The Story of Last Names

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Social Studies, Ancient History

Grade 3- 5

Objective

Students learn about the origins of last names in Medieval times.

Directions

Introduce to students "The Story of Last Names."
A long time ago, four men named Thomas lived in a little town. That was the only name any of them had. In those days, only kings and nobles had last names; most men and women had only first names.
Because the men had the same name, here's how people told them apart. One Thomas had a father named John, so he was called "Thomas, John's son." Another Thomas, a baker, was called "Thomas the Baker." The third Thomas had light-colored hair, so he was known as "Thomas the White." And the fourth Thomas lived next to the village green, so he was known to everyone as "Thomas of the Green."
Time went on. Thomas the Baker married a girl named Elaine. She became known as "Elaine, Thomas the Baker's wife." They had a little boy named John, and he was known as "John, Thomas the Baker's son." But after a while, people got tired of saying all those words. So they simply called Thomas the Baker, "Thomas Baker." His wife became Elaine Baker, and their son was John Baker.
That's how last names came to be. People took their fathers' first names, the names of their fathers' jobs, the names of the places where they lived, or names that told how they looked. They put these names after their first names. When a man married, his wife and children took his last name. Sometimes, a widow or single woman might adopt children and give them her last name. So, today, our last names can tell us something about the people we got them from long ago.
Ask students to pay close attention to see if their last names are on one of the following lists. Here are some examples of patronymics, last names that come from first names:


Adding son or sen

Adding s

Adding es, ez, or is

Andersen

Fredricks

Davis

Davidson

Matthews

Harris

Jackson

Phillips

Hernandez

Johnson

Roberts

Hughes

Robertson

Stephens

Jones

Wilson

Walters

Rodriguez

People who spoke different languages sometimes added sohn, wicz, vich, or ak to the end of a name. All of these mean "son." People from some countries put son in front of their fathers' names. Mac, Mc, and Fitz all mean "son of."
Here are examples of some last names that came from the jobs that people held:


Blacksmith

Cart Driver

Making Bread

Ferraro

Carter

Baker

Herrera

Porter

Baxter

Kovacs

Wagner

Fournier

Kowalski

Grinding Wheat

Shroeder

MacGowan

Miller

Making Clothes

Schmitt

Molinaro

Schneider

Schmitz

Mueller

Snider

Smith

Sarto

Taylor


Here are some last names that were taken from the places where people lived:


By a Hill

By a Stream

Near a Small Forest

Barrows

Arroyo

Atwood

Downing

Beck

DuBois

Downs

Brooks

Holt

Hill

Burns

Hurst

Hillman

Rivera

Shaw

Hull

By a Grassy Field

Silva

Knowles

Field and Fields

Wood and Woods

Law

Lee

By a Castle

Lowe

Mead

Borg

Peck

Meadows

Burke

By a Main Road

Vega

Castello

Estrada



Castillo

Lane



Zamechi

Strass





Streeter






Here are some names that were taken from the way people looked:


White Hair

New Person

Curly Hair

Bannon

Doran

Cassidy

Blanchard

Dowell

Krause

Weiss

Doyle

Kruse

White

Newcomb

Rizzo

Whitehead

Newman

Tall Person

Whitlock

Short Person

Lang

Whitman

Bass

Long

Wise

Basset

Longfellow

Red Hair

Hoch

Happy Person

Flynn

Kline and Klein

Gay

Reed and Reid

Short

Merriman

Roth

Small

Murray

Russell





Here are some names that described animal characteristics:


Wolf

Fox

Kinds of Birds

Lupo

Fox

Bird and Byrd

Wolf and Wolfe

Todd

Coe

Deer

Volpe

Cox

Buck

Bear

Crane

Hart

Baer

Crow and Crowe

Hirsh

Lion

Garza

Roe

Leon

Hahn

Dragon

Loewe

Ortega

Drake

Lyon and Lyons

Vogel

Distribute the What's in a Name? activity sheet to complete activity.

Resources

  • Story of Last Names handout
  • What's in a Name? activity sheet

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