A surname, family name, or last name is the portion (in some cultures) of a personal name that indicates a person's family (or tribe or community, depending on the culture). Depending on the culture, all members of a family unit may have identical surnames or there may be variations based on the cultural rules.
In the English-speaking world, a surname is commonly referred to as a last name because it is usually placed at the end of a person's full name, after any given names. In many parts of Asia, as well as some parts of Europe and Africa, the family name is placed before a person's given name. In most Spanish-speaking and Portuguese-speaking countries, two surnames are commonly used and in some families even three or more are used (often due to a family claim to nobility).
Surnames have not always existed and today are not universal in all cultures. This tradition has arisen separately in different cultures around the world. In Europe, the concept of surnames became popular in the Roman Empire and expanded throughout the Mediterranean and Western Europe as a result. During the Middle Ages this practice died out as Germanic, Persian, and other influences took hold. During the late Middle Ages surnames gradually re-emerged, first in the form of bynames (typically indicating an individual's occupation or area of residence) and gradually evolving into modern surnames. In China surnames have been the norm since at least the 2nd century BC.
A family name is typically a part of a person's personal name which, according to law or custom, is passed or given to children from one or both of their parents' family names. The use of family names is common in most cultures around the world, with each culture having its own rules as to how these names are formed, passed and used. However, the style of having both a family name (surname) and a given name (forename) is far from universal (see §History below). In many cultures, it is common for people to have one name or mononym, with some cultures not using family names. In most Slavic countries, as well as other countries including Greece, Lithuania and Latvia, for example, there are different family name forms for male and female members of the family. Issues of family name arise especially on the passing of a name to a newborn child, on the adoption of a common family name on marriage, on renouncing of a family name and on changing of a family name.
Surname laws vary around the world. Traditionally in many European countries for the past few hundred years, it was the custom or law that a woman would, upon marriage, use the surname of her husband, and that any children born would bear the father's surname. If a child's paternity was not known, or if the putative father denied paternity, the new-born child would have the surname of the mother. That is still the custom or law in many countries. The surname for children of married parents is usually inherited from the father. In recent years there has been a trend towards equality of treatment in relation to family names, with women being not automatically required or expected, or in some places even forbidden, to take the husband's surname on marriage, and children not automatically being given the father's surname. In this article, family name and surname both mean the patrilineal surname, handed down from or inherited from the father, unless explicitly stated otherwise. Thus, the term "maternal surname" means the patrilineal surname which one's mother inherited from either or both of her parents. For a discussion of matrilineal ('mother-line') surnames, passing from mothers to daughters, see matrilineal surname.
It is common for women in the entertainment industry (like celebrities) to keep their maiden name after they get married, especially if they achieved their fame before marriage. The same can be said for women who achieved their fame during a previous marriage; For example: Kris Jenner (born Kris Houghton) was married to her second spouse Caitlyn Jenner when she rose to prominence in the reality show Keeping Up with the Kardashians and singer Britney Spears has been married twice after she rose to prominence, but she still used her maiden name while married.
In English-speaking cultures, family names are often used by children when referring to adults but are also used to refer to someone in authority, the elderly, or in a formal setting, and are often used with a title or honorific such as Mr., Mrs., Ms., Miss, Doctor, and so on. Generally the given name is the one used by friends, family, and other intimates to address an individual. It may also be used by someone who is in some way senior to the person being addressed. This practice also differs between cultures; see T–V distinction.
The study of proper names (in family names, personal names, or places) is called onomastics. A one-name study is a collection of vital and other biographical data about all persons worldwide sharing a particular surname.
Order of names
In many cultures (particularly in European and European-influenced cultures in the Americas, Oceania, etc., as well as West Asia/North Africa, South Asia, and most Sub-Saharan African cultures), the surname or family name ("last name") is placed after the personal, forename (in Europe) or given name ("first name"). In other cultures the surname is placed first, followed by the given name or names. The latter is often called the Eastern naming order because Europeans are most familiar with the examples from the East Asian cultural sphere, specifically, Greater China, Korea (Republic of Korea and Democratic People's Republic of Korea), Japan, and Vietnam. This is also the case in Cambodia, Laos, parts of South India, Sri Lanka, and Madagascar. But there are parts of Europe that also follow the Eastern Order, such as Hungary, Austria and adjacent areas of Germany (that is, Bavaria),[note 1] Albania, Kosovo, and Romania.
Since family names are normally written last in European societies, the terms last name or surname are commonly used for the family name, while in Japan (with vertical writing) the family name may be referred to as upper name (ue-no-namae (上の名前)).
When people from areas using Eastern naming order write their personal name in the Latin alphabet, it is common to reverse the order of the given and family names for the convenience of Westerners, so that they know which name is the family name for official/formal purposes. Reversing the order of names for the same reason is also customary for the Baltic Fennic peoples and the Hungarians, but other Uralic peoples traditionally did not have surnames, perhaps because of the clan structure of their societies. The Samis saw no change or a transformation of their name. For example: some Sire became Siri, Hætta Jáhkoš Ásslat became Aslak Jacobsen Hætta — as was the norm. Recently, integration into the EU and increased communications with foreigners prompted many Samis to reverse the order of their full name to given name followed by surname, to avoid their given name being mistaken for and used as a surname.
Indian surnames may often denote caste, profession, and village and are invariably mentioned along with the personal names. However, hereditary last names are not universal. In Indian passports the surname is shown first. In telephone directories the surname is used for collation. In North Indian states the surname is placed after given names where it exists. In parts of south India, surname is placed before personal name and in most cases it is only shown as an initial (for example 'S.' for Suryapeth).
In English and other languages like Spanish—although the usual order of names is "first middle last"—for the purpose of cataloging in libraries and in citing the names of authors in scholarly papers, the order is changed to "last, first middle," with the last and first names separated by a comma, and items are alphabetized by the last name. In France, Italy, Spain, Belgium and Latin America, administrative usage is to put the surname before the first on official documents.
