Thursday, October 29, 2015

Surname Meanings and History

Understanding the history of your ancestors' surnames may help you with your genealogy research and can give you a clue as to your ancestors' lives.

Most surnames fall into four categories:
  • Descendants/Given names -- prefixes or suffixes are added to a given name to establish a relationship. e.g. Anderson, O'Connor, Fitzgerald, MacDonald.
  • Occupational names -- indicates a person's career. e.g. Baker, Brewer, Miller, Smith.
  • Geographic or location names -- derived from where a person lived. This could be a place name, e.g. London, or describe the landscape, e.g. Hill, Pond.  
  • Nicknames or descriptive names -- suggest a person's distinguishing characteristic, e.g. Short, Brown, Long, Fairchild.
Name dictionaries use historical documents to trace a name throughout history. Several of the dictionaries in the Genealogy & Local History Room can tell you a name's meaning and etymology and may help you place the name in historical and geographical context.

Some of the best dictionaries for American name research include:

Also look for dictionaries for your specific ethnic group. For example: 

Look for more name dictionaries in the Genealogy & Local History Room.

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