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Last Names by Spoken Language

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June 17, 2013 by Turn The Page

In our last blog post, we explored what’s behind a surname. There is likely a good amount of history behind your last name, but it probably depends on the country from which it derived. Last names vary greatly by region and country. Take a look at how surnames have been created depending on a country’s spoken language.
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Arabic-Speaking Countries

Most last names in Arabic-speaking countries are denoted by the father’s first name and then his surname. Many last names begin with “Al-” meaning “The.” Like British-derived names, it is common for family names to be associated with an occupation.

English-Speaking Countries

Most surnames in Britain were adopted in the 1200s and 1300s and fall into different categories.

Occupations:

  • Baker, Hunger, Cook, Taylor, Porter, Wright, etc.

Places:

  • London, Hamilton, etc.

Geography:

  • Hill, Holmes, Hall, Brooks, Stone, Fields, etc.

Estate:

  • Castle, Manor, Windsor, etc.

Ancestral (from a person’s given name):

  • Richardson, Johnson, Madison, Adams, Davis, etc.

Characteristics:

  • Long, Brown, Young, White, etc.

French-Speaking Countries

Belgium

  • Belgian names are often similar to ones in the Netherlands, Germany and France, resulting in a very high variation of last names. Flemish surnames are also common in Belgium.

France

  • Most children take their father’s surname and were required by law to do so until 2005. Popular family names include Martin, Bernard, Thomas, Petit and Dubois. Women often take their husband’s last name when marrying, but it is not a legal obligation to do so.

French Canada

  • Originally, given names in French Canada included 3 parts: one indicating gender, one after the godfather or godmother and one to be used every day. Most surnames are now passed on from the father.

German-Speaking Countries

Like British-derived names, German last names often come from geography, occupations, physical characteristics or given names. In some countries, the family name is put in front of a given name. Other regions use “[Given name] of the Surname] Family” to emphasize affiliation.

Spanish-Speaking Countries

People typically have two surnames, one inherited paternally and one maternally. However, usually only one is used. Women have traditionally been known to keep their family name when marrying. In many Latin American countries, it is not uncommon for a woman to utilize both her family name and her married name by using the word “de” to connect the two.

One blog post is simply too short to include all types of last names and languages. We encourage you to do research to find the origin of your own surname. Take a look at our previous post about family trees for more information on where to start. One way to look into family history is by DNA testing at an ARCpoint Lab near you. If you have already know where your surname comes from, let us know in the comments below!

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