You are what you are named. Names could tell some interesting stories if only they could talk. First of all they would probably protest loudly that they have over time been shortened, misspelled, mispronounced, and most of all been changed.
Your name is probably the most significant thing about you. Names are very important and they figure into every one of our human relationships. We rarely ever enter into any act without first considering the other person’s name. This includes hiring people, going to work for somebody, falling in love, getting married, and, in fact, having anything to do with anyone. Names are far more than mere identity tags. They are charged with hidden meanings and unspoken history. Onomatology—the study of names—has been confined to examining the linguistic origins of names.
Many people in recent years have even changed their names for the benefit it will supposedly bring them in dealing with others. For example. Roy Rogers, the cowboy film star, would have probably not had as much luck if he had kept his birth name of Leonard Slye. Nor would Kirk Douglas who started off as Issur Danielovitch. Can you imagine John Wayne (the action hero he was) if he’d kept his original name Marion Morrison?
At the beginning of the Middle Ages (1050 A.D.) our ancestors in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales used only a first name to Identify themselves. The most popular male names were: William, Robert, Richard, Walter, Peter and Ralph. The most popular names for girls were Anne, Matilda, Agnes, Margery, and Isobel.
Our ancestors used four ways to identify a person and these eventually became our second or family name:
- By a nickname: Doolittle-the lazy one;
- Occupation: Webster-a female weaver;
- First name of a parent: Johnson—-son of John or Annison—son of Annie; Harrison meant the son of Harry or Henry and over time has become everything from Harkins, Harriman, Hawkins to McHenry.
- Location: Oxford—where the oxen cross the river.
People in other countries throughout the world at the same time were also using the same routine for making last names.
The Normans from France invaded England in 1066 A.D. and quickly conquered the place. The beaten Anglo-Saxons were forced to learn French but did a very poor job of it. Instead, they anglicized everything, which resulted in many words and names in English being of French origin. Peter, for example, comes from the French word meaning rock (pierre).
Ten per-cent of our family names come from nicknames. In the middle ages the people in the villages and cities were much like we are today in that they joked and gossiped with and about each other. Nicknames were a result of this casual talk. A few examples are:
- Felix (masculine) and Felicity or Felicia (feminine) is from the Latin meaning lucky. It began as a nickname for a lucky person but has been used as a first and last name since the middle ages. Many popes have been named Felix.
- Ambler means slow moving.
- Ayers is the heir to an estate.
- Bellamy from good friend in French bel ami.
- Wilcox or any name ending in cox or cock because certain people were thought of as strutting like a rooster.
- Curtis from French for courteous.
- Goodman from being a good guy.
- Holliman for male baby born on a holy day.
- Kellogg for a butcher who killed hogs.
- Morgan Welsh for person born at the seaside. Mor (sea) and gan (birth).
- Murphy Irish for sea-fighting man.
- Powers from old French for poor (povere).
- Welch when a Welsh person immigrated to England he was called Welsh. Walsh in Ireland. and Wallace in Scotland.
- White, Whitman, Whitehead, etc. meant a pale-faced person.
Fifteen per-cent of our family names come from Occupations. Examples are:
- Carter driver of a 2 wheel cart (Old F. charetier).
- Chapman a peddler with cheap merchandise.
- Harper was a minstrel and story teller.
- Howard, Hayward was person who rounded up stray cattle.
- Roebuck was an expert at trapping male deers. Ra (red) bucc (male animal).
- Waite was a castle fire watchman who blew a horn in case of fire.
Thirty-five per-cent of our family names come from the first names of parents or from ancient foreign personages or famous names. Here are some examples:
- Norman French lords and ladies identified their sons as “.fils de Gerard’ or “fils de Patrique” etc. It was a French aristocratic identification meaning “son of-”. Soon after the Norman invasion, English and Irish lords and ladies quickly imitated this French-naming custom. The French pronunciation for fils (meaning son) is “feese” but the English corrupted it by pronouncing it “fitz” — hence Fitzgerald, Fitzpatrick, and all the other Fitzes.
- Not all “sons of’” people were of their fathers. Many were “sons of their mothers.” Edison is son of Edith;
- Jennison is son of Jennie;
- Nelson is son of Nell.
- In Ireland the King ruled that children of his chieftains should take their father’s or grandfather’s name and a capital 0 and an apostrophe of the missing ‘f’” in “of.” Such would be O’Brian, O’Hara, O’’Mally, etc.
- Mac and Mc are the Celtic term for man or like we might say mister. Therefore, MacDonald is like Mr. Donald; McCoy is Mr. Coy, etc.
Forty per-cent of our family names come from Locations.
- Eastwood lived in the eastern part of the woods.
- Westbrook lived near a western brook of the village.
- Westcott lived in a cottage in the western part of town.
- Norris came from the northern part of the country.
- Carney was a person from a province of Ireland called Cearnach.
Most people couldn’t read in the Middle Ages so all signs were pictographs. Pubs, for example, had signs of various Items to identify their names. Such pictographs were of a Bell, Swam, Cross, Lion (Lyon), Coney (rabbit) and many other objects. Thus these became last names that told people the general area where one lived. Burg, Berry, Borough or Bury at the end of a name meant that this person lived within a fortified place. Names such as Newburg. Pilsbury, Plattsburg, Woodbury sprung up.
The most popular first names these days to give boys are: Michael, Christopher, Matthew, Joshua, David, Daniel, Ryan, Andrew, Brian and John. The most current popular names for girls are: Jennifer, Sarah, Jessica, Ashley, Amanda, Megan, Nicole, Katherine, Lindsey, Stephanie.
The top ten most popular dog names are: Lady, King. Duke, Peppy, Prince, Pepper. Snoopy, Princess, Heidi, Sam. The most popular cat names are Sooty, Smoky, Brandy, Huffy, Tiger, Tom, Kitty, Sam, Tinker, Blackie.
The study of names is a fascinating subject. Each one represents a lot of history. The telephone directory, therefore, is a collection of echoes of the ancient voices of our ancestors.
Next blog will deal with how to name the characters in your writing.