Our Unpuzzling Ancestral Names Value Pack made me curious about my family surnames and whether things I heard growing up about where a name is from or what it means are true. Here’s how I checked out a few of the names I’m researching:
- Haddad: My maiden name, inherited from my great-grandparents who immigrated in 1900, is the Lebanese equivalent to Smith. I Googled surname Haddad and one of the results was this Wikipedia page.
- Seeger: I looked up this name, which comes from my German ancestor H.A. Seeger, in the last name search on Ancestry.com, which uses surname meanings and origins from the Oxford Dictionary of American Family Names (a reference you also might be able to find in a library). It also maps where in the United States most people with that name lived. The name is German and Dutch, “from the Germanic personal name Sigiheri.”
- Norris: This name, which belonged to my Irish third-great-grandfather Edward Norris, is a place-based name for someone from the North or who lived on the north side of a settlement. It also could be a French occupational name for a nurse. According to the Irish Times’ mid-1800s surname distribution search, most Norrises lived in County Waterford, with next-door Tipperary and Kilkenny as runners-up. Family lore says Edward came from County Cork, which also is on the list and borders Waterford.
- Frost: This surname, from my English third-great-grandfather, gives me fits in online searches. Besides all the weather reports, it’s a pretty common name. It helps to add place names, genealogy and -weather or -winter to my searches. The name could be English, German, Danish or Swedish, and it’s based on a nickname for someone “of an icy and unbending disposition or who had white hair.”
- Reuter: Google wants to show me Reuters news reports if I forget quotation marks (as in “Reuter”) when searching for this name online. It’s a German name, possibly for “someone who lived in a clearing or an occupational name for a clearer of woodland.”
- Ladenkotter/Ladenkoetter: Does anyone have ideas about this German name? It’s not in the Oxford Dictionary of American Family Names or on surname sites, and web searches turn up mostly my own posts. I even tried typing the name into Google translate to see if it means anything in German (it doesn’t). On the plus side, it’s unusual, and just about any Ladenkoetter records I find are for a relative. Update: If you have German roots, the comments about this name’s origins (including one from A Genealogist’s Guide to Discovering Your Germanic Ancestors coauthor Ernest Thode) are insightful. Thank you to Mr. Thode, K. Hewett and Fawn!
The Unpuzzling Ancestral Names Value Pack has resources for searching names, understanding naming patterns, figuring out how surnames changed over time, and discovering surname origins and meanings. Learn more about it in Family Tree Shop.