AncestorNews: What’s in a (Sur)Name?

By Nancy Hendrickson Premium

There’s something about your surname that’s special. And, although you may share it with millions of other people, it’s yours—a part of your identity.

I think one of the things people like about genealogy is learning more about their names—their origin and meaning. For example, while surfing the Net the other day, I ran across a Web site for the surname Gause: “The Gause surname has had varied spellings over time, the most common variations being: Gauche, Gous, Gouws, Gaus, Gosse, Gose and Goss. The northern line of the Gause surname in America (Pennsylvania to Indiana, and beyond) are the descendants of G. Charles, who emigrated to the British Colonies between 1717-1720.” I wish I knew even that much about my Hendricksons!

Surnames haven’t been around that long—generally since the Middle Ages. They were derived from a person’s occupation, nickname, where they lived, or the name of the person’s father. For example, in Ireland, “Mac” as part of the name meant “son of.” Surnames based on occupations include Miller, Carpenter and Baker.

Tip: Here’s a site where you can find out what state the majority of people with your surname lived in during 1850 (a year there were more Hendricksons in Tennessee than any other state).

Want to learn more about surnames? These are a few of my favorite sites:

Online Surname Search Strategies

Relearning the Spelling of Your Surname

Surname Origin List

Surname Origins Mailing List

Surname Guide

POV: The Sweetest Sound