The Victorian Era was a time of prosperity not only for England, but for the civilized world as a whole. There are many notable names from that historical time that are recognizable today.
Most of these Victorian last names can be found all around the globe, but they all had their beginnings in the British Isles.
Originating in Caithness, North Scotland, the Andrews were known to be associated with Clan Ross. It was a patronymic surname of English, Scottish, and Norse origins. In the Victorian Era, there was a British entrepreneur by the name of Solomon Andrews. His business, Solomon Andrews and Son, was a bus and tram-operating company based out of Cardiff.
As far as occupational surnames go, this one speaks for itself. Baker originated before the 8th century, long before the Victorian Era. It survived several translations, from the Old English “bæcere” to the Middle English “bakere”, and finally as we know it today. As the 32nd most popular surname in Victorian England and Wales, it’s no wonder Baker survived to this day.
If you’ve read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, you’d be very familiar with this surname. Used for the ever popular literary family, Bennet derived from the Latin name Benedictus, meaning “blessed”. It also belonged to Lt. Henry Boswell Bennett, who was the first officer to die in the service of Queen Victoria.
As another food-related last name, Cook is an occupational surname with Old English origins. Other variant forms of the name include Cooke, Koch, Cock, and Cox. This last name can hail back to James Cook, a famous British explorer and navigator who circumnavigated the globe in the 1700’s.
In the Victorian Era, a massive number of Cook families migrated to New Zealand around 1840.
Davis is a Christian patronymic surname meaning “Son of David” and “beloved”. As the patron saint of Wales, little is known about Saint David, but it boosted the popularity of the last name going into the 19th century. There were 43,700 known bearers of Davis in Victorian England, usually in the lower and middle classes.
This surname is a locational-based name, as it refers to someone from Denton. However, there are several locations called Denton, found in Yorkshire, Kent, Lancashire, Norfolk, and Lincolnshire. John Bailey Denton was a British surveyor and civil engineer during the Victorian Era, who was instrumental in developing modern sewage disposal systems.
As with Davis, Edwards is a Christian patronymic surname meaning “son of Edward”. It ranked as the 20th most popular last name in 1853, and was used mostly in the middle class. The surname was also used for Edward Edwards, a British librarian who was an important figure in the establishment of free libraries in the United Kingdom. He worked all throughout the Victorian Era, and was buried on the Isle of Wight upon his death in 1886.
The surname Ford has various origins, depending on when and where it was used. It could’ve been simply from someone who lived near a ford when Old and Middle English was used. Other times, it was given to a family who lived in a location called Ford, such as in Dorset. This last name sounds familiar to most people because of the car manufacturing company of the same name, founded by Henry Ford. He was born near the end of the Victorian Era in 1863, but his father, William Ford, was born and raised in County Cork, Ireland in 1826.
The first known usage of Harrison has been dated back to 1355 in London, England. It literally means “son of Harry”, and is commonly associated with a patronymic origin. The surname belonged to William Henry Harrison, the ninth president of the United States. He was president from March 4, 1841 until April 4, 1841 when he died of either typhoid, pneumonia, or paratyphoid fever.
This last name is a common English, Scottish, Irish, and American last name of English origin. Jackson means, you guessed it, “son of Jack”. It was the 23rd most popular surname in England and Wales in 1853, with 55,800 people bearing Jackson.
Jones was the 2nd most popular surname in Victorian England, with over 242,100 users. There are several well-known people of the Victorian Era sharing this last name, including John Jones, Thomas Rupert Jones, Henry Bence Jones, Ebenezer Jones, and Harry Edward Jones.
Most definitely a locational name, Kent derives from the times of the Anglo-Saxons, and has always been given to families living in the county. Queen Victoria’s father was actually Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn. With many having lived in the region, it was and has been an important surname to note.
In Old English, Lee (or lēah) meant “meadow” or “forest clearing”. A notable family using this surname was the Lees of Shropshire, which were the forebears of the colonial American “Lee Family”. Unrelated to the famous Lee Family, the American Confederate general Robert E. Lee shared this last name as well.
This patronymic last name is taken from the Latin name Martinus, which came from the Roman god of war and fertility, Mars. It has a history of being used with the Catholics, but it was an immensely popular surname for Victorian England because of its ties with Protestant Martin Luther.
Nicholls is yet another patronymic surname, originating from the given name Nicholas. It first was noted in Staffordshire, England, in the early 1300’s. It’s a dying last name, but it was fairly popular during the Victorian Era in the lower class.
This is a popular English surname with Old Norse origins. The beginning of the name derives from Old English Os, meaning “God”, while the root word is bjørn in Norse, which means “bear”. Effectively, Osborn and it’s variants all mean “divine bear”. This was a moderately common last name in Ireland during the Victorian Era.
This was a common nickname given to gamekeepers in medieval England, and was the 42nd most popular last name in England and Wales in 1853. The surname originates from the Old French word parker, meaning “keeper of the park”. The Marvel Comics hero Spider Man shares this last name, with the first web-crawler named Peter Parker.
While Polkinghorne wasn’t a well-used surname, it definitely was well-known. Francis Polkinghorne Pascoe was a leading English entomologist from Cornwall, and made his name recognized in that field from his studies on Coleoptera. In the world of sports, James Polkinghorne was a Cornish champion wrestler, best known for his match in October of 1826 against Abraham Cann of Colebrooke.
Ranked No. 9 in 1853 Victorian England and Wales, Roberts is a Christian patronymic originated surname meaning “servant of Robert” or “son of Robert”. It commonly reflected servile status and is popular in North Wales today. In Victorian times, a general by the name of Sir Abraham Roberts was a British East India Company Army general who served almost 50 years in India.
Smith is the 1st most popular surname in the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the United States today. During the Victorian Era, it reigned supreme in both England and Wales, with over 253,600 persons having it. The last name Smith has Old English and Biblical origins, and was normally an occupational name. Though eventually, it was so well-known that immigrants who spoke foreign languages would often rename themselves in order to make it easier to transition.
This surname is a variant spelling of “Thomson”, but used more widely than its predecessor. It’s a patronymic last name derived from Scotland, with many other spellings. Thompson originally meant “son of Thom” or “son of Thomas”, but is now known mostly for it’s locational usage. It also is the English translation of MacTavish, the Anglicised form of the Gaelic name MacTamhais. Ranking as the 21st most popular in Victorian England and Wales, it was seen in mostly the middle class.
This is a English and German surname derived from Middle High German walker, meaning “a fuller of cloth”. It is very much an occupational last name, and was also used for on-duty officers who walked through certain parts of a forest to inspect them. Walker was first found in Germany in the 13th century, and quickly made its way to England. In the Victorian Era, Edward Walker was an applied mathematician and theoretical physicist. He won the Adams Prize in 1865, a distinguished award given by the University of Cambridge for excellent research in the Mathematical Sciences.
Associated closely with Sherlock Holmes, Dr. John Watson is only a fictional character, but a well-known one all the same. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published their first appearance in 1887, near the end of the Victorian Era. Watson simply means “son of Walter”, and was the 45th most popular surname in 1853 for England and Wales.