British surnames became fixed in the period between 1250 and 1450. The broad range of ethnic and linguistic roots for British surnames reflects the history of Britain as an oft-invaded land. These roots include, but are not limited to, Old English, Middle English, Old French, Old Norse, Irish, Gaelic, Celtic, Pictish, Welsh, Gaulish, Germanic, Latin, Greek and Hebrew.
The Chinese were the first to adopt surnames to honor their forebears, with the family name placed first, rather than last. Thus, the family name of Sun Yat-sen is Sun. Surnames that describe a man by his relatives are only one of the several categories of surnames.
When communities consisted of just a few people, surnames weren't so important. But as each town acquired more and more "John's" and "Mary's", the need was established for a way to identify each from the other. The Romans had begun the practice of using "given-name + clan-name + family-name" about 300 B.C. In the English-speaking part of the world, the exact date that surnames began to be adopted can't be pinpointed. The Domesday Book compiled by William the Conqueror required surnames, but hereditary surnames are not considered to have been commonplace until the late 1200's.
William Camden wrote in Remaines of a Greater Worke Concerning Britaine: (1586): "About the yeare of our Lord 1000...surnames began to be taken up in France, and in England about the time of the Conquest, or else a very little before, under King Edward the Confessor, who was all Frenchified...but the French and we termed them Surnames, not because they are the names of the sire, or the father, but because they are super added to Christian names as the Spanish called them Renombres, as Renames.
So then, throughout the British Isles, there are only five types of native surnames:
i) Those taking -- or based on -- the first name of the ancestor's father (Patronymic).
ii) Those recording localities or place names where ancestors originated.
iii) Names reflecting the occupation or status of the ancestor.
iv) Surnames that are nicknames describing the ancestor's face, figure, temper, morals, or habits.
v) Acquired ornamental names
There are other sources as well, but most can be wedged into one of the above categories -- one way or another.
Physical features that were prominent when surnames began to be adopted were also borrowed as an identifier (Long, Short, Beardsly, Stout) as were dispositions of the bearers (Gay, Moody, Sterne, Wise). Sometimes the name told its own story (Lackland, Freeholder, Goodpasture, Upthegrove) and sometimes they might have been selected to elicit envy or sympathy (Rich, Poor, Wise, Armstrong).
on the Christian name of the father are very common in English-speaking
countries. Either the name is obvious (John William) or an "s" might be
added, giving names like Williams. In some cases, the ending "son" is added
so you get Davidson, Richardson, or Anderson (son of Andrew). Tennyson
was the son of Dennis. In Scotland and Ireland "Mac" or "Mc" means "son
The suffix "kin" can be used in surnames as a diminutive - so Tomkin is "Little Thomas", Wilkin is "Little William" and Perkin is "Little Peter". Similarly, Bartlett is Little Bartholomew, Dickens is the son of Little Dick and Philpott is Little Philip. Indeed, a Christian name can be altered over time. The name David, for example, has become: Davey, Davids, Dowell, Davidson, Davidge, Davie, Davies, Davis, Davison, Dayson, Davy, Davys, Daw, Dawe, Dawes, Dawkes, Dawkins, Daws, Dawson, Day, Davitt, Dowson, Dowd, Dowden, and Dowling. The baptismal name of Richard has been modified to give us: Dick, Dickens, Dickenson, Dickson, Dixon, Heacock, Hick, Hickin, Hickman, Hickmot, Hickox, Hicks, Hickson, Higgins, Higginson, Higgs, Higman, Hiscock, Hitch, Hitchcock, Hitchinson, Hitchmough, Hix, Reckett, Ricard, Rich, Richard, Richards, Riche, Richer, Richett, Richney, Richie, Richman, Rick, Rickard, Rickeard, Rickett, Ricketts, Rickman, Ricks, Rickson, Ritchie, Ritchard, and Rix. Welsh surnames can be difficult to trace since, though patronymic, they were not always hereditary. William's son Hugh, for example, was Hugh Williams; Hugh's son Richard was Richard Hughes, and so on.
For a chart showing old occupations: OCCUPATIONS CHART
Surnames representing localities are easy to spot if they come from a specific geographical area or part of land: Marsh, Middleton, Sidney, or Ireland, for example. The evolution of language has made others are less obvious: Cullen ("back of the river"), and Dunlop ("muddy hill").
Some sources include: American Surnames by Elsdon C. Smith, Baltimore, 1969; A Dictionary of Surnames , by Patrick Hanks and Flavia Hodges, New York, 1994; Family Names: How Our Surnames Came To America , by J. N. Hook, New York, 1982
The reality is that surnames were not in use from the beginning of time. They actually came into being about 1300. Prior to that time they just didn't seem to be needed. A person had a given name and then some descriptive name based on occupation or locality. For instance, Daniel the cooper would eventually become Daniel Cooper. And of course a cooper was someone who made barrels.
It can be very interesting to delve into the origination of some surnames. For instance, FALLOWELL or FALLWELL meant, "fall in the well." I pity the poor ancestor who fell in the well to create this surname. Some names were for location. For instance, DUNNABY stands for "the man who lived down in the village."
While these are English surnames, many European surnames carry similar histories. For instance YEAGER, a German surname, means "game hunter." The Norwegian surname MADSEN means "son of the strong man." The Hungarian surname SZABO means "tailor." So you can see that other cultures also go their surnames from occupations.
