Tuesday, November 11, 2008

How Do People Get Their Surnames?

It has been just over a year since I posted my first blog entry - but your island girl has been extremely busy, what with work and family! Plus bloggers' block! Yes! There is such a thing as bloggers block. Well, without further ado, let me get back to my subject of interest which I have been mulling over for some time now.
How do people get their last names? I have always been interested in how surnames originate - you know, the genealogical history behind them. I recollect vaguely reading somewhere some years ago, that some surnames were assumed because of the occupation of the individuals. So a man who was a tailor became a Mr. Taylor (the spelling changed over time) and he would give his offsprings that name.
Well, that sounds plausible, but how on earth do you explain the "colour names" Mr. White, Mr. Green, Mr. Brown, Mr Gray, and Mr Pink?
When did we start using surnames? And why exactly did it become necessary for us to start using them?
I have started to note what strikes me as really weird and unusual English sounding surnames.

These I will share with you in my upcoming posts.

Well, you may send to me the ones which you have encountered and do you have an unsual sounding name? Let me hear it and the history behind it!


  1. Interesting post about the origin of surnames.

    One thing that it made me do was think about my own surname; particularly given the heritage of slavery. I would definitely like to get to the bottom of mine, not the one given to my slave ancestors but the true african name of my forbears.

    Perhaps in your search you could take a look at unearthing some of that information.

    Anyway, great blog Janet. Keep it up and remember to blog often. It helps I find, to reduce the onset of writers/bloggers block.

  2. Thanks for your interesting comments. You have made a very important observation about our ability to trace our true African names - the records are just not there - and that is a shame!

    A colleague of mine after viewing my blog recently commented that what she was really interested in was her true African name;not some name that was given to her ancestors by the white slave masters.

    I do not know of anyone who has been able to trace his or her true African name. My father, whose lifelong wish is to be able to visit Africa to explore and to connect to his roots,once remarked to me that every single person in Jamaica whose forebearers were from Africa, has a relative right now in Africa walking around. That is such an amazing thought.He often tells the story too of a visit a close friend of his made to Ghana and while she was walking around in a busy market place,saw a friend of hers and was just about to greet her when she realised that it was another person. But for her the resemblance that this individual had to someone that she knew was so uncanny and amazing.

    I cetainly would like to do some research to find out the extent to which blacks are able trace their negroid identity to Africa.I certainly would like to hear from other individuals on this topic. Especially those who have already given up the name that was "thrust" on them and taken on African names.

    There are two blogs that I am currently following that explore related topics. In the first,the writer is currently looking at African retentions in things such as art and language and in the second the writer has done a lot of research on the genealogy of her Jamaican family.

  3. http://myjamaicanfamily.blogspot.com/ and http://jackmandora.blogspot.com/ were the two blogs that I had made reference to.

  4. Janet, It's a great loss that we have no way of tracking our African ancestry. Maybe the only people in Jamaica who even have a starting point -a name to work with- might be some of the maroons.

    Yes, Your point strikes home now- the fact that you could actually swear you're looking at someone from back home in a Ghanian market is something special. The resemblance is a tangible connection that time and cultural assimilation could not break.

  5. who first started discover surnames


Comments are welcomed and appreciated.