introduction of Last Names
illustration of why surnames were introduced can be taken from
what happened in England. In the 13th century almost one third
of the men in England were called either John, Richard or
William. This obviously started to cause considerable confusion
when people started to move away from their own villages. To
ease the situation people were referred to as William the son of
Robert which lead to the formation of Robertson. Alternatively
William could also be distinguished by his occupation for
example William the baker to the name of Baker or Richard
the Gardner leading to Gardiner.
of Last Names
Our surnames date back hundreds of
years. Many of
our ancestors would have been illiterate! How were surnames recorded in the past? Many administrators
were either atrocious or negligent when it came to recording a
name - so many official documents have resulted in
different spellings leading to minefield when researching Last
can be illustrated by looking at a name that is known throughout
the World - William Shakespeare. The surname Shakespeare was spelt in an astonishing variety of ways including Shakspere,
Shakespere, Shakkespere, Shaxpere, Shakstaff, Sakspere,
Shagspere, Shakeshafte and even Chacsper. The name of
William Shakespeare's father, John Shakespeare, occurs 166 times in the Council Book of the Stratford corporation, and appears to take 16 different
forms! Our thanks go to www.william-shakespeare.info
for this information. The confusion in relation to the
spellings, or mis-spellings, of surnames account for many derivatives
of one particular name.
English Alphabet has changed!
to the general confusion of surrounding the spelling of
surnames, there is also the additional problem in that the
English alphabet has changed over the years! This can make the
task of reading old English documents extremely confusing! The Tudor alphabet contained 24/25 letters, as opposed to the present day alphabet of 26 letters, and the letters "u" and "v" were the same letter as were and
"i" and "j". The "j" was usually used as the capital form of the
"i". The "u" was used only in the middle of a word, and the "v" was used at the beginning. The other difference was that there was another letter which resembled a "y" which was used to represent the
"th" sound. So the word "the" was written in a similar way as "ye" would in the present day. Some words were also spelt with and additional "e" at the end. And finally, numbers were frequently given in lower case Roman numerals, with the last
"i" in a number written as a "j". For example, viij March.
It explains the many
of one particular last name.
Origins of Last Names
Meanings are derived from ideas conveyed by something, such as a word, action, gesture, or situation.
origins are the point at which
they originate, their inception, source or root. For ease of
reference the information on this page is a combination of both meanings and origins of
a last name. Surnames are derived from
several main categories:
Meanings or origins that relate to a
Adopted or transferred
Meanings or origins that describe a profession,
trade or status
Meanings or origins that are connected to Nationalities
meanings or origins that are descriptive
reflecting a physical or
characteristic attribute or have been derived from nicknames
examples of descriptive English origins
Most people are familiar with the legend of Robin Hood and the
people featured in this story. Here's a reminder of some of them:
descriptive name from 'Robin in the hood'
descriptive name describing a physical characteristic
descriptive name describing a characteristic i.e. Maid
name combined with a place name
reflecting a status i.e. Friar
the Miller's son
name combined with a trade name
Last Names (Toponymic - a name derived from a place or a
most common Last Name origins are derived from an actual place
name. This is
particularly relevant to English Surnames. People were given
those that indicated a specific place name such as
London, Ireland, England, Eaton, York or Washington.
type of place name described an actual residence,
location or workplace such as Hall, Smith, Heath, Bridges,
Brook, Castle or Woods
are often derivatives of Nationalities such as English, Welsh,
Scott or French.
Professions or status related English Last Names
are often derived from Trades, Craftsmen, Professions or Official
and other forms of status are legion
but many of their origins have been lost in time. Here are some
examples of common last name's and their often forgotten origins:
armour and swords
hoops on barrels
killer of hogs
thatcher (reed man)
are often derived from physical or
characteristic attributes. The origins of many of these
descriptive type of name have also been lost over the years:
brown haired man
complexion like a Moor
red haired man
soldier, who carried, or shook, a spear
with a family connection!
often come from family connections such as Johnson (John's
son) Robertson and even Nixon (Nick's son). Similar names in
this category are those names beginning with Mc, Mac or Fitz
such as McDonald or Fitzpatrick. There were also the first types
such as William, Phillip, Edward, and Hugh which were changed to
Williams, Phillips, Edwards, and Hughes. ( From,
for example, William's son or Edward's son). Adopting such
surnames was extremely important as they provided permanent proof of verifiable ties of
blood, family and kin. Therefore the history connected to a
powerful ancestor could be passed down the generations. Gaelic Last
Name's beginning with Ó or Mac immediately identify
significant family ties and the heritage of a specific
nationality such as Irish or Scottish.
were changed and foreign ones were adopted when a country was
invaded or conquered. British history has been strongly influenced by such events. The Roman invasion, the
Danes and the Norwegians and Norman invasion being prime
examples and these events have all influenced British Last Names.
Add this to the differences in the meanings and origins of
English, Welsh, Irish and Scottish surnames explain the
complexity of the area of the whole subject. These name's, with vastly
different meanings and origins, have found their way to many
other countries in the World and in particular to America.
