Video:How to Trace the Origin of a Surnamewith Lori Amato
Learn how to trace the origin of a surname so that you can learn more about your ancestry and genealogy. Here are tips for tracing the origin of a surname.See Transcript
Transcript:How to Trace the Origin of a Surname
Hi, I'm Lori Amato for About.com. I'm here to tell you how to trace the origin of your last name, or surname.
What Is a Surname?
Surnames are names inherited down through the generations of families which are used to distinguish and identify one person from another. Surnames were first used in Europe, beginning around 1000 A.D. In many countries, the use of these hereditary surnames originated when nobility used names tied to towns, cities or communities where their ancestors lived. Surnames, for the most part, drew their meanings from the lives of men in the Middle Ages.
The Origin of a Surname Can Be Patronymic
Their specific origins can be divided into four main categories. The first category is "patronymic." These are last names derived from the father's first name, although occasionally the mother's first name was used as well -- the latter type of surname is referred to as matronymic. Patronymic surnames were created by adding a suffix or prefix -- an example of this tradition would be the name Jacobson, which is interpreted as son of Jacob.
The Origin of a Surname Can Be From Places
The second kind of surname is called either place or local names. This category is a common type of surname, which is used to differentiate one neighbor from another by the name of where they lived. For instance, a name like Brook would refer to the fact that the individual lived near or by a waterway.
The Origin of a Surname Can Be From a Nickname
A third type of surname is the descriptive or nickname. These are derived from physical or other specifica characteristics displayed by the first bearer of that surname. For example, Black was used when the first family ancestor had brown hair.
The Origin of a Surname Can Be From an Occupation
The fourth type of surname is the occupation. Here, the last name was created with deference to the occupation or status of the bearer. The last name of Miller often indicated that the originating individual was a miller of wheat or grain. The name Miller directly is derived from the german name, Muller.
Some Origins of Surnames Are Corruptions
Some last names defy explanation. The majority of these are corruptions of the ancestor's original surname. For instance, the last name of Mack can be the result of alterations to a wide variety of last names, from different cultures. In some cases, the ancestral name so altered could be Scottish, Germanic, Polish or Slavic, to name a few. For instance, the last name of Mack is actually a shortening of the Polish family's original name, Mackiewicz. This surname was shortened by an immigration judge on Ellis Island who simply abbreviated it by cutting of the "iewicz."
Tips for Researching the Origin of a Surname
When researching your own last name, here are a few useful tips to remember. Work back through your own family's genealogy tree to first determine its original last name.
Keep in mind that as you do your research, that some surnames which seem obvious in origin actually may not be. The first example is the last name "Li." Li is a common name found in China, Korea and Vietnam. It means "plum." The next example is the name "Garcia." This name is common in Spain, the Americas and the Phillipines. The last example is the name Johnson. The name Johnson has its origins in England, Scotland and Sweden. It means son of John.
Use the Internet to Trace the Origin of a Surname
Thanks to today's technology, perhaps the easiest and fastest way to trace the origin of your own family's surname is through the Internet, using common search engines. Simply type in "Garcia surname meaning." There are also numerous books you can either purchase or borrow from your local library, which will aid your search. In addition, there are specific genealogy websites which can further enhance your surname investigation.
Using these helpful tips will make your genealogy search for the origins of your family's last name easy, quick and fun. For About.com, I'm Lori Amato.