A brief history of surnames

Today, almost everyone has a 'surname', but this was not always the case...

Surnames were introduced at different times, in different cultures: In China, for example, surnames were first used in the year 2852 BC.

Whereas, in England, and much of Europe, the Torchintroduction of surnames began much later - in around 1000 AD.

In England, surnames were used, at this time, only by those of a high social status. Who felt the need to use an additional name (surname), so they could be distinguished from another who had the same 'christian' (first) name.

Inevitably, as the centuries passed, towns and cities in England grew and it soon became clear that 'commoners' would need to have surnames too...After all, a surname, together with a 'christian' name, was the only way of legally identifying someone at that time. Surnames were also needed so that people could prove their ownership of land & other property.

So what had started out as an aristocratic desire, in England, had (over 3 centuries) filtered down to every level of society. And by the end of the 14th century, everyone in England had a surname...

So how were surnames created?

Originally, many surnames were created by identifying a persons relationship with another. e.g. surname of: Johnson. (John's son). Other surnames identified where a person may have lived, or their occupation. e.g. surname of: Nottingham (location: Nottingham, England). e.g. surname of: Blacksmith (the trade of 'Blacksmith').

Another very popular way of creating surnames, at this time, was by describing a persons charachter or appearance e.g. the surname of: 'Bright', or 'Joy'.

Nowadays, of course, there is no need for new surnames to be created (with the exception of 'hyphenated' names). As surnames are now simplyTorch passed from one generation to the next. But, again, this was not always the case, especially when surnames were first introduced. For example: William Farmer may have been a 'Farmer' (by trade). But his son, might have been called Peter Williamson! (William's son...). This confusing state of affairs (in England) was eventually changed into the hereditary process we know today i.e. where a surname is simply passed from one generation to the next.

Surnames are an interesting reminder of the past, and tell us much more about our ancestors & family history then we may at first realise...

 Did you know?

Fact #1
In Turkey, surnames didn't become mandatory until 1935!

Fact #2
Many of the surnames we know today, are just mis-spellings of original surnames! (over the centuries, as surnames were recorded, writers & officials would often write the name down incorrectly...thereby creating a new surname!...).

Fact #3
The 'Vikings' believed in name magic..and that a person's soul was represented or symbolised by his name (for this reason, Vikings deliberately used the names of famous chiefs or family friends, when naming their children).

Fact #4
Many Swedish surnames reflect the Swede's love of nature, incorporating words such as: berg ("mountain") or blom ("flower").

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