Researching your family history is a fascinating pastime. But did you know that your surname alone can reveal interesting details about the origins of your forbears? In this article we look at your surname meaning and how our research can open the doors on the lives of those sharing your surname.
Starting your surname meaning search
At the top of each page of our website, you will see a ‘family name search’ facility. Just type your surname into the box, and an excerpt from the surname’s history will be revealed. Plus, it will give a description of the coat of arms that was first associated with a bearer of the name. (To see more information browse our collection of heraldry blogs).
Your surname history scroll will give a lot of background information for you to read. In this way, you have a historical context, relating to the time that your chosen surname originated. For instance, it might feature information about the dark ages or the fall of the monasteries. All of this enables you to picture the time when your name first came into usage. If you’d like to read more about tracing your specific family tree, then we have a selection of blogs that you might find useful. Other sites, such as Find My Past can help you on your journey of family discovery.
Did the apple fall far from the tree?
One of the things you will discover on a surname history scroll is where the name originated. Each print gives you a brief synopsis of where your surname was originally found. For example, you might discover that your surname was of anglo-saxon origin, or that it originated in France. Here at Hall of Names, we often speak to customers that are on a journey of family research, and they are interested to learn more about their surname meaning. Many are really surprised to hear that they live in the same area where the surname was first found many hundreds of years ago!
Butcher, baker or candlestick maker?
Did you know that surnames can broadly be categorised into one of four groups as follows? Have a look at the following list to find out what sort of surname yours is.
1. Topographical / geographical surnames.
This is where a surname relates to a particular area, and are quite easy to distinguish. For example the name ‘Townsend’ which literally means a dweller at the end of a town. Such surnames are more commonly found in the South East and relatively few in the North.
2. Patronymic surnames.
This type of surname that is handed down from father to son and often has the suffix ‘son’ attached to a baptismal name. For example, this is the case with the name ‘Johnson’. Such surnames are a very clear way of conveying lineage. Sometimes a patronymic surname may simply be the father’s given name, for example ‘Edwards’. Plus, the name could include variants of the given baptismal name. In this way, we see names such as Richardson, Dickson, and Dixon, all from the baptismal name Richard. Furthermore, some of these types of surname have the prefix ‘Fitz’ from the old Norman French ‘fis’, meaning son. Examples of such names are commonplace (Fitzgerald, Fitzherbert, Fitzpatrick and many more) and these are often found in very old families.
3. Occupational surnames.
Nowadays, occupational surnames are very commonly found, for example Baker, Taylor, Smith and so on. Sometimes it can be difficult to establish if a name is topographical or occupational. For example, the surname Hall could mean someone who loved at the hall, or worked in it. Nowadays, some of these surnames have become rare as the trades died out many generations ago, and the names were not inherited.
4. Descriptive surnames.
Such surnames usually referred to the bearer’s physical characteristics, for example ‘Wise’ or ‘Strong’. Our surname history scrolls normally make reference to the type of surname.You can discover more about these four surname types in ‘Discover the hidden meaning behind surnames’. Our blog ‘Surnames and how they originated’ also provides further information.
Did you know that historically, it was common for names to be spelled just how they sounded? For example, even the famous playwright Shakespeare’s name has been found with a variety of spellings. You will find out the variety of spelling variations for your own surname on our printed scrolls.
Skeletons in the cupboard?
Did bearers of your surname ever have a brush with the law? Our surname histories reveal the hidden secret of the name! Were any bearers of your name sent to the penal colonies? Crimes could be as insignificant (to modern eyes) as poaching, and yet punishments were harsh. People were sentenced for trivial or dubious offences to generate cheap labour. During the period between 1788 and 1868, 165,000 convicts were transported to Australia. Read more about transportation here.
The researchers at our Canadian HQ have spent more than forty years collating information from a wide variety of sources. You can read the full list of these on the bibliography, which you can find on the reverse of your surname history scroll. All sorts of records have been used, and we are able to tell you lots of details you might not know about your surname. For example, any lands owned by bearers on your surname, and even passengers on the Titanic!
Order your own surname history scroll. If you would like to read more about the different types of surnames, the surname studies website has some useful information. There are, of course, many useful sites out there for the family history enthusiast, wanting to know more about a specific family. For example, Find My Past will allow you access to all sorts of records. These could tell you if bearers of your name were in service, or perhaps were war heroes. Parish, census and military records are all available for you to start your individual journey of family discovery.
Have you undertaken family research and discovered anything surprising in your ancestors’ lives? Let us know your stories and tips!