While the use of given names to identify individuals is attested in the oldest historical records, the advent of surnames is a relatively recent[when?] phenomenon. A four-year study led by the University of the West of England, which concluded in 2016, analysed sources dating from the 11th to the 19th century to explain the origins of the surnames in the British Isles. The study found that over 90% of the 45,602 surnames in the dictionary are native to Britain and Ireland, with the most common in the UK being Smith, Jones, Williams, Brown, Taylor, Davies, and Wilson. The findings have been published in the Oxford English Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland, with project leader, Professor Richard Coates calling the study "more detailed and accurate" than those before. He elaborated on the origins; "Some surnames have origins that are occupational – obvious examples are Smith and Baker. Other names can be linked to a place, for example Hill or Green, which relates to a village green. Surnames which are 'patronymic' are those which originally enshrined the father's name – such as Jackson, or Jenkinson. There are also names where the origin describes the original bearer such as Brown, Short, or Thin – though Short may in fact be an ironic 'nickname' surname for a tall person."
By 1400, most English and some Scottish people used surnames, but many Scottish and Welsh people did not adopt surnames until the 17th century, or later. Henry VIII (ruled 1509–1547) ordered that marital births be recorded under the surname of the father. In England and cultures derived from there, there has long been a tradition for a woman to change her surname upon marriage from her birth name to her husband's family name. (See Maiden and married names.) The first known instance in the United States of a woman insisting on the use of her birth name was that of Lucy Stone in 1855; and there has been a general increase in the rate of women using their birth name. This has gone through periods of flux, however, and the 1990s saw a decline in the percentage of name retention among women. As of 2006, more than 80% of American women adopted the husband's family name after marriage.
Many cultures have used and continue to use additional descriptive terms in identifying individuals. These terms may indicate personal attributes, location of origin, occupation, parentage, patronage, adoption, or clan affiliation. These descriptors often developed into fixed clan identifications that in turn became family names as we know them today.
In China, according to legend, family names started with Emperor Fu Xi in 2852 BC. His administration standardised the naming system in order to facilitate census-taking, and the use of census information. Originally, Chinese surnames were derived matrilineally, although by the time of the Shang dynasty (1600 to 1046 BCE) they had become patrilineal. Chinese women do not change their names upon marriage. They can be referred to either as their full birth names or as their husband's surname plus the word for wife. In the past, women's given names were often not publicly known and women were referred in official documents by their family name plus the character "Shi" and when married by their husband's surname, their birth surname, and the character "Shi".
In Ancient Greece, during some periods, formal identification commonly included place of origin. At other times clan names and patronymics ("son of") were also common, as in Aristides Lysimachu. For example, Alexander the Great was known as Heracleides, as a supposed descendant of Heracles, and by the dynastic name Karanos/Caranus, which referred to the founder of the dynasty to which he belonged. In none of these cases, though, were these names considered essential parts of the person's name, nor were they explicitly inherited in the manner that is common in many cultures today.
In the Roman Empire, the bestowal and use of clan and family names waxed and waned with changes in the various subcultures of the realm. (See Roman naming conventions.) The nomen, which was the gens name, was inherited much like last names are, but their purposes were quite different[how?]. In later[when?] Europe, last names were developed to distinguish between individuals. The nomen were to identify group kinship. The praenomen was the "forename" and was originally used like a first name today. In later times[when?], praenomen became less useful for distinguishing individuals as it was often passed down for males along with the nomen (like an entire culture where "John Smith, Jr." was the norm), and females, were often given no praenomen at all or functional names like Major and Minor ("Older" and "Younger") or Maxima, Maio, and Mino ("Biggest," "Middle," "Littlest") or ordinal numbers rather than what we might think of as names: Prima, Secunda, Tertia, Quarta, etc. Around this time,[when?] the nomen became followed by one or more additional names called cognomen. It became usual that one of these cognomen was inherited, but as the praenomen and nomen became more rigidly used and less useful for identifying individuals, additional personal cognomen were more often used, to the point that the first the praenomen and then the nomen fell out of use entirely.[when?] With the gradual influence of Greek and Christian culture throughout the Empire, Christian religious names were sometimes put in front of traditional cognomen, but eventually, people reverted to single names. By the time of the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century, family names were uncommon in the Eastern Roman Empire. In Western Europe, where Germanic culture dominated the aristocracy, family names were almost non-existent. They would not significantly reappear again in Eastern Roman society until the 10th century, apparently influenced by the familial affiliations of the Armenian military aristocracy. The practice of using family names spread through the Eastern Roman Empire and gradually into Western Europe, although it was not until the modern era that family names came to be explicitly inherited as they are today.
In Ireland, the use of surnames has a very old history. Ireland was the first country in Europe to use fixed surnames.
In England, the introduction of family names is generally attributed to the preparation of the Domesday Book in 1086, following the Norman conquest. Evidence indicates that surnames were first adopted among the feudal nobility and gentry, and slowly spread to other parts of society. Some of the early Norman nobility who arrived in England during the Norman conquest differentiated themselves by affixing 'de' (of) before the name of their village in France. This is what is known as a territorial surname, a consequence of feudal landownership. In medieval times in France, such a name indicated lordship, or ownership, of the village. Some early Norman nobles in England chose to drop the French derivations and call themselves instead after their new English holdings.
Surnames were uncommon prior to the 12th century, and still somewhat rare into the 13th; most European surnames were originally occupational or locational, and served to distinguish one person from another if they happened to live near one another (e.g., two different people named John could conceivably be identified as 'John Butcher' and 'John Chandler'). This still happens, in some communities where a surname is particularly common.
