Monday, March 21, 2011

Where did you get your name?

What’s in a Name?

I have taken to researching my family tree of late. This practice, known as “genealogy,” depends upon last names, sometimes called “surnames.” Sometimes they are unfortunate names. I have a relative named “Allavina Longbottom.” As quickly as she could, it appeared she changed her name to “Viney Bottom.” I am not sure it improved her situation much.

However, do you realize that surnames did not exist, in most cases, till about 1000 years ago! Before that, a less crowded society was mainly agrarian and the whole world consisted of only five miles from their home place. First names worked fine in most cases, and we see that surnames were still developing even in the Bible’s New Testament. “Jesus of Nazareth,” “Saul of Tarsus,” and “Mary of Magdalene” come to mind.

The middle ages, saw a change. A certain Peter might be called "Peter son of John" to distinguish him from his a fellow villager known as "Peter the goldsmith" and his friend "Peter of the hills." These names were not passed down as we do our surnames, as each person had their own.

Surnames’ origins can be divided into four main categories:

1. Place Names:

If they lived near a forest, hill, stream crossing (a “ford”), or cliff, this might be used to describe them, such as: FORREST, ATWOOD, GLEN, EASTMAN, BANKER (lives on hill side), WESTWOOD, DUNLOP (on muddy hill), BROOKS, CHURCHILL, CLIFF, HILLLMAN, BRITTON (from Britain), FORD, HARTSFORD, and WEATHERSFORD.

2. Parents’ Names:

Adding a prefix or suffix denoting either "son of" or "daughter of" made these common surnames. Names ending in "son", "Mac," "Fitz," "O," and "ap" are all derived from parents’ names such as: PETERSON, JOHNSON, FITZHUGH, O’MALLEY, and MACDONALD.

3. Nicknames:

Only 5-10% of all surnames involve these oddities, like: WHITE, BLACK, STRONG, ARMSTRONG, GOODMAN, or even FALLOWELL or FALWELL (picking on a family member who once fell down a well.)

4. Occupational Names:

FLETCHER made arrows

SMITH was a gold, silver or iron smith

TURNER made table legs and chair legs on a lathe

TAYLOR, one that makes or repairs garments

COLLIER was a coal miner

MILLER was essential for grinding flour from grain

COOPER was a barrel maker

WAINWRIGHT was a wagon builder

BISHOP was in the employ of a Bishop

ALDERMAN, an official clerk of the court

SHOEMAKER was a cobbler

CARTER, a maker/driver of carts

OUTLAW, an outlaw or criminal

Whatever your name, God has gifted you to add to its meaning and heritage something only you can provide. Now go do it!

Mr. Peel is often asked to address church and school groups, clubs and meetings. To check availability, contact