Surnames – thought of the day

5 Nov

Random thought of the day:

In the beginning there were first names. Adam, Eve, John, Mary, etc.
Along the way surnames, or family names, popped up. It started in heavily centralized populations as a way of telling apart all of the “Johns” and “Janes.”

In English speaking countries there are a few categories of surnames. (In the US 1,712 surnames cover 50 percent of the population)

Occupations: Archer, Smith, Weaver, etc.

Personal characteristics: Short, Brown, Black, etc

Geographical features: Bush, Lake, Brooks,, etc

Place names e.g., Washington, London, Hamilton, etc,

Ancestral, often from a person’s given name: Richardson, Stephenson, Nicholson, etc

Patronal: ie. Hickman meaning Hick’s man, where Hick is a pet form of the name Richard

By 1400 most English people had surnames and Henry VIII ordered that births be recorded under the father’s surname.

So aside from the odd “I’m going to be different and change my name to Superman” crowd, we, effectively, will have no new last names in our culture. We’re past the point of naming John the scientist “John Scientia.” There’s not even much Anglicization anymore (Eisenhauer to Eisenhower).

The world became so interwoven that it became impractical to assign these new names and everyone just accepted that in any population you could have a dozen guys named Tim Blacksmith and you’d just have to deal with it.

Anyway, it’s a strange thought to me that in the course of human history there was only a small window where all last names were generated… then it stopped, and family reunions just started getting bigger.

Anyone else get sidetracked thinking about stuff like this throughout the day?


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