Monday, November 9, 2009

The Meaning and Origin of Family Names


An earlier post described how to get free access to a wonderful look-up resource, the Dictionary of American Family Names.

There are plenty of other first name and surname dictionaries that offer free lookup of the meaning and origins of names.  Most of them are not quite as US-centric as the well-known DAFN.

Woodhouse, a surname meaning the wild man of the woods

Have a look at:


An etymological dictionary of family and Christian names. With an essay on their derivation and import 

Patronymica Britannica: a dictionary of the family names of the United Kingdom

Personal and family names

Family names and their story

The Teutonic name-system applied to the family names of France, England and Germany

British family names: their origin and meaning, with lists of Scandinavian, Frisian, Anglo-Saxon and Norman names

A dictionary of English and Welsh surnames: with special American instances

English surnames: An essay on family nomenclature, historical, etymological, and humorous; with several illustrative appendices

Each book is can be searched online for names of interest, or you can download the entire book to your own PC or e-book reader.

There are some good tidbits in these sources:


  • Peabody means Mountain Man, and is connected to a story about one Queen Boadicea.

  • Hanks is cryptically described as a 'nurse name'.

  • Clinton means the town on the hill.

  • Percy, derived from a story of a king who was killed with a lance through the eye, evermore to be known as Pierce-eye, which, "by the omission of several useless vowels" eventually becomes Percy.



And Rebecca's the world over will be pleased, I'm certain, to learn that their name means fat and full.


Visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.

And don't forget to also check for your family history at Ancestry.com and NewspaperArchive.com. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.

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