How Did Last Names Get Started?

Last names, surnames or family names, are passed down through families, but where did they come from? We know the parents give first names to their children but they already have a surname. I wanted to look into this further and maybe find the beginning.

The surname is part of the whole identification that describes their family, tribe or community. Typically members of a family have a first name, middle name and the family name. This will vary some when maybe they remarry or someone takes on a name in marriage or changes their name.

A study by the University of the West of England found that over 90% of the 45,602 surnames in the dictionary are native to Britain and Ireland, with the most common in the UK being Smith, Jones, Williams, Brown, Taylor, Davies, and Wilson.

 “Some surnames have origins that are occupational – obvious examples are Smith and Baker. Other names can be linked to a place, for example Hill or Green, which relates to a village green. Surnames which are ‘patronymic’ are those which originally enshrined the father’s name – such as Jackson, or Jenkinson. There are also names where the origin describes the original bearer such as Brown, Short, or Thin – though Short may in fact be an ironic ‘nickname’ surname for a tall person.”

 Professor Richard Coates ( University of the West of England )

By 1400, most English and some Scottish used surnames. King Henry VIII (1509-1547) ruled that marital births be recorded under the surname of the father. The first known instance in the United States of a woman insisting on the use of her birth name was that of Lucy Stone in 1855; and there has been a general increase in the rate of women using their birth name. This has gone through periods of flux, however, and the 1990s saw a decline in the percentage of name retention among women. As of 2006, more than 80% of American women adopted the husband’s family name after marriage.

Many cultures continued to come up with descriptive methods to identify their people like location of origin, occupation, parentage, patronage, adoption, or clan affiliation. In China, family names started with Emperor Fu Xi in 2000 BC in order to facilitate taking a census. Japan adopted the surname in 1868. Ireland was the first country known to use surnames. Examples of occupational surnames are Archer, Bailey, Bailhache, Baker, Brewer,

Butcher, Carpenter, Carter, Chandler, Clark or Clarke, Collier, Cooper, Cook or Cooke, Dempster, Dyer, Farmer, Faulkner, Ferrari, Ferrero, Fisher, Fisichella, Fletcher, Fowler, Fuller, Gardener, Glover, Hayward, Hawkins, Head, Hunt

or Hunter, Judge, Knight, Mason, Miller, Mower, Page, Palmer, Parker, Porter, Potter, Reeve or Reeves, Sawyer, Shoemaker, Slater, Smith, Stringer, Taylor, Thatcher, Turner, Walker, Weaver, Woodman and Wright (or variations such as Cartwright and Wainwright). There are locational surnames like Camp, Hill, Bush, Lake, Wood, Forest, Underwood, Hall, Brook, Fields, Stone, Moore, Perry, Burton, Hamilton, London, and Leighton.

The surname “Tatum” was derived from a place name meaning “Tata’s homestead” in Old English. “Jones” is a variation of the name John. John originates in Hebrew language and means “God is merciful”. “Worley” is a locational English name. Try to find more here.

Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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