/ Invented Last Names - Voluntary Immigrants
our ancestors left their homelands for the chance of better
opportunities in different countries. The USA welcomed many such
people. However officials were unable to understand the many
different languages and so Last name's were registered in a phonetic
fashion by using the closet spellings that sounded similar to
the original name.
our ancestors, however, had no choice in their lives due to the
practice of buying and selling people into slavery. One of the
most famous books relating to the forced slavery of an African
in America was 'Roots' by Alex Haley. According to research
into genealogy compiled by Alex Haley his ancestor was a man
called Kunta Kinte who was an African from the Gambian town of
Jufferee. A vital element in the story of Kunta Kinte is that he
desperately wanted to keep his own name rather than take on the
adopted or transferred sur name of his owner.
Scottish divide into two categories. Those from the
highlands and those originating from the lowlands of Scotland.
The Scottish Gaelic ones from the highlands were heavily
influenced by the Clans. Highlanders gave their allegiance to
Clans and adopted the Last Name used by that clan. These
included those like Mackintosh, Macgregor, Maclachlan, Macdonnell, Macdonald, Macduff,
Buchanan, Drummond, Munro, Campbell, Stewart, Cameron and Ross. Scottish
Last Names from the lowlands of Scotland tended to be influenced
by their English counterparts. Many Scottish surnames such as Stewart,
Cameron and Ross
are now commonly used as a First or middle name.
It has been estimated that about nine-tenths of the Welsh population answer to a total of just one hundred
Examples of Welsh surnames are Bennett, Beynon, Davis, Ellis, Evans,
Griffiths, Jones, Lewis, Llewelyn, Lloyd, Owen, Pritchard, Pugh,
Powell, Price, Meredith, Thomas, Trewent, Yorath and Williams.
Welsh Last Names make use of patronymics as opposed to fixed
Patronymics are of , relating to, or derived from the name of one's father or a paternal ancestor.
The patronymics naming system used the prefixes ab or ap (meaning son of)
such as ap Rhys (for son of Rhys) or ab Owen (for son of Owen).
This lead to many a Welsh Last Name beginning with the letters B
and P. The letter A was dropped from ap and ab. The name ap
Howell was thus shortened to Phowell and gradually this then
lead to the surname Powell.
from 'ab Owen' son of Owen
from 'ap Rhys' for son of Rhys
'ap Richard' son of Richard
surname recorded anywhere in
Europe can be found in Irish historical records dating back to
the year 916. According to Friar Woulfe, an authority on
the Irish surname, the first recorded fixed Last name is O'Clery (Ó
Cleirigh) detailing the death of Tigherneach Ua Cleirigh, lord of Aidhne in
Patronymics are of or, relating to, or derived from the name of one's father or a paternal
ancestor and this system of naming people played a part in the
meanings and origins of Irish Last Names. The term 'Ua', as in the
above Irish name Tigherneach Ua Cleirigh, was an early form
of "O" meaning grandson (Tigherneach was therefore the
grandson of Cleirigh). The prefix "Mac", meaning son of, was
also used in Irish surnames, although these were not
always hereditary and could change according to a given name.
The oldest Irish Names were taken from occupations, tribal ones and from pre-Christian Gods. Unlike English
few Irish Last Names were derived from locations. Irish surnames
tended to reflect ancestors or important historical
The influence of the Christian church from the 10th century then
played a role in the origins and meanings of Irish Last names and
these have survived the test of time. Those beginning
with 'Kil' or 'Gil' derive from the Irish word 'Giolla', meaning
follower or devotee. Those beginning with 'Mul' derive
from the Irish word Maol meaning bald (this referred to the
tonsure of monks)
the language of the Celts. The remains of the old Celtic language are found in the Gaelic, the Erse or Irish, the Manx, and the Welsh and its cognate dialects Cornish and Bas Breton.
Erse is a modification of Irish, OE. Irishe.] A name sometimes given to that dialect of the Celtic which is spoken in the Highlands of
Scotland called, by the Highlanders, Gaelic. Celtic surnames and
their derivatives are detailed under the sections Scottish, Welsh and Irish Last Names.
the language of the Gaels and refers to the Celtic Highlanders of Scotland.
Gaelic surnames and their derivatives are detailed under the
The whole subject of
American names is extremely
complex. The meanings and origins of British surnames have been described and are certainly not without complications.
These British Last Names were taken to America and became American
surnames. Now add to this the other names that derive from
many other countries in the World and we have a vast amount of
possible derivations of American Last Names! Many
have retained the form that they had in other
countries. But the origins of many other American Last Names were
changed so that English speakers would find them easier to
pronounce and spell. And, of course, Native American Last Names can also be added to increase the complexities of American
surnames. American Last Names embody all the surnames of the world.
Tracing American Last Names is a difficult task. Please refer to Genealogy
for helpful information regarding how to trace ancestors and
gain more information into tracing the meanings and origins of