Saturday, November 20, 2010

There's one in every family

"There's one in every family!" Bring your stories of colorful characters, unique heirlooms, mouth-watering recipes, most dearly beloved pets, whatever! Interpret as you like.
I knew I wanted to participate in this Carnival of Genealogy family reunion, but I pondered on what I would choose to write about. I don't like discussing living relatives, and while there are a handful of ancestors I could discuss under the topic of blacksheep, I'd rather not. However, the theme wasn't limited to people. Jasia specifically suggested family heirlooms, recipes, and other objects. I've discussed a couple of heirlooms before, and could think of a few more, but the topic didn't appeal greatly to me at this time. So I pondered some more. Something or someone every family has. After a few weeks of sorting through the possibilities, a new idea came to me. Something almost every family indeed does have. Most European nations began requiring them in the 18th and 19th centuries.

A family name (or surname)

Most of my personal experience with surnames comes from Western European culture, though I know other cultures handle surnames differently. The origins of surnames are sometimes sorted into five categories, which I have listed below, and provided examples from my ancestors. I looked up surname origins at both Ancestry  and the Surname Database.

1) Derived from a Given name (aka 'Patronymic')
  • My distant maternal ancestor, Myndert Fredericksen, and his brother, Carsten Fredericksen, were the sons of Frederick Van Iveren. (The children of Myndert and Carsten returned to the Van Iveren surname, or changed it to either Van Every or Van Avery.)
  • My paternal grandmother's original ancestral surname was Dudelczak. While the surname is possibly derived from the German bagpipe, Dudel is also Yiddish for "David." The odds are this surname was patronymic in origin.
2) Occupational Name
  • My maternal great grandmother's surname, Lichtman, is considered occupational for a chandler from the Yiddish 'likht' for 'candle.'
3) Location/Topographical
  • My surname, Newmark, likely is derived from the German/Polish area known as Newmarch.
  • My paternal great grandmother's surname, Cruvant, came from the Lithuanian town, Kruvandai.
  • My maternal grandmother's surname, Van Every, is likely derived from a Dutch or German town with a similar name -- though there is some debate over which town that is. (Possibilities include Everinghe, Holland and Jever, Germany.)
4) Nickname - names based on physical appearance, temperament, or personality
  • The surname Denyer is considered by many a nickname for a poor or insignificant man, from the name of a very small medieval coin, Middle English, Old French denier
  • The surname Lipman, as a Jewish surname, probably comes from the Yiddish for "Beloved man." (As a Dutch surname, it is thought to be a patronymic of the given name, Phillip.)
5) Ornamental Name - A name chosen by the family as an ornament.
  • My paternal grandmother's surname, Feinstein, means "fine stone." Selig Dudelczak adopted the surname upon his arrival in America.
  • My paternal great grandmother's surname "Blatt" is ornamental for most Jewish families, originating from the German and Yiddish word for "leaf." However, the non-Jewish German Blatt surname is considered to come from the German word "Blate" meaning a flat surface or plateau, and likely topographical.
  • My maternal great great grandmother's surname "Adler" means "Eagle." 


Jasia said...

You never disappoint, John. I knew you'd come up with something original! Thanks for participating in COG #100!

Nancy said...

This was a great post, John! I hadn't given much thought to the origin of my ancestors' surnames before. My mind is beginning to ponder.... Thanks.

Donna - What's Past is Prologue said...


Good one! Very creative and well done. I also struggled with the topic and only came up with mine last night as I was falling asleep. In my case, it's a person, but I love how you thought "outside the box". You are right - there's one in every family! Thanks for sharing your family names.


Greta Koehl said...

I love the idea of categorizing names this way - now I'll be thinking of these categories every time I work with an ancestral name.

Michelle Goodrum said...

Great post and thanks for getting us to thinking where or how some of our ancestral surnames may have originated.

John said...

Thank you to all of your for your comments. Etymologies have long fascinated me - with everyday words as well as surnames.

J.M. said...

Great post! I know my own surname is (most likely) occupational.