Chinese surnames also have meanings behind them. The surname CHIEU means "to return to the original owner." The surname FOONG means "horse running." And CHIN means "to arrange or to exhibit."
It is important to remember that the spelling of these surnames will vary tremendously. For instance, the surname LAMBERT, which takes its name from "lamb herd" or "land bright" can have the following variations: LAMBARD, LAMBART, LAMBARTH, LAMBIRTH, LAMBURD, LAMPARD, LAMPART, LAMPERD, LAMPERT, LAMMERT and LIMBERT. That's a lot of variants.
the meaning behind our surname can be as much fun as researching our family
history. If you are interested in finding out a little more about
your surname, you might try one of the following web sites:
For those with English surnames, there is an excellent book available that you might want to look at. "A Dictionary of English Surnames, The Standard Guide to English Surnames" by P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson, published by Oxford University Press.
Whether you're a WAITE (a watchman) a YATES (a gate-keeper) or an OSLER (a birth catcher) continue to enjoy the search for your ancestors. And while you're at it, check out where you got that surname.
And if you think you have a whopper of a surname, not to worry - we all have some interesting ones. And I confess, I don't know the meaning of some of mine: STANDERFER, SICKAFUS, AYER (from the royal burgh of Ayr), BAILEY (a sheriff). THORNTON (from one of the many places named Thornton).
Rhonda R. McClure
FAMILY TREE FINDERS
Tuesday, January 5, 1999
By: Rhonda R. McClure, Professional Genealogist
Many other family names, especially some of the English ones, are not what they seem to be. For example, the surname HOGG (also spelled HOGGE and HOGGS) means a "descendant of Hodge." Hodge was a nickname for Roger. It also referred to a dweller near a portion of wood marked off for a clearing, or men of this name might have acquired it because they dwelled at the sign of the hog (hogue). It also was an unkind nickname for a self-indulgent, gluttonous person.
Medieval occupations are reflected in many English surnames. Some are obvious; others not so. We recognize: BAKER, CARPENTER, CARTWRIGHT, COOK, COOPER, FISHER, GARDNER, HUNT/HUNTER, MARCHANT/MERCHANT, MASON, MILLER, PARKER, PARSONS, PEPPER, POTTER, SAWYER, SMITH, TANNER, THATCHER, TURNER, TYLER, WAINWRIGHT, WEAVER, and WRIGHT.
surnames which look obvious, such as FARMER, have other meanings. FARMER
has a modern meaning that actually came after the creation of the surname.
Originally, a farmer was a tax collector as farm once meant "firm or fixed
payment." A few other surnames whose medieval origins pertained to the
occupations of our ancestors are:
Ever wonder what the name Shakespeare really means? Various surname dictionaries provide several explanations, but most say it means "a shaker or brandisher of a lance or spear -- a soldier." It also is said to be a nickname for a belligerent person or perhaps a bawdy name for an exhibitionist.
Learning more about the history and origins of the surnames hanging upon your family tree can be entertaining and educational. Most public libraries have several surname dictionaries, and since the onomastics scholars do not all agree on every name, consult several works.
PERMISSION TO REPRINT articles from MISSING LINKS is granted unless specifically stated otherwise, PROVIDED (1) The reprint is used for non-commercial, educational purposes. (2) This notice must appear at the end of the article:
Written by <author's name, e-mail address, and URL, if given>. Previously published by Julia M. Case and Myra Vanderpool Gormley, CG, Missing Links: A Weekly Newsletter for Genealogists, Vol. 4, No. 2, 8 January 1999. Please visit the MISSING LINKS Web page at <http://www.rootsweb.com/~mlnews/index.htm>
Given names often followed a particular system until 1900.
The first son was named for the father's father
The second son was named for the mother's father,
The third son was named after the father.
The fourth son was named after the father's eldest brother.
The first daughter
was named after the mother's mother.
If a widowed individual remarried and had children with the new spouse, the first child of the same gender as the deceased spouse was given the spouse's name. The same was true if a child in the family died, then the next of that gender was given that name.
This 'naming pattern' can be found in most genealogy research helps books. It was used in many of the northern countries and in some localities followed slight variations. If your family held to this it is a very helpful tool.
"VARIETY. Odd manner of naming people in Norway -- If a man's Christian name be Robert, for example, all his family in the first generation become Robertsons; and if his eldest boy be baptised John, he is of course John Robertson; and the girls in like manner, pro hac vice, are all Robertsons. When the son grows up and has children, they will all be Johnsons, boys and girls as before; and so on, changing the family name every generation. If there happen to be three sons in a house named, we shall say, Henrich, Frederick, and William, there will be branches of three separate petronymics <sic> from the three brothers, and their children will be respectively, Henrichsons, Fredericksons, & Williamsons."
PERMISSION TO REPRINT articles from MISSING LINKS is granted unless specifically stated otherwise, PROVIDED (1) The reprint is used for non-commercial, educational purposes. (2) This notice must appear at the end of the article:Written by <author's name, e-mail address, and URL, if given>. Previously published by Julia M. Case and Myra Vanderpool Gormley, CG, Missing Links: A Weekly Newsletter for Genealogists, Vol. 4, No. 2, 8 January 1999. Please visit the MISSING LINKS Web page at <http://www.rootsweb.com/~mlnews/index.htm>