Find Out the History Behind Your Name
While personal names help distinguish one individual from another, the origin of the modern English family name came about as the upper class of society used the added name (surname) to make legal distinctions among members of this propertied class. However, it eventually filtered down to commoners as a means to legally identify them.
Many surnames were created based on a person's relationship with another, their trade, where they lived, or even their appearance or character. For example,
Nottingham--lived in Nottingham, England
Blacksmith--was in the blacksmith trade
Bright or Joy--based on character or appearance
What does YOUR surname mean?
Click below and type in your surname to find out the meaning, the distribution of that name within the US, even the common occupations associated with that last name.
Search for Your Surname
During the wave of immigration in the late 19th-early 20th centuries, surnames were assigned by immigration officals based on their interpretation when hearing the immigrant, with little knowledge of English, speak his to the official. The official wrote it down as they heard it, and it became the official surname.
Today, there is little need for new surnames as surnames are now simply passed from one generation to the next, except for hyphenated surnames like Fuss-Cheatham for example.
How common is your surname in America?
Smith, Johnson, Williams, Jones, and Brown are the most commonly occurring surnames in the United States today. Find out how common or unique your surname is.
What's in a name? A name--your name--can be the opening words to your own life story. Explore the world of names! Find out more about the history, study, and meaning of names by exploring "The Sweetest Sound", a PBS production and Web site.