Definition of surname

The famous surname dictionary author, P H Reaney, gives the following information about our surname's definition:

"Scafe, Scaife, Skaife: Geoffrey Skaif 1219 AssY, 1240 AssLa; Robert Scafe 1418 FrY. ON Skeifr, NEng dial Scafe 'crooked, awry; awkward wild'."

There are a prodigious number of variants of the surname which have occurred over the last few centuries. Modern spelling has retained just a few, although judging from the versions that many of us receive on our post, you might wonder whether much has changed at all. The GRO index of births lists 578 Sc/kaifes as having been registered between 1890 and 1900, a period by which spelling had become relatively consistent. In calculating this, I have taken the middle road, excluding variants containing the "th" ending, which may well be a different surname altogether. Table 1 summarises the results of this quick analysis:

Table 1: Spelling variants in use between 1890 and 1900

Spelling Numberof occurrences % of total
471 81
80 14
27 5


The situation pre-1800 is far more diverse. Here is a selection of variants which have been discovered. You may be able to add to the list!

Scaife - Skaife - Scafe - Scaif - Skaif - Scaiff - Scaiffe - Skaiff - Skaiffe - Scaf - Scaffe - Skaf - Skaffe - Scaiph - Scaiphe - Scaph - Sceaf - Skaph - Skeife - Skaeff - Sceafe - Scaith - Skaith - Scaithe - Skaith - Skath - Scayf - Scayfe - Skayf - Skayfe - Skayffe - Skiefe - Skiff - Scaifo - Scariff - Scarfe - Scarf - Skarf - Skarfe

To add to the confusion, there is the entirely separate surname of Scarfe, whose variants can often become mixed with our own. There are instances where Scarfes are clearly Scaifes and vice versa. As in most genealogy, there are rules, but they are littered with exceptions!