Trivia Teaser

Which word contains a smaller word meaning 'idle talk'?

Refugee
Belfry
Defunct
Vagabond

Naming Rites

10
Sep
2012
 

By Christine Lovatt

When surnames were first introduced to Britain after the Norman Conquest of 1066, they were still only used by the nobility. It was several hundred years before the ordinary people adopted the practice, as towns grew bigger and there might have been more than one ‘Big Tom’ or ‘Will from up the road’.

British surnames generally come from one of four sources: an occupation (eg Baker), a parent’s given name (eg Wilson, son of Will), a place (eg Hill) or a personal characteristic (eg Armstrong). The study of names is called onomastics, which comes from the Greek onoma (‘name’).

Walker was not, as it sounds, someone out for a stroll but a person who walked on damp raw cloth in order to thicken it, also known as a Fuller. Turner was a person who worked with a lathe, Napier looked after the linen, and Frobisher polished the armour.

Surnames ending with ‘son’, known as a patronymic name, show us which Christian names were popular in the past. You can tell the obvious ones such as Wilson, Johnson etc, but what about Watson? Wat was a once-common abbreviation of Walter. Paterson, Anderson, Simpson and Henderson referred to Patrick, Andrew, Simon and Henry.

In Ireland, ‘son of’ is indicated by O, as in O’Sullivan or O’Neill, and in Ireland and Scotland it’s Mac or Mc, eg MacDonald. What is lesser known is that in Wales, the prefix Ap was once used and has since become absorbed into the surname. Ap Richard has become Pritchard, Ap Evan is Bevan and Ap Rice is Price.MacNeil Family Crest

Anglo-Norman families settling in Ireland introduced the practice of using Fitz to indicate ‘son of’ or ‘daughter of’. This was used later in England by royalty to name illegitimate offspring, eg Fitzroy ‘son of the king’, Fitzjames ‘son of King James II’ or FitzClarence ‘son of the Duke of Clarence’.

People were also named after places. When they moved to a new area, they would often be labelled by the previous one, eg Sutherland ‘one from the south land’ or Fleming ‘from Flanders’. Walsh and Wallace both meant ‘Welsh’. Geographical features were often used in a name, such as Brooks, Rivers, Field, Woods and Forrest. Dunlop meant ‘muddy hill’ and Shaw was ‘one who dwells by the wood’.

Nicknames were given according to what they looked like or how they acted, and these became surnames. Having red hair gave you the name of Reid or Russell in English, Flynn in Irish and Ross in Scotland. Moor meant dark-skinned, a cunning person was nicknamed Fox, or a gentle one Lamb, while Armstrong speaks for itself.

If you have an interesting surname, I’d love to hear from you.

Happy puzzling!

Christine Lovatt

30 Responses to

Naming Rites

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pdempsey said:
September 10, 2012 at 3:48 PM

THIS SOUNDS WEIRD BUT IT IS SAID TO LISTEN TO YOUR SURNAME WHAT IS THE MESSAGE IT IS GIVING YOU FROM YOUR ANCESTORS LIKE KNEEBONE COULD THERE BE A FAMILY MEDICAL PROBLEM OR WEAKNESS WITH YOUR FAMILIES KNEES AND BONES OR IF YOUR SURNAME GOOD FORBID IS SLAUGHTER COULD THERE BEEN A MURDER IN YOUR FAMILY IN YOUR ANCESTORS TIMES SO LISTEN TO SURNAME YOUR ANCESTOR COULD BE TRYING TO TELL YOU SOMETHING THROUGH YOUR NAME AND YOUR SURNAME CAN ALSO TELL YOU WHAT YOUR ANCESTORS JOB MIGHT OF BEEN LIKE HUNTER OR BAKER FOR INSTANCE.

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kragzy said:
September 10, 2012 at 9:33 PM

My surname is a rare one which for reason's of anonymity I wish to keep to myself. But there is a facebook page for people who share the name. About 20 of us from around the world have related what we know of our origins and they all go back to the same place - Durham in northern England. No-one knows what our name means or its origins. We all have theories but none of them is entirely convincing.

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September 11, 2012 at 4:18 AM

My surname is also quite uncommon in Australia, not so much so in England. My mother traced it back as far as The Domesday Book whilst compiling our family tree. As far as we can tell a 'Sug' was a title similar to Lord or Baron and 'Dean' a place name, you might be able to clarify that Christine. I believe many names would have originated from the Domesday Book if your ancestors were landholders.

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September 11, 2012 at 5:00 AM

Fascinating, thank you! My surname is so uncommon in Australia that there are only two of us (namely my daughter and myself) Even in Germany - where we were both born - it is an uncommon name, but I have found many more in Finland, which surprised me. Would love to know the origins of the name.

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September 11, 2012 at 7:01 AM

pdempsey, you're probably new to this, so don't know it, but posting in capital letters isn't really done - it's often called the online equivalent of shouting.

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September 11, 2012 at 10:47 AM

My maiden name was Girik, and I was born in Vienna, Austria. The only other place I found the name was in Turkey, and one actress from Khazakstan (hope I got this right). I talked to a Turkish taxi driver (I have to take taxis twice a week) and mentioned my maiden name. He said "What name?" When I repeated it he told me it was his mother's maiden name too. I assume that when the Turks went through Europe conquering them, one of the soldiers remained in Vienna and married a local.

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said:
September 11, 2012 at 10:49 AM

our surname from ireland and on coat of arms says sustine et abstinedont know what it means christine maybeyou could find out for me thanks good reading

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mommyscat said:
September 11, 2012 at 11:55 AM

My maiden name in dutch means after or behind as in behind something not the part of the anatomy one sits on (lol) My married surname is the name of one of the wise men who brought gifts to the baby Jesus, so you could say I married a wise guy.

