What’s in a name? Quite a lot, actually! Your last name, or surname, holds a lot of information you may not be aware of. Each surname has it’s own meaning, and may provide clues about your heritage. It can be fascinating to go through all the last names of your relatives, and discover the meanings behind them all.
The study of surnames is called onomastics.
It takes into account information for many different fields, including linguistics, history, sociology, anthropology, and even psychology. Etymology, on the other hand, is a term that refers to the original literal meaning of a name. Together, these two studies can be combined to provide a “story” about a particular surname.
There are plenty of websites that you can use as a research tool if you want to learn about your surname. I happen to prefer the website called Behind the Name, but there are others to choose from. Type your surname into the search engine, and instantly, you are provided with information that describes the meaning behind your surname. For example, my married last name is Thorpe. I learned that it means “village”, and comes from an old Norse word. It is also comes from English usage. The implication is that this part of my family has heritage from England. Does it mean that I can trace my family back to Scandinavia, or to the Vikings? That remains to be seen.
After I have used this tool to get a glimpse of my heritage, it is time to do some more genealogy research. As I continue working on my family tree, I may come across an ancestor who lived in Scandinavia. Before I discovered the meaning of my surname, I might have discounted this ancestor, because I would have been unaware of my heritage. But now, I would want to take a second look at that potential ancestor.
What does your surname reveal about your heritage?
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