In the Middle Ages, when a man from a lower-status family married an only daughter from a higher-status family, he would often adopt the wife's family name. In the 18th and 19th centuries in Britain, bequests were sometimes made contingent upon a man's changing (or hyphenating) his family name, so that the name of the testator continued. It is rare but not unknown for an English-speaking man to take his wife's family name, whether for personal reasons or as a matter of tradition (such as among matrilineal Canadian aboriginal groups, such as the Haida and Gitxsan); it is exceedingly rare but does occur in the United States, where a married couple may choose an entirely new last name by going through a legal change of name. As an alternative, both spouses may adopt a double-barrelled name. For instance, when John Smith and Mary Jones marry each other, they may become known as "John Smith-Jones" and "Mary Smith-Jones". A spouse may also opt to use their birth name as a middle name. An additional option, although rarely practiced, is the adoption of a last name derived from a blend of the prior names, such as "Simones", which also requires a legal name change. Some couples keep their own last names but give their children hyphenated or combined surnames.
In medieval Spain, a patronymic system was used. For example, Álvaro, the son of Rodrigo would be named Álvaro Rodríguez. His son, Juan, would not be named Juan Rodríguez, but Juan Álvarez. Over time, many of these patronymics became family names and are some of the most common names in the Spanish-speaking world. Other sources of surnames are personal appearance or habit, e.g. Delgado ("thin") and Moreno ("dark"); geographic location or ethnicity, e.g. Alemán ("German"); or occupations, e.g. Molinero ("miller"), Zapatero ("shoe-maker") and Guerrero ("warrior"), although occupational names are much more often found in a shortened form referring to the trade itself, e.g. Molina ("mill"), Guerra ("war"), or Zapata (archaic form of zapato, "shoe").
During the modern era, many cultures around the world adopted family names, particularly for administrative reasons, especially during the age of European expansion and particularly since 1600. Notable examples include the Netherlands (1795–1811), Japan (1870s), Thailand (1920), and Turkey (1934). Nonetheless, their use is not universal: Icelanders, Burmese, Javanese, and many people groups in East Africa do not use family names.
Family names sometimes change or are replaced by non-family-name surnames under political pressure to avoid persecution. Examples are the cases with Chinese Indonesians and Chinese Thais after migration there during the 20th century, or the Jews who fled to different European countries to avoid persecution from the Nazis during World War II.
The United States followed the naming customs and practices of English common law and traditions until recent[when?] times. Beginning in the latter half of the 20th century, traditional naming practices, writes one commentator, were recognized as "com[ing] into conflict with current sensitivities about children's and women's rights". Those changes accelerated a shift away from the interests of the parents to a focus on the best interests of the child. The law in this area continues to evolve today mainly in the context of paternity and custody actions.
Upon marriage to a woman, men in the United States can easily change their surnames to that of their wives, or adopt a combination of both names with the federal government, through the Social Security Administration. Men may face difficulty doing so on the state level in some states. In some places, civil rights lawsuits or constitutional amendments changed the law so that men could also easily change their married names (e.g., in British Columbia and California). Québec law permits neither spouse to change surnames.
UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
In 1979, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women ("CEDAW"), which declared in effect that women and men, and specifically wife and husband, shall have the same rights to choose a "family name", as well as a profession and an occupation. For a further description of and treatment of this convention, see Matriname.
In France, until 1 January 2005, children were required by law to take the surname of their father. Article 311-21 of the French Civil code now permits parents to give their children the family name of either their father, mother, or a hyphenation of both – although no more than two names can be hyphenated. In cases of disagreement, the father's name applies. This brought France into line with a 1978 declaration by the Council of Europe requiring member governments to take measures to adopt equality of rights in the transmission of family names, a measure that was echoed by the United Nations in 1979. Similar measures were adopted by West Germany (1976), Sweden (1982), Denmark (1983) and Spain (1999). The European Community has been active in eliminating gender discrimination. Several cases concerning discrimination in family names have reached the courts. Burghartz v. Switzerland challenged the lack of an option for husbands to add the wife's surname to his surname, which they had chosen as the family name, when this option was available for women. Losonci Rose and Rose v. Switzerland challenged a prohibition on foreign men married to Swiss women keeping their surname if this option was provided in their national law, an option available to women. Ünal Tekeli v. Turkey challenged prohibitions on women using their surname as the family name, an option only available to men. The Court found all these laws to be in violation of the convention.
Classification of European Surnames
Basil Cottle classifies European surnames under four broad categories, depending on their origin: given name (patronymics), occupational name, local name (toponymics), and nickname. This classification can be extended to surnames originating elsewhere. Other name etymologists use a fuller classification, but these four types underlie them.
Derived from a given name
These are the oldest and most common type of surname. They may be a first name such as "Wilhelm", a patronymic such as "Andersen", a matronymic such as "Beaton", or a clan name such as "O'Brien". Multiple surnames may be derived from a single given name: e.g. there are thought to be over 90 Italian surnames based on the given name "Giovanni".
The Icelandic system, formerly used in much of Scandinavia, does not use family names. A person's last name indicates the first name of their father (patronymic) or in some cases mother (matronymic). Many common family names in other Scandinavian countries are a result of this naming practice, such as Hansen (son of Hans), Johansen (son of Johan) and Olsen (son of Ole/Ola), the three most common surnames in Norway. This also occurs in other cultures: Spanish and Portuguese (López or Lopes, son of Lope; Álvarez or Álvares, son of Álvaro; Domínguez or Domingues, son of Domingo or Domingos; etc.); Armenian (Gregoryan, son of Gregor; Petrossyan, son of Petros; etc.); in English (Johnson, son of John; Richardson, son of Richard), etc.
Patronymic name conventions are similar in some other nations, including Malaysia (see Malaysian name) and other Muslim countries, among most people of the Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala (unlike another Indian state Andhra Pradesh, where ancestral origin village names have become surnames for the people), in Mongolia and in the Scottish Gaelic personal naming system. In Russia and Bulgaria, both patronymic and family name are obligatory parts of one's full name: e.g. if a Russian is called Ivan Andreyevich Sergeyev, that means that his father's name is Andrey and his family name is Sergeyev. A similar system is used in Greece.
