What Can Your Surname Tell You?

July 18, 2014 at 1:26 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

At least for purposes of research, just about every genealogist rues the ancestor whose last name is common, and therefore hard to trace, and rejoices in their ancestors with more unusual names. While an unusual surname undeniably can make genealogical research easier, it doesn’t corner the market on interesting and informative origins.

In Western Europe, surnames first came about in Medieval times as civilizations grew larger and it became necessary to distinguish between people.

Sometimes, names were based on occupation: a blacksmith may have been “John le Smith” (John the Smith) which became, over the generations, “Smith,” and a person named Appleby lived by or tended the apple orchard. Celebrity Robin Leach’s ancestor was probably a physician (because in medieval times, physicians used leeches to bleed people). Actor Christopher Reeve’s ancestor, the one to first take the surname, was most likely a sheriff, and Sarah Jessica Parker’s early medieval ancestor probably tended a park.

Other surnames were based on location: an Acker, which comes from “acre,” lived near a field, and a Hall lived in or worked in a hall of a Medieval nobleman’s house. And it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what a forebear named Young or Strong or Gray looked like.

Higher social status surnames are more rare today — how many Rothschilds (from the German “red shield”) did you go to school with? — and lower status ones fairly common. Lower social status people were also sometimes given unfortunate names by others, such as “Tew” (Welsh for “fat”) or “Dullard,” which means a hard or conceited man.

And in many parts of the world surnames derived from men’s names. A person named Robertson is descended from someone who was the “son of Robert,” and a MacDonald is from a Scottish “son of Donald.” Armenian names of this sort generally end in “-ian,” Polish ones in “-ski,” and Irish ones are put together a little differently, starting with the prefix “Fitz-.”

In Spanish-speaking parts of the world, people often take both their mother and father’s surnames. And some families still use family or “house” names that are not surnames at all, like the royal Windsors or Plantagenets.

Asian surnames have different stories. Most of the approximately 100,000 Japanese surnames in use today only date from 1868 and the Meiji Restoration, when surnames were mandated for the first time. There are just a few hundred common Chinese surnames, and 20 of them (which reflect an entire clan or were adopted by nobles) are shared by half the population. There are about 250 Korean surnames, three of them comprising almost half the Korean population, and just about 100 Vietnamese ones, with three making up 60 percent of all names in that country.

Original story here




Odd news from around the world

TSA thicko: “IT’S the capital of the US, but when a passenger produced a drivers licence from the District of Columbia, otherwise known as Washington D.C., he almost landed in trouble. Gray, who works for WFTV in Orlando, took to Twitter to share the details. He claims he was flying from Orlando International Airport back to D.C. at the weekend when he handed over his licence to a security agent, only to receive a puzzled look. He was then asked to produce his passport, which he didn’t have on him because he had a valid licence so there was no need. After a brief conversation it became clear the employee had no idea where D.C. was, and instead thought Gray was from a faraway nation. Gray was eventually allowed to pass through security where he alerted a supervisor, who assured him his licence was a valid form of ID and said that all airport staff would be given a geography lesson.

Indian man climbs ladder with a motorbike on his head: “Lifting a motorbike up on to the roof of a bus is no easy task. But lifting a motorbike on to a bus by balancing it on your head as you climb a ladder enters the realm of painful and perhaps, even impossible. However a man in India has proved it is feasible and even made it look easy in a video which has been posted online.

Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner video shows off new tricks: “It looks like a regular passenger plane and can seat 280 passengers. But it can also take off almost vertically, turn tight corners midair and land then quickly take off again. Boeing has published a video showcasing their new 787-9’s impressive manoeuvrability ahead of attending the final weekend of Britain’s Farnborough Airshow, one of the largest annual aviation events. The video follows hot-weather testing conducted in Alice Springs by the plane designer in January this year, when the average temperature was above 36 degrees. The plane is63 metres long and sells for about $US53 million ($56.6 million). According to Boeing, it can take off and land even if one of the engines fails. The president of Business Jets, Steve Taylor, said the aircraft can also roll in the air. The Dreamliner is the first airliner to be made of carbon fibre, not aluminium, and promises airlines more fuel efficiency a saving of 20 per cent. It also offers 20 per cent less carbon dioxide emissions than comparable aircraft.”

Giant penis appears on Milkybar: “THE Milkybar kid would be shocked if he saw what made its way on to his favourite white chocolate treat. A man in London happened upon the surprising representation while eating a Milkybar during the World Cup, Metro News reports. Robin Jacobs said: ‘What on earth is a penis doing on a kids’ chocolate bar? There’s no point denying what it looks like. It is obvious – we can all see it.” A spokesman for Nestlé said: “Nestlé is surprised and sorry to hear that Mr Jacobs thought the picture on the Milkybar resembles male genitalia, it is in fact an image of a horse’s head, the Milkybar Kid’s horse.”

Brilliant composer considered suicide: “Andrew Lloyd-Webber said he requested the forms to joim assisted suicide clinic Dignitas after struggling with the pain for 14 back and leg operations. The West End composer was so convinced he wanted to die last summer that he requested forms for the the Swiss clinic. He said a bout of deep depression, triggered by the pain from a series of operations, caused him to consider suicide. But the 66-year-old, who previously suffered with prostate cancer, said he now felt it would have been a ‘stupid and ridiculous’ thing to do. The peer is likely to oppose the bill to legalise ‘assisted dying’ tabled by Lord Falconer, the former Lord Chancellor, which will be debated today. ‘I actually got the forms for Dignitas. With hindsight, it was stupid and ridiculous, but I couldn’t think what to do.’ He said as his symptoms alleviated he decided to throw the forms away and expects to oppose the bill but remains torn on the issue.”

Roma gypsies driven out of Belgian town after DJ blasts Dire Straits’ ‘Sultans of Swing’ at them: “A group of gypsies has been driven out of a Belgian town after the mayor hired a DJ to blast rock music at them. The Roma had amassed 30 caravans at a site in Landen, a small town with a population of less than 15,000, around 30 miles east of Brussels, with no plans to leave. But after a DJ played Dire Straits at a volume of 95 decibels – equivalent to the sound of a pneumatic drill from 50 feet away – they caved in and agreed to go. Mr Debroux said the group’s refusal to leave had prompted him to hire a DJ to blast music at them from 9am yesterday. ‘This is a way of putting pressure on them. It was very difficult to negotiate with the gypsy king, as he called himself,’ he said. ‘It’s a non-violent method to ask them to come to an agreement.’ However, by midday, the Roma had agreed with police that they would leave the site. They are expected to depart at some point today.”

How COULD anyone think this photo is anything but innocent?’: “Little Marlow Adamo is blissfully unaware that she is the owner of — in her mother’s words — ‘the most infamous belly button on the worldwide web’. Toddling around in a little pair of yellow wellies, the 19-month-old thinks nothing of pulling up her white cotton top to show it off in that joyful, unselfconscious way that young children do. ‘Belly,’ she says, pointing to it very proudly. It was this charming picture of innocence that Marlow’s mother Courtney, 33, captured on her camera phone last month in the garden of their North London home — and immediately posted on the popular social media site Instagram. In doing so, Courtney had absolutely no idea of the storm of controversy that she was about to unleash. First, Instagram deleted the ‘inappropriate’ photo for violating its rules on nudity. Then, when Courtney re-posted the picture — thinking they must have made a mistake — her account was de-activated. Confused, the businesswoman and married mother-of-four wrote about her bewildering experience on her blog, sparking a furious debate on child safety, which then spread rapidly across the internet.”

And don’t forget to catch up with all the Strange Justice before you go.


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