Before they became hereditary, names were descriptive and linguistically creative.
If a distant ancestor was brave, cheerful, or worked at a bar, it might be reflected in your surname.
And if you struck the surname jackpot, you may have one of the coolest surnames in the world.
Let’s look at the top twelve surnames and their meanings.
This Dutch and German name, also spelled Biermann, basically means a beer man: tavern owner, beer merchant, brewer, or a nickname for a beer drinker.
It’s one of many central European names related to the drink, such as Brau, Brauer, Bruha, and Brasher, which denote brewers. Someone who ran a tavern might have been called Käsebier or Casebeer, meaning “cheese and beer.”
If you have this Germanic surname, your ancestors were likely a big deal back in the Middle Ages. Its etymology grew from heim (“home”) and ric (“power,” “ruler”).
Spelled Henri in French, it was introduced to England by the Normans and was initially only a personal name, given to eight English kings.
Other surnames evolved out of its vernacular form, Harry: Harris and Harrison.
Medieval sword fights clang behind this proper-sounding French surname. Though the precise origin of Gaumond (sometimes spelled Gaumont) is unclear, it likely derives from the Germanic personal name, Walmund, a composite of words meaning “death in battle” and “protector.”
Your forebears were not to be messed with.
There are a few possible Old French derivations of this surname, and they’re all winners. In both French and English the word means “armor for the arm,” so it could be an occupational name for someone in your family who made armor.
“Braz,” meaning “arm,” was also a nickname for a strong or pugilistic person. Or Brassard might have come from the French “brasser”: to brew beer.
This Germanic name is fit for hippies: Its etymology combines words meaning heart, mind, spirit, bright, and famous.
The man who popularized it was no flower child, but an eighth-century bishop of Maastricht and patron saint of hunters. It’s now a common Dutch, English, French, or German surname.
Some hot-tempered Romans must have first gotten this nickname, from the Latin for “little flame,” “flame red,” or “ardent.”
It grew into a Southern Italian surname that didn’t appear in the United States until the early 20th century.
Derived from the Gaelic personal name Ó hAnluain, or “descendant of Anluan,” this Irish surname references a mythical Celtic fighter who was beheaded in battle.
The name Anluan means light, radiance, or warrior; Hanlon is its shortened, Anglicized version.
This Norwegian surname sounds straight out of a Viking saga: It means “fish hook” or “harpoon barb” in Old Norse.
But Angor probably described a crook in a stream or a feature of the landscape near Oslo, Norway, and was given to people who lived there.
Still, if your ancestors were Scandinavian, they certainly knew how to wield a harpoon.
The French and Germanic roots of this surname conjure a medieval hero. Dardar (or Dardard) is composed of words meaning lance, spear, hardy, brave, and strong.
You can lay claim to Middle Earth with the first or last name Alvin. And though it has nothing to do with chipmunks, it does pertain to another small creature: an elf.
In Old English, Alvin, Alwin, or Alfwin means “elf friend”; alf or alva means “elf” in Sweden, where it was probably arbitrarily adopted as a surname in the 19th century.
During an at-times bitter election season, it’s easy to lose sight of this name’s sunny origins, from the same root as hilarious. It’s derived from Latin and Greek words meaning cheerful, glad, propitious, and joyful.
Early Christians adopted it to express their happiness and hope of salvation, and it was given to several saints.
As a surname, it’s associated with Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Mount Everest.
Your ancestors had to be striking to be given this name. In medieval times, it was a nickname for people who liked to dress all in red or who played the part of a cardinal in a pageant.
Or they were pompous and acted as lordly as a church dignitary. However you parse it, a Cardinal was a real character.
What Does Your Last Name Say About You?
Sure these twelve surnames stand out, but your surname meaning could very well be interesting too.
And it might hold clues to who your ancestors were. Could you be royal?
Find out what your last name says about you here.