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Origins of the Fox Name

Cottle argues that all British surnames fall into four broad classes:

            F            Surnames based on the first name of the ancestor

            L            Surnames recording localities

            O            Surnames recording the occupations or status of the ancestor

            N            Surnames that are nicknames, descriptive of the ancestors face,  figure, temper, morals, tastes, clothes and the rest.

The last category, nicknames is by far the smallest category.

The Penguin Dictionary of Surnames by Basil Cottle suggests the origins of the name fox “as a nickname, no doubt, from slyness or some other attribute”.  It goes on to describe its origins as Old English, and, chiefly a north midlands and northern surname.

Other attributes include red hair.  The 4th Century monk Crimthann or Fox, for instance, was thought to have red hair.  His monastery name was COLUMCILLE or Dove of the Church, then Romanized to COLUMBA. 

Some writers also suggest that it may have meant that a person of this name lived by the sign of the Fox, but there is less evidence for this.

Surnames originated in the middle ages, and many were altered from their original name due to translation from Latin or through different pronunciation, but one should safely assume that this is unlikely in a name as simple and with such a clear meaning.  This part too, has made research so much easier with virtually no chance of different spelling, apart from addition of an ‘e’ in the 16th and 17th Century.  The need for surnames became more apparent as town dwelling and the same occupations in the street became more commonplace.

The heredity principle in surnames gained currency first in the south, and the poorer folk were slower to apply it, but in a few cases in the 1200’s, in many more in the 1300’s and in most of the remainder in the 1400’s, our present family names recurred their first forms.  The North of England, though, was tenacious of older methods, and as tenant farmers, or even freeholders in the North of England one would assume that surnames had only been in use for 100 years or so, before the first Fox reference in 1534, of interest to us, to the ‘heirs of Richard Foxe’, believed by our researcher, to most probably be an ancestor.  Richard, incidently was in the last pre-surname wave of first names to accompany the conquest in 1066.

Links to Associated Articles on this Website:


John Fox of Scale in Roeburndale Home Page


Acknowledgements & References


Background to Fox Family 


History of Melling & Roeburndale


Farming in Lancashire 


Fox's of Scale Family Tree


Fox's of Highwinder Family Tree