Etymology & Onomastics

Etymology: -gies.

1. The origin and historical development of a linguistic form as shown by determining its basic elements, earliest known use, and changes in form and meaning, tracing its transmission from one language to another, identifying its cognates in other languages, and reconstructing its ancestral form where possible.

2. The branch of linguistics that deals with etymologies.

Onomastics: n. (used with a sing. or pl. verb)

1. (a) The study of the origins and forms of proper names. (b) The study of the origins and forms of terms used in specialized fields.

2. The system that underlies the formation and use of proper names or terms used in specialized fields.

The adoption of second names or surnames in Europe took place from the 11th Century onwards. Surnames generally fall into four main categories:

1. Occupational names describe the subject’s profession

2. Locational names describe the subject’s dwelling or place of origin

3. Descriptive names distinguish the subject by some physical characteristic or by a mannerism

4. Patronyms are the adoption of the subject’s father’s first name as a surname

In this section of our little website, I’m just going to cover the four main names in our family: Thompson & Halbert on my side and Milligan & Barnett on my wife’s… A good resource for checking out more surnames is at The Internet Surname Database.


The surname of Thompson is a Patronym. It originates from son of Thomas, shortened to Tom. The following is a list of variations found so far:

Tampson, Tampsonne, Tampston, Tamsen, Tamsin, Tamsom, Tamson, Tamsone, Tamsson, Tamssone, Tamsyn, Tempson, Thampson, Thamson, Thomasine, Thomason, Thomasson, Thomazin, Thommssonn, Thomison, Thompson, Thompsone, Thompsonn, Thompsonne, Thomsine, Thomson, Thomsone, Thomsonn, Thomsonne, Thomston, Thomzen, Tomeson, Tomisend, Tompeson, Tompsin, Tompson, Tompsonn, Tompsonne, Tomsen, Tomsin, Tomson, Tomsone, Tomsonn, Tomsonne, Tomsoun, Tomsson, Tomssone, Tumsome

The distinction between the various spellings may have had little significance until the 19th and 20th centuries and therefore the families may well be heavily interconnected. Many of the variations, such as Tamson, Tamsyn, Thomzen and Tumsome, appear to be United Kingdom West Country variations. It is not uncommon to find the same person spelt in more than one way in the same parish records.

There is a view that Thomson is more generally Scottish and Thompson English or Irish but this may only be evidenced by the numbers of the individual spellings to be found regionally during the last 100 years. It is believed that many Thompsons have their origins in Scotland. One such origin could be from MacTamhais, son of Tammy, stemming from Clan MacTamhais who, when changed from Gaelic to English became MacTavish. After the battle of Culloden in 1746, the clearances took place and Highland clansmen left the Highlands in great numbers to keep their lives, to get employment etc. and as a result, many MacTavishes used the MacTamhais or Thom(p)son variation.

Another origin could be from MacThomas (Gaelic MacThomaidh) which stemmed from Clan Chattan (15th century). By the late 17th century, the MacThomas clan was drifting apart, some going south into the Tay valley changing their name to Thomson or into Angus where they became Thomas, Thom or Thoms.


The surname of Halbert may be occupational in origin. One suggestion is it’s a Scottish name for a soldier who used a halberd and in France, the name may have come from the maker of halberds and similar weapons in old French the name would have been Hallebarte. The name may also be a patronym from a Scandinavian personal name.

Spelling variations include:

Halbert, Halpert, Halberdyne, Halberdyn, Hallbert


The surname of Milligan is a Patronym. The name translates as the “descendant of Maolagan”, a personal name from a double diminutive of “mael” and meaning “bald”. As such it is probably an affectionate nickname for a monk or disciple, somebody who shaved their head as a sign of devotion.

Variations of Milligan include:

O’Milligan, Miligan, Milliken, Milikin, Mulligan, Mullikin, Millican.


The name Barnett is either Locational for one who lived on “land cleared by burning” (Baernet) or is a Descriptive name from the personal name “Bernhard” meaning “brave-bear”. Although this famous surname is of early Anglo-Saxon pre 7th Century origins, its longevity in Ireland is such, and its spread through the country so embracing, that it may also be regarded as Irish in its own right.

Spelling variations of Barnet:

Barnett, Barnatt, Burnet, and Burnet