Welcome to LastName.com
Have you ever wondered about the meaning of your last name or where your family surname came from?
What your ancestors did, how they looked or where they lived? Surnames — our last names — tell a story about our family, one handed down for hundreds of years. By tracing the possible origin of your surname, you can learn more about the medieval ancestors who first bore the surname and, ultimately, handed it down to you.
Names. Everyone has one, most people have a vague idea what their own means, but few give them much more thought. The study of names is called onomastics, a field which touches on linguistics, history, anthropology, psychology, sociology, philology and much more.
When people refer to the “meaning of a name”, they are most likely referring to the etymology, which is the original literal meaning. This website looks at the etymology and history or all types of surnames.
A family name (also called surname or last name) is a name that is passed from one generation to the next. In many cultures a woman adopts her husband’s family name when they are married.
In Europe, surnames began to be used in the 12th century, but it took several centuries before the majority of Europeans had one. The primary purpose of the surname was to further distinguish people from one another. In the 13th century about a third of the male population had a given name of William, Richard or John *. To uniquely identify them, people began referring to different Williams as William the son of Andrew (leading to Anderson), William the cook (leading to Cook), William from the brook (leading to Brooks), William the brown-haired (leading to Brown), and so on. Eventually these surnames became inherited, being passed from parents to children.
Broadly, most surnames fall into four categories.
Surnames derived from given names include Johnson, Williams, and Thompson. Most often they are patronymic, referring to a male ancestor, but occasionally they are matronymic.
Occupational surnames refer to the occupation of the bearer. Examples include Smith, Clark, and Wright.
Locational or topographic surnames are derived from the place that the bearer lived. Examples include Hill, Woods, and Ford. See place names.
Surnames derived from nicknames include White, Young, and Long.
A family name (in Western contexts often referred to as a last name) is a type of surname and part of a person’s name indicating the family to which the person belongs. The use of family names is widespread in cultures around the world. Each culture has its own rules as to how these names are applied and used.
In many cultures (notably Euro-American, Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African) the family name is normally the last part of a person’s name. In other cultures, the family name comes first. The latter is often called the Eastern order because Europeans are most familiar with the examples from East Asia, specifically China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam. Since family names are normally given last in European societies, the term last name is commonly used for family name.
Family names are most often used to refer to a stranger or in a formal setting, and are often used with a title or honorific such as Mr, Mrs, Ms, Miss, Dr, and so on. Generally the given name, first name, forename, or personal name is the one used by friends, family, and other intimates to address an individual. It may also be used by someone who is in some way senior to the person being addressed. This practice also differs between cultures, see T-V distinction.
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