How Your Surname Meaning Can Be a Great Place to Start Your Family History Research and What Tools to Use

A surname doesn’t mean an awful lot to many people; in fact, to most it’s just a name that they use to identify them from other people who share their first name. However, your surname is actually an important part of your family history, as it is the link between you and your ancestral heritage. Have you ever wondered what your surname actually means? Have you ever found yourself wondering where your family originated from, whether you shared any traits with your distant ancestors, or who the first in your lineage was? Your surname can tell you all of that and more, if you know the right place to look.

Occupational surnames

Some surnames are derived from the occupation that someone held at the time their name was given to them. For example, a name like John Carpenter would be given to someone who worked with wood. There are a range of different occupational names, from Archer, Butcher and Clark, all the way to Potter, Smith and Taylor. If you have a surname meaning with an occupational heritage, it most likely indicates what your ancestral family trade would have been, or alternatively, it may suggest that your family may have been the servants or slaves of a family with that heritage, as servants were often given the name of their employers.

Area and place surnames

Your surname can also tell you a lot about the area in which your family name originated. For example, some place names indicate where someone was born, lived or owned land, and could either be the name of their estate, their farm or town. For example, names such as Hamilton, Sutton or Burton are all place name surnames. Alternatively, some surnames are born from a recognizable geographical feature within a landscape. There are lots of different examples of these types of surnames, such as Smallwood, Bridge, Bush, Grove, and Stone.

Paternal, maternal and ancestral origin names

A patronymic surname is a surname which has been derived from the first name of a male parent. For example, the name Davidson would literally translate to “the son of David.” Similarly, a matronymic surname is a name which is derived from a female ancestor, such as Madison (“son of Maud”).

Surnames describing characteristics

As many people within a family line would often share similar characteristics, any significant or easily identifiable features could also have been used as a surname. For instance, some may have described a person’s height or size (e.g., Short, Little, Long, Strong, etc.), or something about their personality, such as a surname like Stern.

All of these different types of surname can help you to uncover more information about your ancestors, and you can use this information to build a better picture of where you come from. If this is something you would be interested in learning more about, then it is definitely worthwhile using genealogy research sites to look into what your surname means, so that you can discover more about your family history.