family tree

Have you ever wondered about the meaning of your last name or where your family surname came from? What did your ancestors do for a living? What they looked like, where they lived? Surname meanings can sometimes offer some insight into your family and, by tracing the possible origin of your last name, you can learn more about your ancestors.

Your surname is otherwise called your family name, seeing that it gives you a sense of belonging to that particular group of people. Surnames first became a necessity in places where increasingly growing populations meant that first names were not enough to differentiate between people. Their meanings and origins differ across the world, but they tend to follow common themes and fall under certain categories, such as occupation, personal characteristics and geographical features.

– Occupational surnames: In England, it was common for servants to assume a modified version of their employer’s occupation or first name as their surname, adding the letter ‘s’ at the end. Yet, this might also apply for surnames based on the first name of one’s male ancestors. For instance, last names like ‘Roberts’ or ‘Peters’ might have been adopted by the servant of a man called Robert or the son of a man called Peter.

– Location surnames: Such surnames denote a person’s geographic origin. In Italy, for instance, the name ‘Michele Romano’ could have come into place due to a certain Michael who once lived in Rome. Similarly, ‘Jaakko Jussila’ is probably a name given to a Jaakko from the farm of Jussi.

– Nicknames: These include last names based on a person’s external appearance, such as the German ‘Schwartzkopf’ (black head~black hair), or personality features, such as the Turkish ‘Yılmaz’ (undaunted).

– Gender-specific versions of surname: In some cultures, such as Greek and Russian, the formation of surnames depends on the gender of the bearer. For example, in Greece and Cyprus, if a man called ‘Yannis Papadopoulos’ has a daughter, her last name will be ‘Papadopoulou’, thus assuming the female version of the surname.

Interesting fact no.1: In the United States, about 1% of the population has the surname ‘Smith’, which is also the most frequent English name and an occupational one as well (metal worker).
Interesting fact no.2 (well, for me at least): You are reading the writings of a person whose surname literally translates as ‘winegrower’!

Does your last name have a particular meaning in your language? A fun or unusual one, maybe? If not, what is the most exciting surname you have heard of and which language does it come from? We would love to read your comments. In the meantime, for any questions regarding the languages we work with here at Lingua Translations, just browse our languages pages.