Surname Variants

Swalwell is not a common name and phonetically it is not always easy to understand as I discovered when I moved from North Yorkshire to London. It is not surprising therefore that throughout history & across all records there is a significant degree of variation in how the surname is written.

Further the variable literacy skills of scribes over the centuries, including modern day transcriber, have added another layer of variation. The actual number of possible permutations based on the observed variations that occur in the elements of the surname is enormous but they are not all true variants of the surname and many appear to be deviants i.e. the result of a clerical error. The table below attempts to summarise the observed variations of the variations in surname:

To date three variants of the surname have been registered with the Guild of One-Name Studies, i.e. Swalwell, Swallwell and Swallowell, as these are the ones that I can be certain were used by individuals or families themselves rather than being an interpretation made by a scribe.

Swalwell is the focus of the study and it was an obvious choice as it was my maiden name but in addition there is evidence to suggest that it was an early form of the name. Thomas Swalwell who died in 1539 was a monk, bibliophile and archivist of Durham Priory, or Cathedral as it is known now, and signed many of the books in their collection and the name appears as “Swalwell”.

Swallwell appears as a common variant and is regularly used interchangeably within Swalwell in legal documents to describe the same individual.

Swallowell is a less common variant historically but its validity as a variant is proven by the evolution that occurred when a family bearing the name Swalwell migrated to Canada and North America where the name appears to have become permanently altered. Thus, there is now an established population of Swallowell in those countries.

Several other variants are currently being considered for registration but further research is necessary to decide whether they are a deviant form of the name or a true variant. Those names are:

  • Swalewell
  • Swalewelles
  • Swanwell
  • Swalwill
  • Smallwell
  • Swolwell
  • Swalwooll

There is also some evidence to suggest that in some instances there may be a link with the Swallow surname but this is yet unproven.