In Ethiopia and Eritrea, a child adopts the given name of one of their parents, usually the father, as a pseudo-surname. For example, Abraham Mesfin's father's first name would have been Mesfin, while Abraham Mesfin's child might be called "Netsanet Abraham". Just as in Iceland, referring to Abraham Mesfin as "Mr Mesfin" would be erroneous: the correct term would be "Mr Abraham". Very rarely do children adopt their mother's given name, who in any case would retain their "pseudo-surname".
In traditional Hebrew patronymic names, a male's given name is followed by ben (Hebrew: בֶּן, son of), and the father's name, e.g. Ben Adam (Hebrew: בן אדם) or Abraham ben Abraham. A woman's given name is similarly followed by bath, "daughter of" (also transcribed as bat), as in "Elishevah bath Shemuel," where Elishevah's father's given name is Shemuel. Ben also forms part of Hebrew names, e.g. Benjamin. Some modern Israeli last names are formed by using the Aramaic version of ben, Bar-, e.g. Meir Bar-Ilan. In Israel, traditional patronymic forms have become European-style patrilineal surnames. For example, Yoram ben Yehudah or Hannah Bar-Ilan may not be literally the son and daughter of Yehudah and Ilan, but rather the male and female descendants of men called, respectively, ben Yehudah and Bar-Ilan.
- Patronymics, matronymics or ancestral, often from a person's given name. e.g., from male name: Richardson, Stephenson, Jones (Welsh for John), Williams, Jackson, Wilson, Thompson, Benson, Johnson, Harris, Evans, Simpson, Willis, Fox, Davies, Reynolds, Adams, Dawson, Lewis, Rogers, Murphy, Morrow, Nicholson, Robinson, Powell, Ferguson, Davis, Edwards, Hudson, Roberts, Harrison, Watson, or female names Molson (from Moll for Mary), Madison (from Maud), Emmott (from Emma), Marriott (from Mary) or from a clan name (for those of Scottish origin, e.g., MacDonald, Forbes, Henderson, Armstrong, Grant, Cameron, Stewart, Douglas, Crawford, Campbell, Hunter) with "Mac" Gaelic for son.
- Patronal from patronage (Hickman meaning Hick's man, where Hick is a pet form of the name Richard) or strong ties of religion Kilpatrick (follower of Patrick) or Kilbride (follower of Bridget).
There is a wide range of family name affixes with a patronymic function. Some are prefixes (e.g., Gaelic mac) but more are suffixes.
Occupational names include such simple examples as Smith (for a smith), Miller (for a miller), Farmer (for tax farmers or sometimes farmers), Thatcher (for a thatcher), Shepherd (for a shepherd), Potter (for a potter), and so on, as well as non-English ones, such as the German Eisenhauer (iron hewer, later Anglicized in America as Eisenhower) or Schneider (tailor) – or, as in English, Schmidt (smith). There are also more complicated names based on occupational titles. In England it was common for servants to take a modified version of their employer's occupation or first name as their last name,[according to whom?] adding the letter s to the word, although this formation could also be a patronymic. For instance, the surname Vickers is thought to have arisen as an occupational name adopted by the servant of a vicar, while Roberts could have been adopted by either the son or the servant of a man named Robert. A subset of occupational names in English are names thought to be derived from the medieval mystery plays. The participants would often play the same roles for life, passing the part down to their oldest sons. Names derived from this may include King, Lord and Virgin. The original meaning of names based on medieval occupations may no longer be obvious in modern English (so the surnames Cooper, Chandler, and Cutler come from the occupations of making barrels, candles, and cutlery, respectively).
Archer, Bailey, Bailhache, Baker, Brewer, Butcher, Carpenter, Carter, Chandler, Clark or Clarke, Collier, Cooper, Cook or Cooke, Dempster, Dyer, Farmer, Faulkner, Fisher, Fletcher, Fowler, Fuller, Gardener, Glover, Hayward, Hawkins, Head, Hunt or Hunter, Judge, Knight, Mason, Miller, Mower, Page, Palmer, Parker, Porter, Potter, Reeve or Reeves, Sawyer, Shoemaker, Slater, Smith, Stringer, Taylor, Thatcher, Turner, Walker, Weaver, Woodman and Wright (or variations such as Cartwright and Wainwright).
Location (toponymic, habitation) names derive from the inhabited location associated with the person given that name. Such locations can be any type of settlement, such as: homesteads, farms, enclosures, villages, hamlets, strongholds or cottages. One element of a habitation name may describe the type of settlement. Examples of Old English elements are frequently found in the second element of habitational names. The habitative elements in such names can differ in meaning, according to different periods, different locations, or with being used with certain other elements. For example, the Old English element tūn may have originally meant "enclosure" in one name, but can have meant "farmstead", "village", "manor", or "estate" in other names.
Location names, or habitation names, may be as generic as "Monte" (Portuguese for "mountain"), "Górski" (Polish for "hill") or "Pitt" (variant of "pit"), but may also refer to specific locations. "Washington", for instance, is thought to mean "the homestead of the family of Wassa", while "Lucci" means "resident of Lucca". Although some surnames, such as "London", "Lisboa", or "Białystok" are derived from large cities, more people reflect the names of smaller communities, as in Ó Creachmhaoil, derived from a village in County Galway. This is thought to be due to the tendency in Europe during the Middle Ages for migration to chiefly be from smaller communities to the cities and the need for new arrivals to choose a defining surname.
In Portuguese-speaking countries, it is uncommon, but not unprecedented, to find surnames derived from names of countries, such as Portugal, França, Brasil, Holanda. Surnames derived from country names are also found in English, such as "England", "Wales", "Spain".
