Most helpful positive review
Indispensable if needed for research
on September 30, 2001
Obviously someone who wishes to give a first name to a child is not the most likely person to consult this very learned tome: for those people P. Hanks and F. Hodges's *Dictionary of First Names* (also published by Oxford) is the appropriate book (though David Pickering's *Penguin Dictionary of First Names* is also very good). Obviously, if the first name you have in mind is also a surname, then this reference tool, too, is likely to be useful.
The amount of work that has gone into this volume is daunting, particularly when it comes to the mention of early sources in which names have been found. Some of that material is perhaps more of interest to the specialist than the general user, but in any case it is valuable. The Introduction, on names generally, is extremely informative and interesting.
For myself, I most often need to know what a surname might mean (most of them do have meaning), and I suspect that this is what others, too, frequently want to know. For example, are those many Australians who have the surname *Smyth* in effect carrying the surname *Smith*? Yes, indeed: the *y* is merely a spelling variant, which many welcome because it suggests a name other than *Smith* (though quite a few people called *Smyth* don't themselves know that *Smyth*= *Smith*!).
Does this dictionary reveal what one wants to know? It does, but not always in the handiest way possible. It has an entry *Smye, Smythe*, but not one for *Smyth*: one needs to know something about the early stages of the language to realise that if *Smythe* is an early form of *Smith*, then so is *Smyth* likely to be, and if one then turns to *Smith* one will find *Smyth* there. So not everyone will necessarily immediately discover the material searched for - but most people are likely to do so eventually. All in all , I recommend the book heartily, and use it often. - Joost Daalder, Professor of English, Flinders University (South Australia)