What Does Your Last Name Mean? How to Find Out

What Does Your Last Name Mean? How to Find Out

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...

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!

Here are seven more surname research tips from FamilyTreeMagazine.com.

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.

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  1. Could &quot;Ladenkotter/Ladenkoetter&quot; be Dutch? It is very similar to German in many ways. If you still can’t find the meaning, try separating &quot;laden&quot; &quot;koetter&quot;. That might help you find the meaning of the individual parts of the name. Together, it could give you an idea of what the name means. I hope this is helpful. Happy searching!

    K Hewett

  2. Diane,

    The -k&#246;tter or -koetter ending is typical of the Westphalia or Lippe area, near M&#252;nster or Osnabr&#252;ck or Detmold.

    A K&#246;tter is a peasant (&quot;cottager&quot;) without enough land to make a living from farming alone, perhaps with a small house, a small garden, and a little land for a few animals, maybe with a side occupation such as weaving.

    An Erbk&#246;tter or Markk&#246;tter is a hereditary cottager, whereby the youngest(!) son takes over the farmstead. This is the custom in the Westphalia/Lippe area. (Do you also know about the custom of males assuming the wife’s surname when they take over the farm in this area?)

    The &quot;Lade&quot; part of the surname would refer to the name of a specific (hereditary) small farmstead, (the Ladekotte?) so I expect that there would be very few people with the surname, all from that specific place/farmstead.

    The meaning of Lade is not as definite as the K&#246;tter part. Etymologically the root meaning might (but not necessarily) be &quot;load&quot; or &quot;burden&quot;, but would people say somebody owned the Load farm? It doesn’t seem to make sense. But you might say it was the Ladek&#246;tter farmstead, referring to the owner.

    Ernie Thode

  3. Where can you actually locate the link that tells you what your family name means? I can not find a link anywhere on this site. I was tickled when I saw the post of what does your name mean and would love to see what it means.
    Could someone please tell me where I can locate it
    Thanks very much.

  4. I searched the meaning of Ladenkotter/Ladenkoetter for you. German words can be more than one word stuck together. In this case, Laden and koetter or kotter seemed to be separate words. So, I looked them up for you. Laden has many defenitions, two of which are &quot;shop&quot; and &quot;&quot;premises&quot;. (I used a online english german dictionary.) Then I looked up koetter. That didn’t pull up any definitions. But kotter did. Just one, &quot;lock up&quot;. So Ladenkotter could mean shop lockup-er. Also, the oe in koetter sometimes looks like a letter o with two dots above it, called o-umlaut. Hope this helps you in finding the real meaning of your ancestors last name. Makes me think your ancestor was a shop owner, like Miller and Baker were named after their professions… I am not sure why one spelling has a meaning and the other doesn’t. Keep searching using other translation/definition places and separate the name into two words for those searches!

  5. Hi, Sherry, if you’re not able to click on the red link to the name meaning lookup, the URL for the page you want to go to is http://www.ancestry.com/learn/facts

    Thank you to everyone for your help with the Ladenkotter/koetter name! I had separated the parts of the name in Google Translate and didn’t get results. It sounds like in addition to an online translator, it’s a good idea to also look up the name (or parts of it) in a language dictionary.

    The Ladenkotter family is from the Rheine, Germany, area, in Westphalia and near Osnabruck. This is also near the border with the Netherlands, so all of this information makes sense. Thank you!