Many Japanese surnames derive from geographical features; for example, Ishikawa (石川) means "stone river", Yamamoto (山本) means "the base of the mountain", and Inoue (井上) means "above the well".
Arabic names sometimes contain surnames that denote the city of origin. For example, in cases of Saddam Hussein al Tikriti, meaning Saddam Hussein originated from Tikrit, a city in Iraq. This component of the name is called a nisbah.
- Habitation (place) names e.g., Burton, Hamilton, London, Leighton, Murray, Sutton, Flint, Laughton
- Estate names For those descended from land-owners, the name of their holdings, castle, manor or estate, e.g. Ernle, Windsor, Staunton
- Topographic names (geographical features) e.g., Bridge, Camp, Hill, Bush, Lake, Lee, Wood, Grove, Holmes, Forest, Underwood, Hall, Brook or Brooks, Fields, Stone, Morley, Moore, Perry
Derived from a nickname
This is the broadest class of surnames, encompassing many types of origin. These include names, also known as eke-names, based on appearance such as "Schwartzkopf", "Short", and possibly "Caesar", and names based on temperament and personality such as "Daft", "Gutman", and "Maiden", which, according to a number of sources, was an English nickname meaning "effeminate".
Ornamental names used as surnames are more common in communities which adopted (or were forced to adopt) surnames in the 18th and 19th centuries. They occur commonly in Scandinavia, among Sinti and Roma and Jews in Germany and Austria. Examples include "Steinbach" ("derived from a place called Steinbach"), "Rosenberg" ("rose mountain"), and "Winterstein" (derived from a place called Winterstein). Forced adoption in 19th century is the source of German, Polish and even Italian ornamental surnames for Latvians such as "Rozentāls (Rosental)" ("rose valley"), "Eizenbaums (Eisenbaum") ("steel wood"), "Freibergs (Freiberg)" ("free mountain"). In some cases, such as Chinese Indonesians and Chinese Thais, certain ethnic groups are subject to political pressure to change their surnames, in which case surnames can lose their family-name meaning. For instance, Indonesian business tycoon Liem Swie Liong (林绍良) "indonesianised" his name to Sudono Salim. In this case "Liem" (林) was rendered by "Salim", a name of Arabic origin, while "Sudono", a Javanese name with the honorific prefix "su-" (of Sanskrit origin), was supposed[by whom?] to be a rendering of "Swie Liong".
During the era of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade many Africans lost their native names and were forced by their owners to take the owners' surnames and any given name the "owner" or slave master desired. In the Americas, the family names of many African-Americans have their origins in slavery (i.e. slave name). Many of them came to bear the surnames of their former owners. Many freed slaves either created family names themselves or adopted the name of their former master.
Gender-specific versions of surname
In some cultures and languages, especially most of Slavic languages (such as Bulgarian, Russian, Slovak, Czech, etc.) and some other nations – Greece, Iceland, Latvia and Lithuania – surnames change form depending on the gender of the bearer.
Some Slavic cultures distinguished originally daughter surnames from wife surnames by different suffixes, but this distinction is mostly abandoned. In Slavic languages, substantivized adjective surnames have commonly symmetrical adjective variants for males and females (Podwiński/Podwińska in Polish, Nový/Nová in Czech or Slovak etc.). In case of nominative and quasi-nominative surnames, the female variant is derived from the male variant by a possessive suffix (Novák/Nováková, Hromada/Hromadová). In Czech and Slovak, the pure possessive would be Novákova, Hromadova, but the surname evoluted to a more adjectivized form Nováková, Hromadová, to suppress the historical possessivity. Some rare types of surnames are universal and gender-neutral: in Czech language e.g. Janů, Martinů, Fojtů, Kovářů etc., which are archaic form of possessive, related to plural name of the family. Such rare surnames are also often used for transgender persons during transition, because most of common surnames are gender-specific. Some Czech dialects (Southwest-Bohemian) use the form "Novákojc" as informal for both genders. In culture of Sorbs (Lusatians), Sorbian used different female form for unmarried daughters (Jordanojc, Nowcyc, Kubašec, Markulic), and different form for wives (Nowakowa, Budarka, Nowcyna, Markulina). In Polish, typical daughter surnames ended -ówna, -anka or -ianka, while wife surnames used possessive suffixes -ina or -owa. Informal dialectal female form in Polish and Czechs dialects was also -ka (Pawlaczka, Kubeška). Polish language tends to abandon both form of feminized surnames. In Czech language, a trend to use male surnames for women is popular among cosmopolitans or celebrities, but is often criticized from patriotic views and can be seen as ridiculous and as degradation and disruption of Czech grammar. Adaptation of surnames of foreign women by suffix "-ová" is currently a hot linguistic and political question in Czechia; is massively advocated as well as criticized and opposed.
Generally, inflected languages use names and surnames as living words, not as static identifiers. Thus, the pair or the family can be named by plural form which can differ from the singular male and female form. E.g., when the male form is Novák and the female form Nováková, the family name is Novákovi in Czech and Novákovci in Slovak. When male form is Hrubý and female form is Hrubá, the plural family name is Hrubí (or "rodina Hrubých").
In Greece, if a man called Papadopoulos has a daughter, she will likely be named Papadopoulou (if the couple have decided their offspring will take his surname), the genitive form, as if the daughter is "of" a man named Papadopoulos.
In Lithuania, if the husband is named Vilkas, his wife will be named Vilkienė and his daughter will be named Vilkaitė. Male surnames have suffixes -as, -is, -ius, or -us, unmarried girl surnames aitė, -ytė, -iūtė or -utė, wife surnames -ienė.
Latvian uses strictly feminized surnames for women, even in case of foreign names. The function of the suffix is purely grammar. Male surnames ending -e or -a need not to be modified for women. An exception is: 1) the female surnames which correspond to nouns in the sixth declension with the ending "-s" – "Iron", ("iron"), "rock", 2) as well as surnames of both genders, which are written in the same nominative case because corresponds to nouns in the third declension ending in "-us" "Grigus", "Markus"; 3) surnames based on an adjective have indefinite suffixes typical of adjectives "-s, -a" ("Stalts", "Stalta") or the specified endings "-ais, -ā" ("Čaklais", "Čaklā") ("diligent").
