Who says there's no money for genealogical research projects?
University of the West of England (UWE) researchers have received 800,000 British pounds to ask "what's in a name?" They plan to include the meanings and origins of some 150,000 UK surnames using resources dating to the 11th century.
In addition to UK and other "native" origin names, other names will be Norman French, Gaelic, Welsh and Cornish, as well as Huguenot, Jewish and later immigrant names. Information for each name will include where and when the names were recorded and spelled.
Professor Richard Coates of the UWE's Bristol Centre for Linguistics will carry out the research with visiting professor Dr. Patrick Hanks. They hope it will be a good resource for those researching their family history. For those who love maps, here's one of the town of Bristol in 1874.
The project will begin in April 2010, and a permanent publicly accessible database will be available by 2014. It is being billed as the "The largest ever database of the UK's family surnames," according to a UK site.
The money is coming from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and is being done with the Faculty of Informatics at Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic.
Professor Coates's Middle English name means "cottages," but his grandfather came from Cotes, in Staffordshire, the name's likely origin. This project is personally interesting for him.
"There is widespread interest in family names and their history," he said. "Our project will use the most up-to-date techniques and evidence available to create a more detailed and accurate resource than those currently available.
"Some names can have origins that are occupational - obvious examples are Smith and Baker. Or names can be linked to a place for example the names Hill or Green (which related to village greens). Surnames which are 'patronymic' are those which enshrine the father's name - such as Jackson, or Jenkinson. There are also names where the origin describes the original bearer such as Brown, Short or Thin.
"I have always been fascinated by names for people, places and institutions. Surnames are part of our identity, so most people are interested in knowing about their names."
The project will help researchers as it will also demonstrate how names and spellings have changed over the years, and thus provide more clues to locating useful records.