Meanings of surnames

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Meanings of surnames

#1  Postby Delvo » Aug 10, 2011 1:37 pm

Some surnames are easy to explain because they're just words in the language. You can even see how they got started. In a world where nobody had needed surnames before, if there were two Jameses in the same town but one made metal stuff and one made clothes, they'd be James the smith and James the tailor, and those would stick once people decided it would be good to have two names, especially if people also tended to learn and take up their fathers' trades. Or if one Robert was tall and the other was short, that could be the beginning of the names Long and Short and Little. Or if the first people to use a second name were described by where their houses were located, you get Hill, Waters, Forest, and Fields. But what about the words that don't so easily describe an individual (especially in a way that seems likely to stick for later generations)?

Why did anybody ever get described as "wolf" and have it stick? Was "mayer" or "meyer" ever an occupation like "shoemaker" is/was? (And is it related to "bayer"?) What did "perry" ever mean? Is "Connell" an import from a Celtic language?

I also wonder about common surname conventions in other languages. If "bin" or "ibn" means "son of" in Arabic, then what's "Al" or "El"? What does Russia's "ski" mean? And is "nguyen" a Vietnamese word for a job like "smith" or "farmer"?

Really I'm just looking for whatever anecdotes you might have on the origins & meanings of non-obvious names... like "cooper" being a word for a job that doesn't exist anymore (barrel-maker; barrels were once made of cypress wood, which is cupress{us} in Latin)... and "Bush" (supposedly) coming from winemakers' shops being marked for illiterate societies by a small shrubbery out front...
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Re: Meanings of surnames

#2  Postby chairman bill » Aug 10, 2011 1:46 pm

There are some useful websites that might help you. Try http://surnames.behindthename.com/ for starters.
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Re: Meanings of surnames

#3  Postby NineBerry » Aug 10, 2011 1:55 pm

Both "Meier" and "Schulze" are names of administrative positions in medieval Germany. The position was often handed down from father to son. So, yes, these two common German last names derive from the profession a family was known for.
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Re: Meanings of surnames

#4  Postby Animavore » Aug 10, 2011 1:57 pm

My surname (Byrne) literally means "raven" and is in it's Angloised version. The Irish, Ó Broin, means "descendant of Bran" a Celtic Cheiftan and King of Leinster about 1800 years ago, Bran Mac Maolmòrrdha, who belonged to the Uí Dúnlainge dynasty. Other Irish names like "O'Toole" originate from this pool.
Most Irish names are tied to various clans around the country.

By the way, my granddad was part of a last generation of coopers working for Guinness :)
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Re: Meanings of surnames

#5  Postby murshid » Aug 10, 2011 2:02 pm

My surname is 'Islam'. :( :whine:
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Re: Meanings of surnames

#6  Postby HughMcB » Aug 10, 2011 3:00 pm

Animavore wrote:My surname (Byrne) literally means "raven" and is in it's Angloised version. The Irish, Ó Broin, means "descendant of Bran" a Celtic Cheiftan and King of Leinster about 1800 years ago, Bran Mac Maolmòrrdha, who belonged to the Uí Dúnlainge dynasty. Other Irish names like "O'Toole" originate from this pool.
Most Irish names are tied to various clans around the country.

By the way, my granddad was part of a last generation of coopers working for Guinness :)

Yes my family comes from the "O'Sullivan Beara" Clan (on the Beara Peninsula, Kerry). My father's side is Scottish.
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Re: Meanings of surnames

#7  Postby BlueIndian » Aug 10, 2011 3:01 pm

I believe Fitz was a term for bastard or illegitimate. So Fitzwilliam was Williams' bastard.

My maiden surname came from a diminutive of a womans name. Don't know if that is unusual or not. I named my youngest daughter the full name. This is something that is quite strong in some states of America or all states? Using a surname as a first name so it is not lost. Although no one would recognise my maiden surname in her name as it is not shortened in that manner anymore.

That might not be very clear. It makes sense to me. Maybe only to me. :lol:
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Re: Meanings of surnames

#8  Postby Animavore » Aug 10, 2011 3:05 pm

HughMcB wrote:
Animavore wrote:My surname (Byrne) literally means "raven" and is in it's Angloised version. The Irish, Ó Broin, means "descendant of Bran" a Celtic Cheiftan and King of Leinster about 1800 years ago, Bran Mac Maolmòrrdha, who belonged to the Uí Dúnlainge dynasty. Other Irish names like "O'Toole" originate from this pool.
Most Irish names are tied to various clans around the country.

By the way, my granddad was part of a last generation of coopers working for Guinness :)

Yes my family comes from the "O'Sullivan Beara" Clan (on the Beara Peninsula, Kerry). My father's side is Scottish.

You will not take my sheep or my wheat O'Sullivan :mob:
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Re: Meanings of surnames

#9  Postby HughMcB » Aug 10, 2011 3:06 pm

I'll pillage what I fecking like you Leinster scum.
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Re: Meanings of surnames

#10  Postby Animavore » Aug 10, 2011 3:10 pm

You shall not tarnish my name like so many black-toothed O'Grady. This is war.
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Re: Meanings of surnames

#11  Postby Anubis » Aug 11, 2011 3:58 pm

Delvo wrote:If "bin" or "ibn" means "son of" in Arabic, then what's "Al" or "El"?


