The Full Wiki

surname: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


A surname is a name added to a given name and is part of a personal name. In many cases a surname is a family name; the family-name meaning first appeared in 1375.[1] Many dictionaries define "surname" as a synonym of "family name". It is also known as a "last name". In some cultures, the surname may be a patronymic or matronymic. Some cultures, for example the Burmese and some Javanese, do not use surnames.

In some cases, such as Chinese Indonesians and Chinese Thais, certain ethnic groups are subject to political pressure to change their surnames, in which case surnames can lose their family-name meaning[citation needed].


Order of words

Although surnames are commonly used as last names, in some cultures the surname comes first, followed by the given name or names; this is the case in Hungary, countries in the Chinese cultural sphere (i.e. Japan, Korea, Vietnam and China). However, in Hong Kong and Japan, when Hongkongers and Japanese write their personal name in the Latin alphabet, it is common to reverse the order of their names for the convenience of Westerners, just as Hungarians do when associating with other Europeans.


Surnames are often influenced by common elements: the name of the person's father or mother, the person's geographical origin, the person's occupation, or a descriptive nickname for the person. When they were created they answered one of the following questions: To whom is this person related? From where is this person? What does this person do for a living? What is this person's most prominent feature?[2][3]

For example, the names Smith and Cooper originate from the blacksmith (plus other "smiths" such as silversmith, coppersmith etc) and cooper (barrel maker) occupations, respectively. The name Cohen denotes a prominent religious background; Cohen is a name usually found among male descendants of the Jewish kohanim, or priesthood. The names Tedeschi, Todesco, and Todeschin are derivations of the Italian word for "German", and usually indicate that the bearer of the surname is of Germanic descent.

In French Canada until the 19th century, several families adopted surnames that followed the family name in order to distinguish the various branches of a large family. Such a surname was preceded by the word "dit" ("said") and was known as a "nom-dit" ("said-name"). While this tradition is no longer in use, in many cases the nom-dit has come to replace the original family name. Thus the Bourbeau family has split into Bourbeau dit Verville, Bourbeau dit Lacourse, and Bourbeau dit Beauchesne. In many cases Verville, Lacourse, or Beauchesne has become the new family name. Likewise, the Rivard family has split into the Rivard dit Lavigne, Rivard dit Loranger and Rivard dit Lanoie. The origin of the nom-dit can vary. Often it denoted a geographical trait of the area where that branch of the family lived: Verville lived towards the city, Beauchesne lived near an oak tree, Larivière near a river, etc. Some of the oldest noms-dits are derived from the war name of a settler who served in the army or militia: Tranchemontagne ("mountain slasher"), Jolicœur ("braveheart"). Others denote a personal trait: Lacourse might have been a fast runner, Legrand was probably tall, etc.

Surname formed from a parent's name

See Icelandic names

The Icelandic system, formerly used in much of Scandinavia, does not use family names. A person's surname indicates the first name of the person's father (patronymic) or in some cases mother (matronymic). The words patronymic and matronymic derive from Greek patr (father) and matr (mother), + onyma (name).

Patronymic name conventions are similar in some other nations, including Malaysia (see Malaysian name), among most people of the Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and in the Scottish Gaelic personal naming system. Where as ancestral origin village names become surnames for the people of another Indian state Andhra Pradesh. Origin for most of the Indian population can be identified by their surnames.

Culture and prevalence

In the United States, just 1,712 surnames cover 50% of the population, and over 1% of the population has the surname Smith.[4] Approximately 79 percent of white Americans have surnames that are of English, Irish, or Scottish derivation. Some estimates say that 85% of China's population shares 100 surnames. In China the names Wang, Zhang and Li are the most common.[5]

See also


  1. ^ "surname", Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. December 10, 2007.
  2. ^ Scottish Surnames
  3. ^ Last Names Dictionary
  4. ^ U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division (1995). Genealogy. U.S. Census Bureau.
  5. ^ LaFRANIERE S. (2009). Name Not on Our List? Change It, China Says. New York Times.



Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

Wikipedia has an article on:






From Middle English < Old French sour-, sur- < Latin super (over, above, beyond) < base Proto-Indo-European *uper (over), the comparative of the base Proto-Indo-European *upo (under); + name.




surname (plural surnames)

  1. A name that indicates to which family a person belongs, normally following that person’s given name(s) in Western culture, in English included, and preceding it in Eastern.



See also


to surname

Third person singular

Simple past

Past participle

Present participle

to surname (third-person singular simple present surnames, present participle surnaming, simple past and past participle surnamed)

  1. To give a surname.
  2. To call by a surname.



Simple English

Redirecting to Family name


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address