Genealogy Friday: Tracing meaning of Surname

posted in: Genealogy, Miscellanious | 0

So you want to know what your surname means?

Today, this is much easier than in the past.  You can Google “McKee family name meaning” and the results will pop up.  The name means son of Aodha.  The word Aodha is a Gaelic word for fire. May24_5

There are numerous websites that will provide this information.

Different regions of the world have various ways of using surnames.  I’m primarily focusing on the use of surnames throughout Britain, Europe and North America in this article.

surname mapHowever, some countries use the surname first before the personal name.  Other cultures use the surname as part of the last person’s personal name.

You can also check your local library for books on meanings of surnames.

So when did surnames began?

They began around the 13th and 14th Centuries in Britain and soon spread to other areas.  However, some regions did not adopt the use of them until as late as the 17th Century.

China probably has the longest history of using surnames, which is believed to date back to 2852 BC.

Most surnames were created from:

Where do you think these various surnames originated?
Where do you think these various surnames originated?
  • personal characteristics {Brown, Young, Long, Short}
  • names of parents {Johnson=son of John}
  • location or geographical features {Windsor, London, Hill, Wood, Lake, Stone, Fields, etc.}
  • occupation {Smith, Cooper, Page, Mason, Wright, Baker, Farmer, etc}

Remember, unless you have a very unusual surname, not everyone with the same surname is related.  I know with some of my family that everyone in a certain location with that name is related because it is so unusual.  However, this is not always the case.

Also, surnames have changed over the years for various reasons.  Some have been Anglicized, African Americans took the surname of an owner when they were freed, names are hyphenated, or names have been changed for personal reasons.

A surname can also be a clue {although not always} to your ancestral homeland and location.

What have you found interesting about your surname?


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