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The Story of Last Names
Social Studies and Ancient History
Grade 3- 5

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Objective
Students learn about the origins of last names in Medieval times.

Directions
Introduce to students “The Story of Last Names.”

A long time ago, four men named Thomas lived in a little town. That was the only name any of them had. In those days, only kings and nobles had last names; most men and women had only first names.Because the men had the same name, here’s how people told them apart.

One Thomas had a father named John, so he was called “Thomas, John’s son.” Another Thomas, a baker, was called “Thomas the Baker.” The third Thomas had light-colored hair, so he was known as “Thomas the White.” And the fourth Thomas lived next to the village green, so he was known to everyone as “Thomas of the Green.”Time went on. Thomas the Baker married a girl named Elaine. She became known as “Elaine, Thomas the Baker’s wife.” They had a little boy named John, and he was known as “John, Thomas the Baker’s son.” But after a while, people got tired of saying all those words. So they simply called Thomas the Baker, “Thomas Baker.” His wife became Elaine Baker, and their son was John Baker.

That’s how last names came to be. People took their fathers’ first names, the names of their fathers’ jobs, the names of the places where they lived, or names that told how they looked. They put these names after their first names. When a man married, his wife and children took his last name. Sometimes, a widow or single woman might adopt children and give them her last name. So, today, our last names can tell us something about the people we got them from long ago.

Ask students to pay close attention to see if their last names are on one of the following lists.

Here are some examples of patronymics, last names that come from first names:

Adding son or sen
Adding s
Adding es, ez, or is

Andersen
Fredricks
Davis
Davidson
Matthews
Harris
Jackson
Phillips
Hernandez
Johnson
Roberts
Hughes
Robertson
Stephens
Jones
Wilson
Walters
Rodriguez

People who spoke different languages sometimes added sohn, wicz, vich, or ak to the end of a name. All of these mean “son.” People from some countries put son in front of their fathers’ names. Mac, Mc, and Fitz all mean “son of.”

Here are examples of some last names that came from the jobs that people held:

Blacksmith
Ferraro
Herrera
Kovacs
Kowalski

Cart Driver
Carter
Porter
Wagner

Making Bread
Baker
Baxter
Fournier

Grinding Wheat
Mueller
Miller
Molinaro

Making Clothes
Schneider
Snider
Taylor

Here are some last names that were taken from the places where people lived:

By a Hill
Barrows
Downs
Hill
Hillman

By a Stream
Arroyo
Brooks
Rivera

Near a Small Forest
Atwood
DuBois
Hurst
Shaw
Wood and Woods

By a Grassy Field
Knowles
Field and Fields
Mead
Meadows

By a Castle
Castello
Borg
Castillo
Zamechi

By a Main Road
Estrada
Lane
Strass
Streeter

Here are some names that were taken from the way people looked:

White Hair
Bannon
Blanchard
Whitehead
Whitlock
Whitman

New Person
Doran
Doyle
Newcomb
Newman

Curly Hair
Cassidy
Krause
Kruse
Rizzo

Tall Person
Lang
Long
Longfellow

Short Person
Bass
Basset
Hoch

Red Hair
Flynn
Reed
Russell

Happy Person
Gay
Merriman
Murray
Here are some names that described animal characteristics:

Wolf
Lupo
Wolfe

Fox
Fox
Volpe

Kinds of Birds
Coe
Crane
Crowe

Deer
Buck
Roe

Bear
Baer

Lion
Leon
Lyon
Lowe

Dragon
Drake

Distribute the What’s in a Name? activity sheet to complete activity.

Resources
Story of Last Names handout
What’s in a Name? activity sheet

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