In Iceland, surnames have a gender-specific suffix (-dóttir = daughter, -son = son).
Finnish language used gender-specific sufix up to 1929, when the Marriage Act forced women to use the husband's form of surname. In 1985, this sentence was released from the act.
The meanings of some names are unknown or unclear. The most common European name in this category may be the English (Irish derivative) name Ryan, which means 'little king' in Irish. Also, Celtic origin of the name Arthur, meaning 'bear'. Other surnames may have arisen from more than one source: the name De Luca, for instance, likely arose either in or near Lucania or in the family of someone named Lucas or Lucius; in some instances, however, the name may have arisen from Lucca, with the spelling and pronunciation changing over time and with emigration. The same name may appear in different cultures by coincidence or romanization; the surname Lee is used in English culture, but is also a romanization of the Chinese surname Li. Surname origins have been the subject of much folk etymology.
In French Canada until the 19th century, several families adopted surnames that followed the family name in order to distinguish the various branches of a large family. Such a surname was preceded by the word dit ('so-called,' lit.'said') and was known as a nom-dit ('said-name'). (Compare with some Roman naming conventions.) While this tradition is no longer in use, in many cases the nom-dit has come to replace the original family name. Thus the Bourbeau family has split into Bourbeau dit Verville, Bourbeau dit Lacourse, and Bourbeau dit Beauchesne. In many cases Verville, Lacourse, or Beauchesne has become the new family name. Likewise, the Rivard family has split into the Rivard dit Lavigne, Rivard dit Loranger and Rivard dit Lanoie. The origin of the nom-dit can vary. Often it denoted a geographical trait of the area where that branch of the family lived: Verville lived towards the city, Beauchesne lived near an oak tree, Larivière near a river, etc. Some of the oldest noms-dits are derived from the war name of a settler who served in the army or militia: Tranchemontagne ('mountain slasher'), Jolicœur ('braveheart'). Others denote a personal trait: Lacourse might have been a fast runner, Legrand was probably tall, etc. Similar in German it is with "genannt" – "Vietinghoff genannt Scheel".
While in many countries surnames are usually one word, in others a surname may contain two words or more, as described below.
Spanish compound surnames
In traditional Spanish culture, and as is still the case in many Spanish-speaking countries, an individual does not have only a single surname. Instead an individual inherits the surnames of all of their ancestors, in particular their father and mother. In practice individuals mostly use only the two surnames of their parents. For instance, Spanish ex-premier José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has José Luis as his given name, Rodríguez, as his first (i.e. paternal) surname, and Zapatero as his second (i.e. maternal) surname. But in reality an individual can be referred to by any number of his or her surnames as the occasion may require. For example, Rodríguez Zapatero could also be referred to as
- José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero García Valero García Asensio
Additional surnames refer to grandmothers, great-grandmothers, and so forth. The number of surnames a person has is theoretically unlimited though it is rare to use more than a few (and indeed an individual may not know more than a few of his or her ancestors' names).
This custom is not seen in the Hispanic world as being a true compound surname system per se, since it is widely understood that the first surname denotes one's father's family, and the second surname denotes one's mother's family. So "Rodríguez Zapatero" is not considered one surname; it is two distinct surnames. Given that it is not a true compound surname, his children do not inherit the "compound" surname "Rodríguez Zapatero". Only the paternal surname of both father and mother are passed on. The father's paternal surname becomes the child's own paternal surname, while the mother's paternal surname becomes the child's second surname (as the child's own maternal surname). Thus, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero would pass on only Rodríguez to his children as their first (i.e. paternal) surname.
An additional complication is introduced by marriage. Rodríguez Zapatero's wife was born Sonsoles Espinosa Díaz. Under Spanish tradition she is still known by that name, even after marriage. But she may also be known as
- Sonsoles Espinosa Díaz de Rodríguez
- Sonsoles Espinosa de Rodríguez
- Sonsoles de Rodríguez
These other forms, particularly the last, are becoming less common[when?] as they are increasingly seen as sexist (i.e. that a wife is expected to take her husband's name but not the other way around). Additionally, in Spain and some other countries it is becoming more common, in law and in practice, to allow placing the mother's name before the father's in a child's surname rather than insisting that the privilege belongs exclusively to the father.
True compound surnames
Beyond this seemingly "compound" surname system in the Hispanic world, there are also true compound surnames in the Spanish-speaking countries. These true compound surnames are passed on and inherited as compounds. For instance, former Chairman of the Supreme Military Junta of Ecuador, General Luis Telmo Paz y Miño Estrella, has Luis as his first given name, Telmo as his middle name, the true compound surname Paz y Miño as his first (i.e. paternal) surname, and Estrella as his second (i.e. maternal) surname.
Luis Telmo Paz y Miño Estrella is also known more casually as Luis Paz y Miño, Telmo Paz y Miño, or Luis Telmo Paz y Miño. He would never be regarded as Luis Estrella, Telmo Estrella, or Luis Telmo Estrella, nor as Luis Paz, Telmo Paz, or Luis Telmo Paz. This is because "Paz" alone is not his surname (although other people use the "Paz" surname on its own).
 In this case, Paz y Miño is in fact the paternal surname, being a true compound surname. His children, therefore, would inherit the compound surname "Paz y Miño" as their paternal surname, while Estrella would be lost, since the mother's paternal surname becomes the children's second surname (as their own maternal surname). "Paz" alone would not be passed on, nor would "Miño" alone.
