I noticed that there are a lot of last names that have an 'e' at the end. The pronunciation usually isn't changed from that of the base word.

  • Poole
  • Steele
  • Browne
  • Clarke

Why do English words not have the e?

Maybe the answer to this question depends on which came first, pool or poole.

  • 1
    In the UK, Greene-with-an-e is a posher surname than Green-as-the-colour. In Ireland, Green is almost unknown, and Greene is the norm. (I'm an Irish Green with English parents.)
    – TRiG
    Commented Jul 29, 2014 at 20:29
  • Because it makes the name seem Frenchy.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Nov 3, 2015 at 23:25

4 Answers 4


Looking up names like Steele and others with the e at the end reveals that before anything was standardized, there were many variations of every name, just as there were for every word. And that they still exist.

Changes in spelling of names, as well as words, were effected by all of English's transformations, as well as its influences from many other languages.

In the Middle Ages, for example, names like Steele could've been written as Steile, Steel, etc. depending on who was writing it. Whoever wrote at the time would spell things whichever way they heard them, and they may as well have all heard them differently.

Checking out this page (of questionable reliability) shows that spelling someone's name the same way during their entire lifetime is a more modern idea, and even names like Shakespeare were spelled differently (Shakespere, Shakespear, Shakspere, Shaxpere).

To answer your question, I think the fact that the "English word" currently doesn't have an e at the end means that that's just the variation of the word that stuck. You'll see people with the name Steele now, but, for example, one of my professors is named Steel because that's the name that ended up sticking. Or, who knows, maybe it was just spelled that way on a passenger manifest when his family traveled across the ocean for simplicity.

  • “Changes ... were effected by ... transformations” means “Changes ... were produced by ... transformations” Commented Jul 29, 2014 at 19:48
  • 1
    I have a co-worker whose grandfather learned to spell his last name from the sign on his parents grocery store. His last name was Wynn, but the sign said Wynns, or Wynn's. So his last name is now Wynns. Commented Jul 29, 2014 at 20:28
  • 1
    To put it more simply, English spelling was not standardised until the 18th century. Nonstandard spellings of surnames have survived from earlier times. Commented Oct 30, 2016 at 9:50

All of these words are often spelt with final -e in pre-modern English when used as common nouns or adjectives. As family names they have simply retained their older spelling.


After an English battle (Forget the name & date) the king awarded the families who fought victoriously the right to add the letter 'e' to their surnames. e.g. Steele, Clarke etc.


I always assumed it had to do with the Norman Conquest. Those pesky French speakers wouldn't pronounce a final consonant unless there was a final 'e' to make them do it. Am I wrong in this assumption?

  • Interesting that some have downvoted this entry without comment.
    – Tim Ward
    Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 17:13
  • "True surnames, in the sense of hereditary appellations, date in England from about the year 1000. Largely they were introduced from Normandy, although there are records of Saxon, surnames prior to the Norman Conquest. During the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042 to 1066) there were Saxon tenants in Suffolk bearing such names as Suert Magno, Stigand Soror, Siuward Rufus, and Leuric Hobbesune (Hobson); and the Domesday record of 1085 to 1086, which exhibits some curious combinations of Saxon forenames with Norman family names, shows surnames in still more general use."
    – Tim Ward
    Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 17:15
  • From ramsdale.org/surname.htm
    – Tim Ward
    Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 17:15

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