If you had to choose a last name . . .

Last names were started in 13th and 14th century Britain, first by the aristocracy and then by everyone. They were used for identification - if he was John and he was also John, before last names there wasn’t a way to tell them apart on paper. When surnames were given, they were based on whatever defined the person best - it could be talking about your ancestors (O’Henry), your career (Baker), where you lived (Hill), or even a noticeable characteristic you posses (Sherlock means “one of the shining hair”, or a very blond person).
So, if last names were being chosen today, what would you or your community choose? What word best sums up who you are?

I’d just like to applaud your idea for a thread!

The idea of surnames (names in general, really) has always fascinated me. My own surname is far enough down the frequency list that I regard it as infrequent, but not rare. But there are various Surname Frequency and Surname Distribution lists, charts and maps that I have looked over to realize that my name is like so many others in that it is quite regional in the US and it’s hard to determine, just from the name itself, what part of the world it may have originated in.

So, while we’re discussing what surname we’d pick if we had the choice, maybe we could try to discover why so many people are Smith, Jones or Robinson, and why so few are in possession of a name shared by only a few others.

This must have worked better before people became socially and vocationally mobile. For me, it just depends on what age I’d have gotten named. As a child, “Reader,” for sure. It was the one trait the adults always mentioned about me. My first job that lasted a while, “Video,” I suppose; I was moving up the corporate ladder at Blockbuster until I realized I couldn’t handle cheerleading for a sinking ship. For a good deal of my adult life, “Healer” would have worked. “Nurse,” now.

The one name that would have been appropriate for me at any age or stage would be my Doper Username. :wink:

Hm. So I guess Weasel-Porpington-Smythe is out…

Well, I know that Smith means a blacksmith and Jones is a variant of John - but it’s never been explained to me why there were so many blacksmiths around. I mean, you wouldn’t think it would be an incredibly common job, right? You need one or maybe two for a mid sized village.
Some of the rarest names were invented recently - when immigrants came through Ellis Island, they were encouraged to change their name to sound less “foreign”. I believe something similar may have happened with Jewish refugees in the Holocaust.

Only 1.4% of Britons had SMITH as surname in the 1881 census (with SMYTH, SMYTHE, SMITHE, SMITHSON much tinier) and that doesn’t even imply 1.4% were once smiths. (Since occupation isn’t always hereditary, a village with a single smith might have a 2nd Smith family from the previous generation’s smith. During the period when surnames were coming into use it might take a few generations for a family to settle on a surname.) Also, according to Wikipedia “It is common for people in English-speaking countries to adopt the surname Smith in order to maintain a secret identity, when they wish to avoid being found. Smith is an extremely common name among English Gypsies …”

Surnames supposedly became mandatory (cite?) to facilitate government, especially law enforcement. (“John robbed my inn. Which John? Oh, you know; the one who hangs out with Dick.”)

By the same token, everyone needs a smith, so he and his family were often among the last to starve, and he might even have enough of a nest egg to set two sons up with a livelihood and a family instead of just the one taking over for him. That’s a whole bunch of little Smiths after just a generation or two.

And there will have been a Smith family in every town, so it quickly became a generic name. No-one expected a particular Smith to be related to any other Smith.

And really, it’s easy to say, short to write, not too bad to spell. Names like that stick around, where other names might have been ditched as a nuisance. The local blacksmith might have been nicknamed “John Smith” in everyday life even before it became a surname.

Since Smith is the topic of the moment, it might easily be (just speculating here) that smith was not just the blacksmith, but might be the goldsmith, the silversmith, the tinsmith, the toolsmith, and such. Maybe even wordsmith, tunesmith, or (if he/she got tired of being Tailor) ragsmith.

How many different smiths must there be?

I got to wondering about which jobs that became names are associated with ranching. Roper, Brand, Rider, Spurrier, Cook, Foreman, Bullock, Mount, Steed, and on and on.

Can you think of any serious surnames that refer to criminal jobs? Thief, Burglar, Assassin, Connor?

I have always been a bit shy sharing my last name with people because it is rather odd to your Terrans. It is, of course, ‘Inexplicable’. As in Gagundathar The Inexplicable. Strangely enough, my mother’s maiden name was ‘The’. English is a strange and irrational language.

How fixed are our surnames? When I was a kid, I would probably have been known by my parents’ occupation: Fred the Store. Now I’d probably be known by where I’m from: Fred San Diego (though I’d probably get tired of the jokes. “Oh, are you related to Carmen? Where in the world is she these days?”)

Since I moved to Michigan I would probably be known as wolfman Colorado, mostly because Wolfman Senior-Technical-Project-Lead doesn’t really flow off the tongue.

Wolfman St. Prolead.

Everyone knows who John the Smith is, because there’s almost certainly only one Smith named John in town. On the other hand, John the Peasant would be almost every John in the area, so it doesn’t help as a last name. As you said, every village has a smith, and that is accurate in both senses. Every village will have a smith, and they will only have one. It’s the perfect storm for a last name.


Where I once worked, we had a receptionist named Malvicini, which she described as meaning “Bad neighbor”.

If I were allowed to pick, I’d take a really long time and choose something based on personal preferences and the sounds of the name. If it were assigned by vocation or avocation, then either Scribner, Libris, Draper, or Sempstress.

Of those options, I like Libris best, although Sempstress is pretty awesome.

If I were allowed to pick, it’d be something awesome like, ‘Ravager’ or ‘Bloodstorm’ or ‘Deathnado.’

If my friends were to choose, it would have something to do with beer and/or fire. Something like Brewflame or Fireale.

i know a guy with the surname “crook” and a girl with the surname “Law”

I would take my time to choose something that had a reasonable chance of being rare. My maiden name is in the top ten of last names in the US, so common I decided to ditch it when I married–for one in the top five. My first name is almost as common. About the only way my name could have been any more generic would be if my mother had named me Jennifer.

It would be fun to choose something less common that has something to do with me and not my (or my husband’s) ancestors.

My surname would be Nerdnerdnerdynerdnerdnerd.

Not really, I’m not that nerdy. I’d be something like Pencil or Scribe or something, covering my interest in art and writing, which is generally what I was known for when I was younger.

As for Smiths, surely there would often have been more than one in a village. A job like a Thatcher or a Cartwright would have been shared amongst multiple villages, but a Blacksmith would have been constantly busy in even a small village. People forget that horses were everywhere in those days, and for thousands of years were ingrained in daily life. Their accoutrements needed constant maintenance. I’m surprised Farrier or Sadler aren’t more common names.