To avoid ambiguity, one might often informally see these true compound surnames hyphenated, for instance, as Paz-y-Miño. This is true especially in the English-speaking world, but also sometimes even in the Hispanic world, since to many Hispanics unfamiliar with this and other compound surnames, "Paz y Miño" might be inadvertently mistaken as "Paz" for the paternal surname and "Miño" for the maternal surname. Although Miño did start off as the maternal surname in this compound surname, it was many generations ago, around five centuries, that it became compounded, and henceforth inherited and passed on as a compound.
Other surnames which started off as compounds of two or more surnames, but which merged into one single word, also exist. An example would be the surname Pazmiño, whose members are related to the Paz y Miño, as both descend from the "Paz Miño" family of five centuries ago.
Álava, Spain is known for its incidence of true compound surnames, characterized for having the first portion of the surname as a patronymic, normally a Spanish patronymic (i.e. from the Castilian language) or more unusually a Basque language patronymic, followed by the preposition "de", with the second part of the surname being a local toponymic surname from Álava.
English compound surnames
Compound surnames in English and several other European cultures feature two (or occasionally more) words, often joined by a hyphen or hyphens. However, it is not unusual for compound surnames to be composed of separate words not linked by a hyphen, for example Iain Duncan Smith, a former leader of the British Conservative Party, whose surname is "Duncan Smith". A surname with the prefix "Fitz" can be spelled with the prefix as a separate word, as in "Fitz William", as well as "FitzWilliam" or "Fitzwilliam". Like, for example, Robert FitzRoy.
Scottish and Irish compound surnames
Irish surnames are the oldest surnames in Europe. The common prefixes "Ó" and "Mac" can be spelled with the prefix as a separate word, yielding "Ó Briain" or "Mac Millan" as well as the anglicized "O'Brien" and "MacMillan" or "Macmillan".
Chinese compound surnames
Culture and prevalence
In the United States, 1,712 surnames cover 50% of the population, and about 1% of the population has the surname Smith, which is also the most frequent English name and an occupational name ("metal worker"), a contraction, for instance, of blacksmith or other metalsmiths. Several American surnames are a result of corruptions or phonetic misappropriations of European surnames, perhaps as a result of the registration process at the immigration entry points. Spellings and pronunciations of names remained fluid in the United States until the Social Security System enforced standardization.
Approximately 70% of Canadians have surnames that are of English, Irish, French, or Scottish derivation.
According to some estimates, 85% of China's population shares just 100 surnames. The names Wang (王), Zhang (张) and Li (李) are the most frequent.
In Spain and in most Spanish-speaking countries, the custom is for people to have two surnames. Usually the first surname comes from the father and the second from the mother, but it could be the other way round. When speaking or in informal situations only the first one is used, although both are needed for legal purpose. A child's first surname will usually be their father's first surname, while the child's second surname will usually be the mother's first surname. For example, if José García Torres and María Acosta Gómez had a child named Pablo, then his full name would be Pablo García Acosta. One family member's relationship to another can often be identified by the various combinations and permutations of surnames.
|José García Torres||María Acosta Gómez|
|Pablo García Acosta|
In some instances, when an individual's given name and first family name are too common (such as in José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and Mario Vargas Llosa), both family names are used (though not necessarily both given names). A person could even take the maternal name for informal situations instead of the paternal name, for personal preferences or if the maternal name is somehow "special" (José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero is known in Spanish as "José Luis Zapatero" or just as "Zapatero"). In Spain, a new law approved in 1999 allows an adult to change the order of his/her family names, and parents can also change the order of their children's family names if they (and the child, if over 12) agree.
In Spain, especially Catalonia, the paternal and maternal surnames are often combined using the conjunction y ("and" in Spanish) or i ("and" in Catalan), see for example the economist Xavier Sala-i-Martin or painter Salvador Dalí i Domènech.
In Spain, a woman does not change her legal surnames when she marries. In some Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America, a woman may, on her marriage, drop her mother's surname and add her husband's surname to her father's surname using the preposition de ("of"), del ("of the", when the following word is masculine) or de la ("of the", when the following word is feminine). For example, if "Clara Reyes Alba" were to marry "Alberto Gómez Rodríguez", the wife could use "Clara Reyes de Gómez" as her name (or "Clara Reyes Gómez", or, rarely, "Clara Gómez Reyes". She can be addressed as Sra. de Gómez corresponding to "Mrs Gómez"). In some countries, this form may be mainly social and not an official name change, i.e. her name would still legally be her birth name. This custom of adding the husband's surname is slowly fading.
Sometimes a father transmits his combined family names, thus creating a new one e.g., the paternal surname of the son of Javier (given name) Reyes (paternal family name) de la Barrera (maternal surname) may become the new paternal surname Reyes de la Barrera. De is also the nobiliary particle used with Spanish surnames. This can not be chosen by the person, as it is part of the surname, for example "Puente" and "Del Puente" are not the same surname.
Children take the surnames of both parents, so if the couple above had two children named "Andrés" and "Ana", then their names would be "Andrés Gómez Reyes" and "Ana Gómez Reyes". In Spain, a 1995 reform in the law allows the parents to choose whether the father's or the mother's surname goes first, although this order must be the same for all their children. For instance, the name of the son of the couple in the example above could be either "Andrés Gómez Reyes" or "Andrés Reyes Gómez". Sometimes, for single mothers or when the father would or could not recognize the child, the mother's surname has been used twice: for example, "Ana Reyes Reyes". In Spain, however, children with just one parent receive both surnames of that parent, although the order may also be changed. In 1973 in Chile, the law was changed to avoid stigmatizing illegitimate children with the maternal surname repeated.
Some Hispanic people, after leaving their country, drop their maternal surname, even if not formally, so as to better fit into the non-Hispanic society they live or work in. Dropping the paternal surname is not unusual when it is a very common one. For instance, painter Pablo Ruiz Picasso and Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero are known by their maternal surnames as "Picasso" and "Zapatero". Similarly, Anglophones with just one surname may be asked to provide a second surname on official documents in Spanish-speaking countries. When none (such as the mother's maiden name) is provided, the last name may simply be repeated.
