." (Craig Brown, The Mail on Sunday)
"[A] delightful book ... [McKie] remains throughout both a beguiling and erudite guide." (Andrew Holgate, The Sunday Times)
"A book of great zest and interest ... wonderful eruptions of bare lists of strange or silly names, beguiling anecdotes, and interesting titbits ... McKie has a whimsical cast of mind and a fine sense of humour." (Sam Leith, The Guardian)
A brilliant journey through the nation's surnamesSee all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
It ranges over many aspects of the whole business of surnames - for instance, how they cluster in certain places and are completely absent in others. This is interesting, but I had the feeling that the author spends rather too much time on this, with too many detailed illustrations.
The book rambles through such things as feuds between people of different surnames that have lasted for centuries, the thinking behind stage names (would Frederic Austerlitz and Virginia Katherine McMath have been as successful as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers?), and the way that the place of one's surname in the alphabet can affect one's whole life. In academic publications, for instance, papers by multiple authors usually give the names in alphabetical order, which means that in brief references you can spend your whole career as part of the 'et al'!
The final chapter considers whether with the mobility of the present time, the growing tendency for married women to keep their own surname, and the ubiquitous use of Christian names in situations that used to call for formality, there is still a future for surnames.
There is a lot of useless information in this book (which is not a criticism!), but it also raises issues that are real at least for some people.
The research required must have been phenomenal. Mr McKie's approach is systematic and although every page is packed with names and facts, it's a delightfully easy and entertaining read. I now know that Farmers may have originated as tax collectors, Walkers were cloth treaders and on the way have read about Gyldeballes and Sweatenbollockes.
But this is no lightweight work. It's a detailed social history going back to medieval times, looking at the origins of surnames and their distribution and change. It's easy to understand how 'names' have moved from their origins in one area and started to appear elsewhere. For example, the closure of Cornish tin mines caused people to look elsewhere for work and Cornish names started to appear in the North East. It's truly fascinating stuff when woven together in context. People migrated and their names were seeded!
This is predominantly a book about people and culture. It's quirky, fascinating, intriguing and in part raises as many questions as it answers. This is not just a tedious list of names, its a celebration of the richness and diversity of the English language. Anyone who enjoys reading will take something from this book. I found it a complete joy and one that I'll be dipping into again and again. Brilliant!
The first few chapters were quite boring but then the pace and content improved and the chapters on pen names and literary characters names are really good. This can I guess be used as a reference book but I found it a good read in much the same vane as I enjoy a good biography. I'm glad I bought it and can see myself dipping in an out regularly.
Just a couple of examples of irrelevance will suffice. When talking in one passage about gravestones, McKie mentions a company that will put a QR code on gravestones in order to give passers-by more information about the deceased. An amusing story to have found, yes, but where does that get us with the overall history of surnames, since the QR codes do not lead to some database of surnames? Nor does McKie even restrict himself to surnames, but fills the book with rambling sections on names in general (e.g. the outlandish Christian names given foundlings in Victorian hospitals). Interesting stuff, but it has no place in this book, which is not called 'What's in a Name'. 'Abercrombie' and 'Zwicker' are not even mentioned, and the subtitle gives a wholly misleading impression of the whole work.
One also sometimes gets the impression that McKie is trying to fill pages to meet a publisher's word-count, as when he summarises the plot of well-known Victorian novels or quotes Tess of the d'Urbervilles for two pages.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
An excellent study. Detailed and thoroughly researched. Not just a study of one surname or place as many such books are. Read morePublished 19 months ago by Chuffer
An excellent book, full of useful information. Written in a fairly light easy to follow way and a must for those who have any interest in the origin of surnamesPublished 23 months ago by Cornishman
Not as good as I thought. Kind of goes on and on a bit.Published on 7 July 2014 by Mrs. S. J. Briggs
I bought this book as I find it fascinating finding out about names & what they mean, or where they come fromPublished on 10 April 2014 by Jinnie
My dad's a great one for books on off-beat subjects, so this was right up his street. I'm looking forward to our next holiday with my parents so I can borrow it ...Published on 21 Nov. 2013 by Standing in the need of prayer