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Studying Your Family Name History

Surnames became common in the twelfth century in Europe. Over time the number of people who used surnames has increased, and eventually multiple people in different families used the same surnames. Studying your family name history can help you to get a better idea of where your surname came from.


One of the main parts of a family name history is that it is created in order to identify a certain characteristic of the family. These names are created in reference to various things, including the location of the family, hair color, height and even occupation.

Part of the family name history involves how a surname is created. It used to be that people were identified as the son or daughter of a certain father. Last names became useful to help with shortening the names of people. For instance, “John the son of Adam” would eventually become “John Adams.”

Patronymic surnames are common in family name history. For instance, Gaelic ancestors used surnames that started with prefixes like “O’” and “Mac” to suggest that they are originally from the name of a male ancestor in the family. Some of the names are taken from women too.

Another part of family name history involves surnames being named for geographical locations in the world. For instance, “John of the Woods” would eventually become “John Woods.” This was originally used in France, but it has evolved over time to be used in other areas. This can be especially useful for searching your family history, as your family name history may be directly linked to where your family members had come from.

In some cases a family name history can come from a word that is no longer used. For instance, the surname “Dunlop” meant “muddy hill” at one point. This term is no longer used, but it could have been used as a family surname to refer to a family that lived at a muddy hill at one point in the past.

Another part of family name history involves surnames created by physical characteristics. This includes skin color, height, eye or hair color and any kinds of deformities. “John with brown eyes” would become “John Brown,” for instance. Traits can be used in family name history as well. The surname Armstrong could refer to a family which had a member that had strong arms.

The last type of surname in terms of family name history is based on occupation. Some surnames were created based on the occupation of a family member. Names like Miller, Bishop and Cook are examples.

Searching for your family name history can help you find information on what your family did in the past. There are various different online sites that can help you out with this. These sites include,,, and It can help you to search through the hundreds of millions of surnames in history.

Of course, your family name history may have changed over time. Some surnames have become corrupted forms of the original one, and spellings of it may have changed over time.


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