As author Robert Bell notes in his learned Introduction to The Book of Ulster Surnames, “The surnames of Ulster stem from many different peoples and many eras and can be difficult to unravel.” Surnames came into common usage in the Province of Ulster in the Eleventh Century; since then, the following groups and historical events have impacted the spread and modification of surnames: the Vikings, Anglo-Normans, English, Scottish, and establishment of the Plantation of Ulster. Following the Plantation, moreover, there was a widespread anglicization of Irish names owing to the administrative policies of the ruling class. One result of this practice, according to Bell, “is that very many people in Ulster with English names assume that they are of English descent but may not be.”
Robert Bell tackles the challenges of Ulster surnames with an alphabetical listing of over 500 of the most numerous surnames in the nine counties of Ulster. Bell cites alternative spellings, anglicizations, variants of each surname, explains the name’s derivation, and indicates where in Ulster the surname is most prevalent. To further help the reader, the author has provided a map showing the location of the ancient kingdoms of Ireland, a glossary of terms, a bibliography, and an index of all Ulster surnames.
To illustrate what readers may hope to find about their surname, here is an example of the surname Kerr from page112 of The Book of Ulster Surnames.