What Your Surname Says About You

When it comes to researching your family tree, the more unusual your surname (or your
ancestor’s surname), the better.

A less common name is going to make branches of the family easier to find – a point we
agree with here at Finders International when we research a person’s rightful heirs.
Surnames generally came into use in Medieval times. As populations grew and record
keeping began, better forms of identity were needed to differentiate people.

Common surnames were based on occupations. Smith, one of the first world’s most
common second names, is one such example. It applied to metal workers. Ancestry.co.uk
points out celebrity occupational surnames, such as Robin Leach whose ancestors might
have included a physician. Physicians used leeches in days gone by to bleed people, as this
was thought to rid them of disease. Another one is Sarah Jessica Parker, whose ancestors
might have tended parks.

Other common surnames are based on locations. Acker is one such name. The word comes
from acre and denotes someone who lived near a field. Another example is Abbey and
Beaumont, which means beautiful mountain. Beckett comes from Beck, an old Norse word
meaning stream. The celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal’s name is German-Jewish. Blumen
means flowers and thal is a valley. His ancestors must have lived in a pretty place.

Then there are what we call patronymic surnames – the ones that derive from a person’s
father. There are many examples of such names – Johnson, Donaldson, Jamieson and more.
In Scotland, the Macs and Mcs are patronymics – MacGregor, McCallum, etc. In Ireland, the
O is used in the same way – O’Shea and O’Brien for instance. In Poland, such names would
end with -ski and in Norse countries with sson.

Fitz was sometimes used in royal or aristocratic families for illegitimate sons. It comes from
the Latin word filius, meaning son of.

Asian surnames are interesting because they aren’t as old. Many Japanese surnames, for
instance, have only been in use since the mid-19th century. Genealogists looking for Chinese
surnames will face a struggle, as there are only a few hundred common Chinese surnames.
Half the population shares about 20 of them. In Korea, there are 250 surnames, and three
of them cover almost half the population.

Names are fascinating and investigating them can lead you down many interesting rabbit
holes. The more unusual, the easier your job will be!

If you would like help verifying your family tree, Finders International can help. We will cast
an independent, professional eye over your document and help you to find any gaps or
errors. Phone us on 020 7490 4935 to find out more.