What Do Our Names Mean

Last Updated on January 7, 2021 by Neil Mackengie

The chief purpose of a name, of course, is identification. From the beginning of history, children have been given names at birth or soon afterward to identify them. But when parents gave a child a name in ancient times, they also wanted to express something to have a meaning, For example, it might describe his appearance or term of endearment.

What Do Our Names Mean

Christian names are usually drawn from some older language. For example, Benjamin comes from the Hebrew; Andrew from Greek; Amy from the Latin; Alfred from Anglo-Saxon.

Originally, these names had a meaning. A girl born during a famine was sometimes called Una (Celtic for “famine”). A golden-haired girl might be called Flavia (Latin for “yellow”) or Blanche (French for “white”). Other examples of names that have definite meanings are David Susan (lily), Deborah (bed), and Margaret (pearl).

In England and the United States, any name desired by the parent can be given to a child. But in France and Germany, a name must be chosen from an official list. When a name is translated from one language to another, it often undergoes interesting changes. For example, Henry is a Teutonic name meaning “head of the house”. It becomes Hany, Hal, Henri (French), Heinrich (Cierman),  Enrico (Italian),  and Hendrick (Danish).

Last names, or surnames, became common only about 900 years ago. They were added because it became too hard to identify people by just one name. Surnames developed in various ways: by including the father’s name, or the town lived in, the occupation or business, and so on.

What Is Your Surname?

Your surname is your family name. It is also called your “last name.” When filling out applications or identity documents.

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