Naming and Shaming

Posted on September 4, 2015

Some of the UK’s most embarrassing surnames are falling by the wayside.  Experts tracking name origin and popularity over 100+ years say many once commonplace surnames are falling sharply.

While the list includes several variants of Cock and Bottom, there are plenty of names people today prefer not owning up to:  Grave, Slow, Pigg and Hustler to name just a few.

The name & location study

Geographers analysed 1881 data against a more recent 1996 population survey.  Over 500,000 surnames were included in the study that looked at changing numbers and name origins.

For instance, in 1881 Glasgow was home to most Smellies and there were plenty around Nottingham called Daft.  Those names are in decline, but not the Nutters.  Originally named after their hometown of Blackburn, the surname Nutter fell just 35% in over a century.

Richard Webber (a visiting professor of geography at King’s College, London) explains the findings show how word meanings change over time.

“Take the name Daft – that as a term for stupid is a relatively recent innovation.”

A quick visit to the dictionary will tell you the word Daft originally meant “mild or gentle”.  Whereas, today it is most often an adjective for foolish, silly or mad.

Most embarrassing surnames

Tops in dipping numbers was Cock (at just 25% of 1881 levels), closely followed by these names.  In order of lost popularity there was:

  1. Hickinbottom
  2. Handcock
  3. Smellie
  4. Haggard
  5. Daft
  6. Shufflebottom
  7. Grave
  8. Stranger
  9. Jelly
  10. Slow
  11. Crankshaw
  12. Onion
  13. Willy
  14. Pigg
  15. Poor
  16. Paddy
  17. Hustler
  18. Hickinbotham
  19. Glasscock
  20. Nutter
  21. Bottom
  22. Winterbottom


Webber says:
“There are names which people think aren’t really very pleasant names and you wonder why they persisted as long as they did.”

“If you find the (absolute) number goes down, it’s either because they changed their names or they emigrated.”

Who gets around the most?

Reviewing who boldly left native soil and those who stayed home also gave researchers a glimpse of daring.

Amongst the surnames that most often venture far from home are the Riddle, Gribble and Toole.  Those who prefer home turf best include Baggot, Goodey, Spragg and Spruce.

Australian Red Faces

If you think multicultural Australia is immune to awkward and whacky surnames … think again.  A quick visit to the phone book reaps some gems of embarrassment like:

  1. Dick
  2. Bustard
  3. Fanny
  4. Gullet
  5. Hooker
  6. Leak
  7. Mould
  8. Onians
  9. Sly
  10. Whitehead

If the UK experience is anything to go by, Australia’s most embarrassing surnames are probably endangered too.  So it may be best to love our name shame lists while they last.

Ever disliked your own name?  It’s time to take heart.  A spot in any most embarrassing names list just makes you more interesting than most!

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