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How To Research What Your Last Name Means
Even if you don’t feel like diving into lots of sites, there are other ways to learn about what your last name means.
00:48 29 March 2023
What does your last name mean? Do you have any idea at all? If this is something that you have been wondering, you can take a look at some of the best genealogy sites to start your journey! These resources can make your life easier than ever when you start your search.
Even if you don’t feel like diving into lots of sites, there are other ways to learn about what your last name means. If you are interested in finding out, just stick around and see what you can do.
Ask Your Relatives
Asking your relatives might be the easiest option, depending on your relationship with them, or if you know them. In many cases, your relatives, especially grandparents or great-grandparents, will know a lot about this topic.
There is even a good chance that grandparents will have notes and documents about any earlier family. Often, this will include information on the meanings of names and their origin.
Understand Your Surname Origins
If you want to get to the bottom of the meaning of your surname, it is imperative to understand the origins of the name itself. Not only that, but also have an understanding of the traditions and conventions surrounding names and naming.
In many cases, there will be surnames that can be found across different languages and cultures. However, these names are going to mean different things! There might also be very similar surnames from different languages.
In both cases, you will probably only be interested in the one that applies to you. As such, learning about the origin of your surname will help you to start getting a better understanding of what your last name means.
Consider Any Naming Traditions or Conventions
Not only that, but there are some common origins of particular last names based on patronymics, landmarks/locations, physical characteristics, and also occupations.
Here are some examples of these:
- Patronymics – Johnson, Jackson, Anderson
- Landmarks/locations – Hill, Dell, Marsh
- Physical characteristics – Tall, Short, Long
- Occupations – Fletcher, Smith, or Shepherd
Depending on the country, there will be different traditions to be aware of. In Nordic countries such as Norway and Sweden, ‘son/sen’ and ‘dotter/dottir/dattir’ are often added onto names to create a “surname”. These refer to ‘son of’ and ‘daughter of’ respectively.
There are similar traditions in place in Gaelic patronymics, with these surnames starting with Fitz, Mac, Mc, or O. Russian last names can work on the same basis, with a last name ending in -vich meaning ‘son of’, or -avna for ‘daughter of (e.g. Dmitri or Maria Nikolayevich/Nikolayanva).
Take a Look at Your Family Tree
If you have a family tree to look at, you will get all the clues you could hope for. This is especially the case if your family tree goes back generations.
There, you will find the history, with all the names that could explain it all. You might need to speak to relatives, especially grandparents for this kind of information.
If you only have bits and pieces of information, put your own family tree together. You can make a physical family tree, or create an online one. This is a feature offered by the best genealogy sites like Ancestry, so make use of it!
Find Useful Websites
We live in a digital age, where you can find just about anything you could want at the touch of a button. So, put it to work and take advantage of it! There are countless excellent websites you could use to help in your search.
Use Ancestry, FamilySearch, Findmypast, and MyHeritage to move the journey along and get to the bottom of all your questions.
Put Those Books to Use
Taking a look at various books like Oxford University Press Dictionary of American Family Names by Patrick Hanks can also help you a lot. There will be plenty of other resources you could dive into, too, but this is a great start.
Research and websites are great, but do not underestimate the importance of networking, too. You can join thousands of Facebook (Meta) groups who have the same goals as you. There could be people in there who know a lot more than you, and have a lot to offer!
Be sure to stop by different groups on Meta, and all your other favorite social medias, and see what you can find out.
Finding the meaning of your last name can be challenging. However, there are so many resources that we can use to make the process go smoothly. Talk to your family members, and do as much research as you can.
You will have the answers in no time.