Monday, May 14, 2012

The Origins of European Surnames

Some great information here for anyone interested in names, as I am.  Some of this I knew already and some is new information for me.  This stuff fascinates me.  Thanks to Bob White, who originally published the following as part of his report on his own genealogical search, entitled, "Eight Great Names," written in July, 2005:
Up until about the 10th century, most people in Europe did not have surnames, they were just “Mary” or “Greta” or “Arthur”.  For a while thereafter, only those of high social status used surnames, but as populations increased and the peasants’ knowledge of other communities increased, surnames began to take hold as a way to verbally distinguish one specific “William” from another.

Most surnames were originally based on one of four schemes:

1)      PatronymicO’Connor (son of Connor), McBride, Johnson, Petrovic, HanssenFitzHenry, Stanislavski, Larsdotter, RothschilddeMaupassant, or the shortened possessives: Jones, Williams, Hanks, Roberts, Michaels, Daniels, Rogers, Peters, etc.

2)      Occupational: Archer, Baker, Barber, Bishop, Boardman, Bowman, Brewer, Butler, Cantor, Cardinal, Carpenter, Carter, Chandler, Clark, Collier, Cook, Cooper, Courier, Farmer, Fisher, Gardiner, Goldsmith, Hunter, King, Knight, Lord, Major, Mason, Mayor, Merchant, Messenger, Miller, Miner, Painter, Parson, Pope, Porter, Potter, Sawyer, Shearer, Shepard, Shoemaker, Singer, Skinner, Slater, Smith, Tanner, Taylor, Thatcher, Tinker, Wagoner, Weaver, Wheeler, Wright

3)      Characteristic: Armstrong, Best, Brightman, Brown, Elder, Fairchild, Goodman, Grace, Gray, Hardy, Keen, Loud, Rich, Schwartz, Sharp, Short, Strong, Swift, Walker, Wise, Young

4)      Locational: Atwood, Atwater, Bridges, Brooker, Church, Countryman, Dupont (at the bridge), Eastwood, Fields, Ford, Forest, Green, Hall, Heath, Hill, Kirk (church), Lake, Lane, London, Meadows, North, Pond, Rivers, Sands, Spring, Stone, Valley, West, Wood (and maybe Summers and Winter for the 11th century snowbirds?)

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