What’s in a name?

24 October 2021

A Guild One Name Study

About 40 years ago my uncle asked me to look up some records for him at the Local Studies Department at Nottingham Library. This started me on my genealogical journey.

My maternal grandmother’s surname was Jex. This name conjured up many suggestions about its origins – the foremost thought is that it is derived from the Norman name of Jacques. However, there is no proof of this. As I traced my line of Jexes back in time, it showed that they originally came from Norfolk and they started out (well as far back as I could go at the time) as Jecks.

In Norfolk in the 1700s, there were Jecks, Jeckes, Jacques, Jakes and many more similar surnames. There were many different spellings due to illiteracy in the population when scribes would spell names as they thought fit, often phonetically.

About ten years ago I decided to embark on a “One Name Study” of the name Jex. Given that it is an unusual name, I thought that there wouldn’t be that many but I was wrong in that assumption. To date I have 3,800 on my database and probably the same number waiting to be added. In attempting to trace every Jex, or those with similar sounding names, there are too many to contemplate. Indeed, in America there are probably thousands.

I registered my study with the Guild of One Name Studies – fondly known as GOONS – paid my yearly fee and began. The rules are that your findings must be published either as a book, a document or a website and should anyone ask you for help with their research on the same name, you must provide help. I chose a website to publish my results:


I discovered Jex people in America, Canada, Australia, Belize and many other countries. A line of Mormon Jexes travelled to Salt Lake City on the wagon trains. They were a founding family and a book has been written about them.

Considering the resources that we now have at our fingertips to try to trace people with a certain name – censuses, births marriages and deaths, land records, criminal records, military records, wills and probates – the list is large. It is a lifetime’s work and is probably never ending, that is unless the name is so unusual that there are only a few family lines. Those studies where an end is obvious, are the fortunate ones. Mine is not one of those. 

Every so often I continue to hunt for more Jex people and invariably I succeed, producing yet more to add to the database. Please feel free to look at my website and check on the GOONS website to see if your surname has a study attached to it.


Sharon Gray, Loughborough Library Local Studies Volunteer Group