"Ibn"/"bin," إبن/بن, means "son," and "al-," الـ, "of" or "of the." Son of the deaf, son of the victorious, son of the great . . . simpler than trying to decipher "Shubrooks."
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Re: Meanings of surnames

#12  Postby Ironclad » Aug 11, 2011 6:24 pm

murshid wrote:My surname is 'Islam'. :( :whine:
.


:lol:
I don't know why that's funny actually.
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Re: Meanings of surnames

#13  Postby ramseyoptom » Aug 11, 2011 8:45 pm

Surnames in other languages and cultures are interesting.

In Icelandic a child, usually, takes their surname from either the father or the mother, with the appropriate suffix eg "son" or for a daughter "dottior". But, and here is the interesting part the surname will change depending on the first name of the father/mother and will normally alter every generation.

As an example that well known Icelandic-Scot Magnus Magnusson was in his native culture Magnus son of Magnus, whereas his daughter a well known Scottish broadcaster is known as Sally Magnusson but in here father's culture could have be named Sally Magnusdottior.

In eastern Europe surnames often change depending on the gender of the offspring for instance two well known tennis players, in the 90s, Helena Sukova and Cyril Suk were brother and sister. The suffix "ova" being added to the surname to indicate a daughter.
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Re: Meanings of surnames

#14  Postby Delvo » Aug 12, 2011 3:16 am

NineBerry wrote:Both "Meier" and "Schulze" are names of administrative positions in medieval Germany. The position was often handed down from father to son. So, yes, these two common German last names derive from the profession a family was known for.
That makes me wonder how "Schulze" became a name for an occupation or job, because most of those have an "er" or "or" at the end, like the one on Meyer and Bayer that made me wonder about them... and, as it turns out, according to the link that was given above, the "er" in Meyer isn't that kind of suffix anyway; it's a comparative suffix like at the end of "higher" (as opposed to "high" or "highest"), so I was right for the wrong reason. (At least, in its Germanic origin; it even has a second origin from Hebrew having nothing to do with that!) Also, the kind of job "Meyer" apparently was makes me wonder whether it's related to the English word "mayor".

I can also give another occupation/job title with no "er/or", but I know why not in that one's case: it's from Latin, not a Germanic language. It's now a Germanic surname and job title, but only because they adopted it. The original was "advocatus", with a root meaning "speak" or "voice" and the preposition "ad" used as a prefix, so it was either "one who speaks for someone else" or maybe "speak to him" (because he's who really takes care of things, not his employer). The job was like a cross between a lawyer and a business manager, who represented a nobleman or other employer in courts & negotiations and managed his estate, especially when the nobleman/employer was away. The Germanics dropped the prefix & suffix, then converted "vocat" to "vogat", then started shortening the second syllable so much that they eventually decided it wasn't worth writing the vowel anymore, thus arriving at "vogt". That word was originally translated to me as "overseeer" and is now a title for various jobs we'd call judge, mayor, or sheriff in English (but I think not lawyer anymore) in various central and eastern European countries. It's also the last common ancestor from which we got variations like Voigt, Vogts, Voght, and Vaught.
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Re: Meanings of surnames

#15  Postby Darwinsbulldog » Aug 12, 2011 3:45 am

MY name is Hunter....too hard to work out the meaning of that! :ask: :think: :dopey: :shifty:
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Re: Meanings of surnames

#16  Postby gleniedee » Aug 12, 2011 3:51 am

Today,we no longer use patronymics,one the most common sources of surnames. Still common in Scandinavia,with the suffix sun/son, for a man, and 'dotir' (daughter) for a woman.

Not sure to what extent patronymics are still used in Russia, but they were once very common,the suffix 'avitch' meaning 'son of'.Hence 'Dennis Dennisovich.' For a woman 'akova' I think,for 'daughter of',but I'm not sure.

My own Irish family name is used without a patronymic,but variations of the name still use 'O' and 'Mc'. Irish family names also tend to be indicative of place .
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Re: Meanings of surnames

#17  Postby Delvo » Aug 12, 2011 4:27 am

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Last edited by Delvo on Aug 12, 2011 4:31 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Meanings of surnames

#18  Postby Delvo » Aug 12, 2011 4:31 am

Another question I just remembered to bring up...

The Romans in the old Roman republic & empire had family names, but the names I know of from central/northern Europe (like in English & German) are only a few centuries old. Did it take that long for that region to adopt the idea, or was it adopted, then dropped, then adopted again?
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Re: Meanings of surnames

#19  Postby maik » Aug 12, 2011 7:06 am

Interesting thread. I like linguistics.
I can only contribute with some greek onomatology; i can think of at least four different endings that practically mean "son of":
-idis, -adis; It's the ending of the diminutives of ancient greek. So, "Filippides" literally means "little Filippus" (In English it usually passes as "-ides/ades" for pronunciation reasons). Nowadays, it usually declares pontian ancestors.
-akis; it's the ending of the diminutives of modern greek (Filippakis= little Filippus). Usually declares cretan ancestors.
-poulos; comes from the word "pouli" that means "bird" and metaphorically means "child" (Papadopoulos= the child of a priest). Usually declares peloponnesean ancestors.
-oglu; clearly turkish, leftover of the past ottoman domination on the greek area, that i think means "child" (Papazoglu, for example).
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Re: Meanings of surnames

#20  Postby hackenslash » Aug 12, 2011 7:14 am

My name is an Anglicisation of Ó Murchadha, and it means 'sea warrior'.

My ancestors were the kings of Galway, and were allegedly responsible for the kidnap of St Patrick.
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