Strangely Appropriate Surnames – And What Yours Says About You

Surnames
11 May 2017
by Rebecca Dalzell

Usain Bolt, the eight-time Olympic gold medalist sprinter, could not have a more fitting name. “Bolt” is Old English for arrow.

And he is just one of the many people who have aptronyms—names well-suited to their owner.

Is it just coincidence or is there a deeper tie between your last name and your life choices?

Let’s take a look at the fascinating historical and recent evidence for clues.


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Study Finds Connection Between Names, What You Do & Where You Live

A 2002 study by social psychologists Brett W. Pelham, Matthew C. Mirenberg, and John T. Jones used Ancestry’s data and social security death index records to study the connection between names and where people live.

Here’s their surprising discovery:  They found that people are disproportionately likely to live in places whose names resemble their own first or last names.

People named Virginia, for example, are disproportionately more likely to move to Virginia than other neighboring states.

The study authors also found some evidence that people’s first initial often matched the name of their field.

People with names that begin with “H,” for example, seemed more likely to work in hardware.

While the results were not conclusive, there are some fascinating examples from history of people with strangely appropriate surnames.

Faux Connections Between Surnames and Occupation

In some cases, names seem perfectly appropriate for a person’s occupation yet the original meaning of the surname is not really related.

Here are some fascinating examples:

There’s William Wordsworth, the Romantic poet. Interestingly, the meaning of the surname is not connected to words. The etymology of his name is unclear, but it may be related to the Dutch place names Woord or English towns named Worth.

Frances Crook is a British prison reformer. It seems like the perfect surname, yet the origin of the last name Crook is not related to criminal activity at all. Instead, the Old Norse name was given to people with a physical deformity—a “crook” or bend—or who lived by a bend in the road.

Larry Speakes was a spokesman for President Ronald Reagan. While this seems to be just the right name for a spokesman, the name actually derives from a Middle English nickname for someone who resembled a woodpecker.

Rem Koolhaas was a Dutch architect who may have been inspired by his surname to design cool houses. But his name is probably a shortening of the Dutch personal name Nikoolaas.

In other cases, your last name at least tells you exactly what your family historically did for a living.


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Surnames Tied to Historical Occupations

Historically, occupational names identified people based on their job or position in society. Here are a few examples of family names based on occupations:

Becker (baker)

Boucher (butcher)

Cantor (singer)

Conte (count)

Herrera (smith)

Lanaro (wool trader)

Mullins (miller)

Romero (pilgrim)

Schneider (tailor)


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    Enter your last name to learn your ancestors’ occupations.
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Could your last name be telling you that you come from a long line of bakers or artists or adventurers? 

Try plugging your surname into the Ancestry Last Names Meanings and Origins widget. For example, type in the surname “Weber,” and you’ll see it’s a German occupational name for a weaver.

Discover your family story.