How to Analyze the Meaning of Your Family Name
Browse articles:
Auto Beauty Business Culture Dieting DIY Events Fashion Finance Food Freelancing Gardening Health Hobbies Home Internet Jobs Law Local Media Men's Health Mobile Nutrition Parenting Pets Pregnancy Products Psychology Real Estate Relationships Science Seniors Sports Technology Travel Wellness Women's Health
Browse companies:
Automotive Crafts & Gifts Department Stores Electronics Fashion Food & Drink Health & Beauty Home & Garden Online Services Sports & Outdoors Subscription Boxes Toys, Kids & Baby Travel & Events

How to Analyze the Meaning of Your Family Name

This article offers an insight to the way your family name was formed.

History of Surnames

Surnames began to be used when civilization or the local society became so populous that a single name did not identify individuals. China is the first place that used three names: the first two names came from the sacred Chinese poem Po-Chia-Hsing, and the third was a given name chosen by the family. In Ancient Rome people of the upper classes had three names: the given name was the “praenomen;” next was the “nomen” or clan name; finally the “cognomen” was the family name. With the fall of the Roman Empire, the influence of invading barbarians brought about a simplification of naming protocol, and Western civilization returned to one name.

Historians may mark famous figures by their deeds, i e, Vlad Tepes or Vlad the Impaler who ruled in Wallachia in the mid-fourteen hundreds was so named because his favorite method of execution was impaling. Some famous people got their nickname for a character trait: Richard the Lion Hearted. He was the king of England who favored crusading over ruling. Attila the Hun was a leader and warrior in the fifth century in Asia. In history he is associated with the Eastern tribe called the Huns. Even though these names are not the family names or familiar names we address friends and family with, they do provide a clue to the way family names developed in the west about the 5th century.

There are four primary sources for surnames at least in the west. These include given names often patronymic in nature, nickname for a character trait or a characteristic, location, or an occupation.

What does you name mean?

Patronymic names were formed by referring to the father or even the grandfather. Rogers was formed from the given name Roger. When the “s” was added it became “son of Roger” (English, German). Sometimes the names would be matronymic if the mother's name was noteworthy because of weath or power.  Peterson was formed by adding “son” to the given name Peter (Swedish and Danish). O’Grady was formed by adding “O’” meaning grandson to the given name Grady in Ireland. McDonald or MacDonald came from the given name Donald and Mc or Mac meaning “son of" in Scotland..

D’, de, da means “son of”                                                                                                                                                                                    d'- / di- - son of (Italian)

-ez / -es - son of (Spanish / Portuguese)

-wicz - son of (Poland)

Fitz- - son of (Old English)

Location names such as Hill, Woods, Ford, or names for cities, towns or countries like England or French are obvious. Town, rivers, and mountain ranges sometimes became surnames.

Nickname for some characteristic may have become a surname. White, Black, Little, Short, or Longfellow may be the beginning of a surname.

King, Singer, Farmer, and Taylor are examples of names that come from occupations. As in the case of Taylor, the forms and spellings may change.

My own last name is Hudson. Hudd or Hudde was a popular given name in antiquity, so the Hudson came from an ancestor who was the son of Hudd. One ancestor was named McCarver. I believe that means I had an ancestor who was the son of a carver. An ancestor named Cox got his name possibly because he had roosters for sale. My mother’s last name was Underwood. Her ancestor lived near the woods. Another ancestor was named Clark. Clark comes from cleric or a person who was a clerk in government or the church. It is easy to see how the four sources of surnames got combined to produce new names. Carver became McCarver and Hudd became Hudson.

Perhaps the formation of the name is lost in the mists of time, but the meaning may still be a source of mystery and fun. For more information look here:  Surnames.Behind the Name

How to Create an Oral History of Your Family

Seven Onsite Sources for Family History Researchers

How to Begin a Family History

Need an answer?
Get insightful answers from community-recommended
in Genealogy on Knoji.
Would you recommend this author as an expert in Genealogy?
You have 0 recommendations remaining to grant today.
Comments (0)