How to Find the Meaning of Your Last Name

by Contributor

For the most part last names passed down through the males of a family, didn't exist until about 1000 years ago. Surnames just weren't necessary before that. In a world where most people never traveled more than a few miles from their place of birth, first, or given names, were all that was necessary. Determining the meaning and history of your surnames can take some work, but it is worth it if you enjoy genealogy. You'll need to do some background research first, but finding out the meaning of your last name is possible with these steps.

Create a family tree chart for as many generations as you or your family members remember. Include both married and maiden names.

Track down birth records and death certificates for names on your family tree list. Use your family's records, the library and online sources. Surnames often change due to marriage or immigration. Use old marriage and engagement notices in the paper as leads to name changes.

Do some informed guesswork to find out the meaning of your family tree's surnames. If the surnames go back to an original surname of Stevenson, it is probable that the first person having this surname was the son of a man named Steven.

Ask older family members to recall their parents' history and what their last names meant. This often leads to interesting stories about the past that can be shared from one generation to the next.


  • Surnames normally fall into three basic categories: location, paternal or maternal lineage, and occupation.

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