Last Names (Surnames) & Middle Names

The most primitive surnames were not inherited. Today's passing down of surnames is a relatively recent development in naming history. As with first names, they tended to be descriptive in nature. The most common of ancient naming conventions was the patronymic surname, which used the person's father's name to differentiate them from another person of the same name. For example in a town/village where there were two Johns, they may have been called 'John son of Robert' and 'John son of Thomas' (after their fathers). Despite being popular for centuries (mostly in European countries), this naming system carried an intrinsic disadvantage as it offered no continuity from generation to generation--inheritance of names came about around the middle of the 11th century AD.

Using place names/nouns as surnames is another popular way of naming. For example, some used the name of the place from which they hailed. So a person from York may have been called John of York (or John York for short). Taking that idea further, nouns were also used. For example, a person who lived by a hill may have been called Thomas Hill, or a person living near a stream/river may have been called Albert Brooks.

Using even more specificity to describe the person, last names also sprang from a person's physical characteristics such as their hair color, or other physical characteristic. Using personality traits was also common.

People's occupations also came to play an important role in naming conventions. So a person's last name could be based on what they did. For example, a person occupied with making barrels would be called Anthony Cooper (a cooper is a barrel maker), or one who made bread may have been had the last name 'Baker'.

Names and last names continually evolve, and they are doing so even as we speak, so keep an eye out for new last names or variations of existing ones.

Middle Names

Middle names were initially created by aristocracy who used family names to expand upon a person's name to include a second name derived from a parent, grandparent or another elder family member (dead or living). Middle names started becoming popular with aristocracy in the early 16th century and eventually found their way into the names of middle class people as well.

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Types of Baby Names