Learning where your last name comes from can be interesting. Your first name often holds an interesting meaning and descent, linking you to the founding fathers, Hebrew, or even the old Greek.
Your surname even more so. Since it’s passed on from father to child, it can be used to track back your family origins for hundreds of years. There’s a story behind your name and lineage, and with the internet in every household, these campfire tales have never been more within reach.
Genealogy and Etymology are two major fields of study, dedicated respectively to the lineage and linguistic origin of your names. In the past, Tina has already talked about fun sites to ‘calculate’ name characteristics, now it’s time to get serious.
Without a doubt, Namepedia is the single most extensive free name database to find out where your last name comes from. The reason, as you might have guessed from its name, is because it’s maintained by the community. Like Wikipedia, people can edit pages and add additional information.
Obviously, you need to look at the information with a skeptical eye. Although often swiftly corrected by other users, faulty information sometimes goes unnoticed. Before taking the second screenshot below, I admittedly deleted a (trivial) ‘Simon is a character in this soap opera” entry under “origins”.
Apart from those little, err… mistakes, Namepedia is an invaluable source of genealogical and etymological information. Apart from the default (originated from country a, and spread mid-1500 to country b), Namepedia provides an almost ridiculous amount of information.
Scrolling down, you’re met with a relations chart, connecting this and other names in terms of variation, translation, nick, opposite and pet-name. As opposed to the blue ones, pink boxes display related female names. Selecting any one will make the jump to the relevant page.
Further down, you’ll also find name dates, frequency rates, famous people, and another mention of related names, listed according to similarity. Find out how appreciated your name is, and the activity in different countries and languages, as well as the cycle in which it currently resides.
I was a little shocked to find out that my name was rated so-so, and appears to be fading around the world. Well, I guess that’s the risk of demanding information.
If you can’t find what you want on Namepedia, or like a lot of people, just don’t trust wiki’s, it’s time to venture elsewhere. Compared to Namepedia, Behind the Name is far off in quantity, but the information provided is solid. True, Behind the Name also allows people to contribute information, but not after a rigorous registration process (which tends to chase away the trolls and ignorant ‘contributors’).
At first glance, Behind the Name appears to offer little more than pronunciation and origin. At the far-right portion of the screen, you can summon popularity graphs (rank and percent used) from a number of different countries.
Also available are related names, and comments. These last can be incredibly interesting – they include unconfirmed information that has not (yet) been included on the page.
nameLAB is the odd one out on this list, but also a worthy mention. Primarily a ‘family’ site, FamilyEducation offers a little extra genealogical information, like popularity graphs and relation charts. Instead, this part of the site seems to be aimed at parents investigating baby names.
Albeit limited to, that doesn’t take away that the offered origin and meaning is often even more extensive than on Namepedia and Behind the Name. What the site misses in raw analytical data, it makes up in interesting facts and story-telling.
Of course the respective sites of genealogy and etymology aren’t limited to the above three mentions. Perhaps I even left out some of the best alternatives to find out where your last name comes from. Feel free to drop a comment of suggestion or appreciation below.