What do the names of the Labour leadership hopefuls mean?

All my posts recently have been pretty serious, so allow me to present you with some pure trivia: the etymology behind the surnames of the Labour leadership candidates.

First up:


Cooper is a very common surname in the UK, and ultimately has its roots in Anglo-Saxon. It derives from kuper, a word meaning a craftsperson who makes containers. Simply put, ‘Cooper’ means ‘barrel-maker’.

Moving on:


A difficult name to pin down as it could have multiple meanings. Ultimately, it is a locational surname, meaning a person adopted it when they left their town of origin to seek work further afield – ‘I’m Andy, from Burnham’. The problem is that there are many different towns called Burnham in the UK, from Burnham-on-Sea in Somerset to Burnham-on-Crouch in Essex. In most instances, the word comes from a compounding of burna (stream) and ham (homestead). However, regional variations mean the etymology varies – the ‘Burnham’ in Burnham-on-Sea derives from burnahamm which means ‘stream by the water meadow’. Therefore, all we can be sure about our Andy is that at some point one of his ancestors left one of the UK’s multiple Burnhams to seek greener pastures.

Next up:


There are two interpretations of this name’s origin, and it is likely that both of the derivatives have amalgamated into this surname and its multiple variations (Kendel, Kindel, Kendoll) today. The first interpretation is quite simply that it comes from the name of Cumbria’s county town, Kendal, which itself means ‘Valley of the Kent River’. The other, more interesting interpretation is that it comes from an Anglicised version of the old Welsh surname Kyndelw – modern Cynddelw – which means ‘exalted image’.

Last but not least:


Arguably the most obscure name in the leadership election and the hardest to pin down, not least because it’s traditionally spelt ‘Corbin’. Linguists are divided, some say it is locational and stems from towns in France called Corbon, but I don’t buy this. More likely is that it derives from the Old French for crow Corbin, and was used in reference to people with strikingly black hair or a raucous voice. Given Jeremy’s penchant for causing controversy and stirring the masses, I feel the latter definition is particularly fitting.

So there you have it, if you are still somehow undecided who to vote for after a month and a half of platitudes and evasive answers I hope this comprehensive document has allowed you to finally make up your mind.

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The Condition of the Left in England

'A grotesque mixture of Enlightenment Liberalism, One-Nation Conservatism and Socialism.' Skeptic and linguaphile.

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