Surname Meaning

Have you ever wondered about your surname meaning?

Most people these days don’t really think about where they got their surname from. The main reason for this is probably because we have this surname from the very first day that we are born and therefore become so used to it that we don’t even question where it came from. However, it can be quite interesting to see why people started using second names as well as their first names.

Karen Gillan receiving a parchment scroll of her surname meaning and coat of arms

History of surnames

The complete history and meaning of your surname can be researched and like the one being presented to Karen Gillan (Amy Pond from Doctor Who) by our researcher, the results can be produced on a parchment scroll with an authentic full-colour image of the coat of arms associated with it.

Surname History Chart without the coat of arms A stunning Surname History Chart without the coat of arms is also available for UNDER £10 and makes a superb gift. There are a choice of 6 colours. All we need to know is the surname you wish us to research and print onto the chart for you.

Visit our surname meaning store for parchment scrolls and name history For more information on first name and surname meaning gifts.

It’s unclear exactly when surnames became popular all over the world, but it’s believed that even as far back as 2800BC an Emperor from China decided to introduce surnames so that they could take a census and record information easier, after all, it wouldn’t be a good idea to have thousands upon thousands of people with the same first name since it would be difficult to tell them apart, especially if they live in the same area!

Many centuries ago, while the Romans were still in power, they started using surnames or second names in order to identify people. In many cases, the second names that were given to a certain individual either related to their current job or what most of their family worked as. This means that if you have a surname such as Smith, there’s a good chance that this name was given to your family because they worked with metal. However, when the Romans finally lost their power surnames became rarer each and every year. Back then surnames weren’t inherited, so it’s easy to see why they didn’t catch on. All the way up to the 10th century people had only a first name to go by, but this soon changed.

Surnames become widely used in Europe before any other part of the world and one of the first countries to bring in fixed surnames was Ireland. At the start of the 10th century, Tigherneach Ua Cleirigh died and this surname (O Cleirigh) was the first surname to be recorded in Europe.

England didn’t use surnames for another one hundred years or so than when Ireland first introduced them. Most historians believe that it was only the rich and powerful who used surnames in England at the beginning of the 11th century. It then spread over a long period of time and as we all know, everyone has their own surname at the moment!

Surname Meanings - Types of Surnames

There are many different types of surnames that have been given to people throughout all of this time, here are the ones that are most used:


Patronymic surnames are usually given to a father’s son so that they’ll always remember their father for the good things that he done in his lifetime. One example of this is Johnson.


As the name suggests, these names were used for people that lived in a certain area. For example: Woods.


Once again, the name is quite self-explanatory. These surnames were mainly just short names to describe something. An example of this is: Young.


Last but not least, occupational surnames are probably the most popular type of surnames. The surname could be used because of the individual having a certain job, or because their family were well respected for a certain type of job. As mentioned previously, Smith is an example of an occupational name and is the most common surname currently in the United Kingdom with over 1% of the UK population having this surname!