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said:
September 11, 2012 at 12:55 PM

Charmaine52, Did you know we can send private messages on YouPlay? Just click on your InBox. That way we don't embarrass each other with (well meaning) criticism...

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anjam said:
September 11, 2012 at 2:06 PM

My maiden name was mullett, which is not, as most people think, the fish spelled badly or a bad hair day. I believe it comes from the French, and means mussel-seller

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said:
September 11, 2012 at 5:05 PM

thanks jafa inbox the way to go

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tezza1551 said:
September 11, 2012 at 5:51 PM

My maiden name was the same as the district I lived in..named for my great grandfather.. so, you'd give your name, spelling the surname...then came the address "no, I've got your surname"...so you'd try to explain.. no wonder I married at 19 !!

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Catchpat said:
September 11, 2012 at 9:35 PM

My maiden name was taken probably taken from the place where my Irish convict ancestor was arrested. He was a pickpocket and there is no record of any family, so I came to a seas end with mt family history...He is just one of twelve convicts on Dad's side.

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said:
September 12, 2012 at 3:32 PM

My mum's maiden name was Voigt- post war, a bit embarrassing... I just read that Angelina Jolie grew up as Angie Voight. I now think I am so-o cool...

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ariesm said:
September 15, 2012 at 12:11 PM

I have tried to find the origins of my family name, Taaffe, and have found three different regions it may have originated. Northern Ireland, Wales or Austria. I found the Noerthern Ireland connection had a coat of arms so I adopted that one HEHEHE

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kess said:
September 15, 2012 at 2:04 PM

very interesting read

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Mojito said:
September 15, 2012 at 2:32 PM

My surname is Knight. And I just found out that maybe ancestors were not necessary nobles because this name was also adopted by servants in a knightly household!

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Ozrider said:
September 15, 2012 at 3:36 PM

I believe my surname of"Sanders" comes from "Alexander" as in the great. There also European names similar like Zander, also many other derivitives from Alexander.

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gracie10 said:
September 15, 2012 at 8:45 PM

i believe one of the surnames in my family was adapted after their arrival in Australia (as a convict) ... there was a lot of stigma attached to those origins at the time

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said:
September 16, 2012 at 7:07 AM

My brother proudly traced our family history back to two brothers who were on the first ship of free settlers from England... (but who did they marry?)

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said:
September 16, 2012 at 7:15 AM

Gracie10, I'm totally puzzling what your surname is... It must be something meaning convict, right? Maybe Conner, Hooker, Steal.. Did they become a Freeman? P-l-e-a-s-e tell us!

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September 16, 2012 at 9:11 AM

Jafa it may have changed to any name to hide connections with any convict register. Its interesting to note that many immigrants to Australia had their name changed as they arrived....officials just wrote down a name that they thought sounded similar.....too arrogant or lazy to ask for the spelling.

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gracie10 said:
September 16, 2012 at 11:33 AM

Yes, stitchpuzz is right, it was changed to hide connections with the register. The original name was Gahan it was simply changed to Gann after a couple of generations. The original convict was given a ticket of leave after doing his time - 7 years as a farm labourer. I would be interested in the meaning of 'han' in Irish names - sheehan, gahan etc.

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suerad said:
September 17, 2012 at 3:51 AM

Hi Gracie 10 - han is a diminutive suffix meaning "little" or "descendent of.....

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said:
September 17, 2012 at 10:30 AM

Reflecting on the rights (or lack of) of convicts, leads me to think on slavery... How could anyone, anywhere, anyway, anytime, endorse slavery... especially in America- 'The Land of the Free'. I just don't understand how it could even happen...

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gracie10 said:
September 17, 2012 at 12:55 PM

Thanks suerad, so, another variation of 'son of' I guess. Gotto agree with you Jafa with regard to slavery and convicts, it does seem unthinkable but attitudes were so different back then - and they wanted a cheap/free labour force - to help build the new colonies in Australia, and to work on the plantations in America. Seemed to be able to justify it to themselves at the time.

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kragzy said:
September 17, 2012 at 1:47 PM

Sorry to get serious about this, but slavery is a far greater problem now than it was in the 16th-19th centuries. How do you think those super cheap goods you buy at dollar-dreadful stores are made. Tee-shirts for $4, for example. You can be sure that there is slavery in that production chain, from the cotton harvesting and in every step of manufacture. If you are concerned about slavery, buy Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance or UTZ Certified goods only. They cost more - but that's the point - the children who make them are earning a living wage and are not chained to their workstations. It's worth doing a bit of Googling on the subject. You may be dismayed with what you find.

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kragzy said:
September 17, 2012 at 1:57 PM

For example, have a look at www.freetheslaves.net/SSLPage.aspx?pid=285

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said:
September 17, 2012 at 2:37 PM

'Man's inhumanity to man'. It's horrifying what goes on beyond our shores (I hope it doesn't go on here in Australia). The problem seems too big and hard to deal with but I remember one of my favourite quotes... by Ronald Reagan no less, 'We can't help everyone, but everyone can help someone.' We ALL need to do something.

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gracie10 said:
September 17, 2012 at 2:54 PM

Yep, that's true kragzy - sweatshop labour. Big in chocolate manufacture too apparently, they use children to harvest the cocoa beans. Thanks for the timely reminder. Another quote, this one from Mother Theresa: "We the willing, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, with so little, for so long, we are now qualified to anything with nothing." May be a bit out of context, but its a great quote, and she certainly did what she could to help the orphans in Calcutta.