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Interesting Name Facts

Sheathers: British origins, rife in Australia

Some British names are now more prevalent in Australian than in the UK. The surname Sheathers, which has its origins in Britain, is now more widespread in Australia than Britain. Michael Dove, Principal of OriginsInfo, says the Sheathers of the late nineteenth century found the Australian climes more to their liking. “Either because of migration, or due to admirable fertility, people with those names are more than 28 times as likely to be in Australia than in the UK, mostly in NSW or the ACT,” Mr Dove says.

Along with the Sheathers, people with the surnames Riddle, McRae and Granger were more likely than any others to leave Britain and start a new life abroad.

Cock, Balls and Death Shrinking

The number of people in Britain with surnames like Cockshott, Balls, Death and Shufflebottom -
likely the source of schoolroom laughter -- has declined by up to 75 per cent in the last century. A study found the number of people with the name Cock shrank to 785 last year from 3211 in 1881, those called Balls fell to 1299 from 2904 and the number of Deaths were reduced to 605 from 1133.

People named Smellie decreased by 70 per cent, Dafts by 51 per cent, Gotobeds by 42 per cent, Shufflebottoms by 40 per cent, and Cockshotts by 34 per cent, said Richard Webber, visiting professor of geography at King's College, London.

"If you find the (absolute) number goes down, it's either because they changed their names or they emigrated," says Professor Webber, author of the study. He said that in many cases, people probably changed their surnames as they came to be regarded as in bad taste. "It's because the meaning of words can change. Take the name Daft - that as a term for a stupid is a relatively recent innovation." According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Daft meant "mild" or "meek" in Old English, whereas it means "foolish" today. "That's why there are names which people think aren't really very pleasant names and you wonder why they persisted as long as they did.”


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