Exploring the history of a surname is a useful first step on a journey to tracing roots in Ireland. Surnames are very much connected to place in Ireland and are, therefore, an integral part of Irish identity and family history. In the case of the Northern Ireland city of Derry (aka Londonderry), naming traditions go back Derry’s founding by the city of London in 1613.
Esteemed genealogist Brian Mitchell, who has published a number of books on Derry family history in recent years, here presents us with an analysis of the most popular surnames for that port city. Mitchell bases his Top 300 Surnames of Derry/Londonderry volume on the 1989 Foyle Community Directory. Each name in this book has at least ten listings in the Foyle directory. The excellent Introduction discusses the main cultural origins of Derry surnames–namely, Gaelic, English/Lowland Scottish, and 20th-century newcomers, notably persons from Italy, Jews fleeing Eastern Europe and later Nazi Germany, and most recently Indian nationals. Derry’s unique historical background, including the impact upon surnames of the 17th-century Plantation of Ulster, also comes into play. The author provides the researcher with a bibliography of about a dozen surname books he consulted in compiling his own list of the Top 300. The bulk of the book consists of Brian Mitchell’s tabular, alphabetical list of surnames. For each name we are given a ranking and a short descriptive history, such as the following:
Olphert. Rank: 269. Scottish. This variant of Oliphant is chiefly found in Counties Antrim and Derry. The Oliphants of Norman origin, who settled in Northamptonshire, England in the late 11th century, acquired lands in Roxburghshire, Scotland in the 12th century. The Londonderry Port Book of 1612 to 1615 records the trading activity of Wibrant Olfert, a Dutch merchant, who made Derry his home in the very early years of the Plantation of Ulster; he was importing timber from Norway and exporting butter and oats.
Rounding out this compact yet vital work are a series of maps designed to help the reader follow the migration of surnames to Derry. Everyone who owns Mr. Mitchell’s earlier books for tracing Derry ancestors or understanding the place names of County Derry will want this volume for their personal or institutional library.