Do you know where your surname comes from? Usually surnames are derived in a few standard ways, and up until a couple hundred years ago they were not fixed as they are today in our modern era of bureaucratic record-keeping.
Occupation surnames Before we had surnames, you might have been known by what you did in the community, like “Robert Stockbroker”.
- Baker – the guy who makes the bread
- Cooper – the barrel maker
- Wright – one who makes something
- Kellogg – literally, the guy who kills the hogs
- Smith – the blacksmith, foreign equivalents for the same name: Schmidt (German, Danish), Ferraro (Italian)
Patronymics, using your father’s name as your surname This was popular in western europe until surnames became fixed, which is why it is popular today in western culture.
- England: father’s name + son. Jackson, Jefferson, for example.
- Scotland: Mac + father’s name. MacDonald, McCarthy, for example.
- Spain: father’s name + ez. Hernandez, Rodriguez, for example.
- French: illegitimate children were often given the surname form Fitz + father’s name. Fitzgerald, or Fitzpatrick, for example.
Toponymics, or place names Most people have surnames based on where their ancestors came from. This is actually the type of surname I have since at least one of my ancestors probably came from a place named Sybaris (destroyed by their neighbors) hence my surname, Sivori, or “one from Sybaris”. Other examples include:
- Woods – from the woods
- Heath – someone who lives out on the moores.
- Thorpe – the guy from town
Descriptive surnames Let’s say you have red hair. In the old days, you may have had the last name of Reid, Ross, Rossi, Roth, Rousseau, Russell, etc. all of which describe you as being red or having red hair. Other examples include:
- Grant – a tall man
- Armstrong – a guy with strong arms
- Brown – a guy with brown hair