All Women's Talk

10 Common Surnames and What They Mean ...

By Alison

Have you ever thought about the origins of your surname? I was tickled to find out that a guy I was dating had a surname that meant ´saltmine´ (´it´s very common in Spain, it´s like Smith!´ he huffed). Here I give the meanings of some popular surnames.

#1

The number one name in both the US and UK is SMITH. This is often believed to describe a worker such as a blacksmith. However, it may have originally referred to a soldier, as it derives from a word which means ´to smite´, and then come to mean the workers who repaired the soldiers´armour.

#2

JONES can´t be far behind in popularity. In spite of its prevalence amongst Welsh people, the name is actually of English origin (sorry Wales). It comes from either John or Joan, names introduced after the Norman invasion of 1066.

#3

JOHNSON is a perfect illustration of how a surname often derives from a father´s first name, meaning, as is obvious, son of John. The suffix –son is extremely common in surnames.

#4

Many names derive from professions. You must have met a WALKER at some point in your life. It may refer to someone who trod on cloth during the cloth-making process, or an officer who patrolled an area of forest.

#5

WRIGHT isn´t such an obvious one to explain. It means worker or maker, and comes from an old English word ´wryhta´. Hence the words shipwright, wheelwright, etc.

#6

CLARKE, or Clark, dates back to the 12th century, and refers to a scribe (writer of documents in the pre-printing age) or secretary. Since few people were literate in that time, if you are a Wright you can be sure that your ancestors were really quite important.

#7

I´ve got a COOPER in my ancestry (most amusingly, her first name was Alice). It´s one of those names whose origins are far from easy to guess. A cooper was someone who made barrels – at a time when most people drank wine, owing to the impurity of water, making barrels was a pretty important job.

#8

There are lots of MITCHELLs around. Where do they all come from? Thank the knights returning from the Crusades to the Holy Land. By way of a souvenir, they brought back the medieval Hebrew name Michel, which means ´he who is like the Lord´.

#9

Now, everyone called KING can´t actually be the descendents of royalty. I´m afraid you´re not that illustrious. King actually shows another source of surnames, those that derive from nicknames. For example, a King may have portrayed a king in one of the popular medieval pageants.

#10

There are lots of possibilities for WHITE. It may refer to someone of Anglo-Saxon origin, who was obviously much fairer than the native Celts. It could also be referring to geographical features. A more recent possibility is that it is a direct translation of the name Blanc, common among the French Protestants who settled in England to flee religious persecution.

Well, I hope you´ve learned something interesting here! Do you have a common or unusual surname? Have you any idea what it means?

Top Photo Credit: KY-Photography

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