Patel has emerged as the most common Indian surname in the UK, according to a new Oxford dictionary released today. The ‘Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland’ has put together the origins of nearly 50,000
surnames in one of the UK’s largest studies of its kind. “One of the most common Indian surnames, Patel, was a
status name from a Hindu and Parsi name for a village herdsman. It is one of the most common Indian surnames in
Britain, with over 100,000 bearers recorded in the 2011 census,” it said.
Other Indian surnames to find a place in the new dictionary include ‘Chakrabarti’, which derives from Sanskrit ‘Cakravarti’, meaning “wheels rolling” and used metaphorically for a ruler whose chariot wheels roll everywhere without obstruction.
The four-year study of British and Irish records dating back to the 11th century to analyse family names was conducted by linguists and historians. “Our research uses the most up-to-date evidence and techniques in order to create a more detailed and accurate resource than those currently available,” said Richard Coates, professor of linguistics at the University of Western England (UWE) in Bristol.
About half of the 20,000 most common names are locative, meaning they come from places and a fifth are nicknames. About 8 per cent are occupational, including less familiar ones such as Beadle (church official), Rutter
(musician), and Baxter (baker). The study concludes that nearly 40,000 family names are native to Britain and Ireland, while the remainder reflect the diverse languages and cultures of immigrants who have settled since the 16th century, including Indian, French Huguenot, Dutch, Jewish Arabic, Korean, Japanese, Chinese and African
Each entry includes the frequencies of the name at the time of the 1881 and 2011 censuses, its main location in
Britain and Ireland, its language or culture of origin, and, wherever possible, an explanation supported by historical
evidence for the name. Much of this evidence is new, drawn from previously untapped medieval and modern sources such as tax records, church registers and census returns.
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The research for the four volume dictionary was funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council, led by a team at UWE and published by Oxford University Press (OUP).