English SurnamesEnglish last names: more than meets the eye.
- Expect a response within hours.
Looking for answers? Let's talk about the world's most primordial question: Who am I?
- Just listen.
- Listen and read along silently.
The English term "surname" originates from the same patriarchal institution that gave rise to the British monarchy. The predominant naming tradition throughout the whole wide world — whereby names are passed down from father to son, and women give up their names at marriage — although unquestionably sexist, reveals the cultural and religious perspective that upon marriage, God unites a heterogeneous couple in the holy sacrament of matrimony to better reflect God's eternal love towards humanity.
The best example of this type of thinking would be the surname Adams, which comes from the Semitic word for "drawn from the earth" where in the Old Testament, on the sixth day God made the first man, Adam.
Hence, most English surnames can be traced back to one of five groups:
- formed from the given name of the sire (common in English-speaking countries);
- arising from physical characteristics or dispositions;
- derived from locality or place of residence;
- derived from occupation (crafts and trades common during medieval times); or
- invented for their pleasing sound, as a nickname, or simply out of necessity.
Over time, some countries developed specific rules, publishing 'Naming Systems' for use in developing surnames. These systems, for example, promoted the use of suffixes like I, II, or III, which when used, the eldest son's name could be the same as that of the father. The Normans also introduced the Sr. and Jr. suffixes to distinguish father and son.
Regionally there are commonalties among the way heritable surnames were derived. The English terminated names with 'son', 'ing', and 'kin', which are comparable to names prefixed with the Gaelic 'Mac', the Norman 'Fitz', the Irish '0', and the Welsh 'ap'. There are also German, Dutch, Scandinavian, and other European surnames of similar formation, such as the Scandinavian names ending in 'sen'. In the Slavic countries, the 'sky' and 'ski' played the same role.
The Italians used a variety of prefixes for their naming practices. The prefix 'di' (meaning 'of') was often attached to an otherwise ordinary Christian name to form a patronym; 'da' and 'di' (meaning 'from') often associated a place of origin; and 'la' and 'lo' (meaning 'the') often derived from nicknames.
While these are examples of a structured approach to naming descendants, all too often other circumstances existed and our ancestors opted for (or were forced into) an alternate approach.