Traditionally in most countries, and currently in some Spanish-speaking countries, women, upon marrying, keep their own family names. It is considered impolite towards her family for a woman to change her name. The higher class women of Cuba and Spain traditionally never change their names. In certain rare situations, a woman may be addressed with her paternal surname followed by her husband's paternal surname linked with de. For example, a woman named Ana García Díaz, upon marrying Juan Guerrero Macías, could be called Ana García de Guerrero. This custom, begun in medieval times, is decaying and only has legal validity in Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Peru, Panama, and to a certain extent in Mexico (where it is optional but becoming obsolete), but is frowned upon by people in Spain, Cuba, and elsewhere. In Peru and the Dominican Republic, women normally conserve all family names after getting married. For example, if Rosa María Pérez Martínez marries Juan Martín De la Cruz Gómez, she will be called Rosa María Pérez Martínez de De la Cruz, and if the husband dies, she will be called Rosa María Pérez Martínez Vda. de De la Cruz (Vda. being the abbreviation for viuda, "widow" in Spanish). The law in Peru changed some years ago, and all married women can keep their maiden last name if they wish with no alteration.
In some churches, such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where the family structure is emphasized, as well as legal marriage, the wife is referred to as "hermana" [sister] plus the surname of her husband. And most records of the church follow that structure as well.
A new trend in the United States for Hispanics is to hyphenate their father's and mother's last names. This is done because American born English-speakers are not aware of the Hispanic custom of using two last names and thus mistake the first last name of the individual for a middle name. In doing so they would, for example, mistakenly refer to Esteban Álvarez Cobos as Esteban A. Cobos. Such confusion can be particularly troublesome in official matters. To avoid such mistakes, Esteban Álvarez Cobos, would become Esteban Álvarez-Cobos, to clarify that both are last names.
In Spanish villages in Catalonia, Galicia, and Asturias and in Cuba, people are often known by the name of their dwelling or collective family nickname rather than by their surnames. For example, Remei Pujol i Serra who lives at Ca l'Elvira would be referred to as "Remei de Ca l'Elvira"; and Adela Barreira López who is part of the "Provisores" family would be known as "Adela dos Provisores". In the case of Cantabria the family's nickname is used instead of the surname: if one family is known as "Ñecos" because of an ancestor who was known as "Ñecu", they would be "José el de Ñecu" or "Ana la de Ñecu" (collective: the Ñeco's). Some common nicknames are "Rubiu" (blonde or ginger hair), "Roju" (reddish, as referred to ginger hair), "Chiqui" (small), "Jinchu" (big), and a bunch of names about certain characteristics, family relationship or geographical origin (pasiegu, masoniegu, sobanu, llebaniegu, tresmeranu, pejinu, naveru, merachu, tresneru, troule, mallavia, marotias, llamoso, lipa, ñecu, tarugu, trapajeru, lichón, andarível).
In the case of Portuguese naming customs, the main surname (the one used in alphasorting, indexing, abbreviations, and greetings), appears last.
Each person usually has two family names: though the law specifies no order, the first one is usually the maternal family name, whereas the last one is commonly the paternal family name. In Portugal, a person's full name has a minimum legal length of two names (one given name and one family name from either parent) and a maximum of six names (two first names and four surnames – he or she may have up to four surnames in any order desired picked up from the total of his/her parents and grandparents' surnames). The use of any surname outside this lot, or of more than six names, is legally possible, but it requires dealing with bureaucracy. Parents or the person him/herself must explain the claims they have to bearing that surname (a family nickname, a rare surname lost in past generations, or any other reason one may find suitable). In Brazil there is no limit of surnames used.
In general, the traditions followed in countries like Brazil, Portugal and Angola are somewhat different from the ones in Spain. In the Spanish tradition, usually the father's surname comes first, followed by the mother's surname, whereas in Portuguese-speaking countries the father's name is the last, mother's coming first. A woman may adopt her husband's surname(s), but nevertheless she usually keeps her birth names, or at least the last one. Since 1977, a husband can also adopt his wife's surname. When this happens, usually both spouses change their name after marriage.
The custom of a woman changing her name upon marriage is recent. It spread in the late 19th century in the upper classes, under French influence, and in the 20th century, particularly during the 1930s and 1940, it became socially almost obligatory. Nowadays, fewer women adopt, even officially, their husbands' names, and among those who do so officially, it is quite common not to use it either in their professional or informal life.
The children usually bear only the last surnames of the parents (i.e., the paternal surname of each of their parents). For example, Carlos da Silva Gonçalves and Ana Luísa de Albuquerque Pereira (Gonçalves) (in case she adopted her husband's name after marriage) would have a child named Lucas Pereira Gonçalves. However, the child may have any other combination of the parents' surnames, according to euphony, social significance or other reasons. For example, is not uncommon for the first born male to be given the father's full name followed by "Júnior" or "Filho" (son), and the next generation's first born male to be given the grandfather's name followed by "Neto" (grandson). Hence Carlos da Silva Gonçalves might choose to name his first born son Carlos da Silva Gonçalves Júnior, who in turn might name his first born son Carlos da Silva Gonçalves Neto, in which case none of the mother's family names are passed on.
|Carlos da Silva Gonçalves||Ana Luísa de Albuquerque Pereira|
|Lucas Pereira Gonçalves|
In ancient times a patronymic was commonly used – surnames like Gonçalves ("son of Gonçalo"), Fernandes ("son of Fernando"), Nunes ("son of Nuno"), Soares ("son of Soeiro"), Sanches ("son of Sancho"), Henriques ("son of Henrique"), Rodrigues ("son of Rodrigo") which along with many others are still in regular use as very prevalent family names.
In Medieval times, Portuguese nobility started to use one of their estates' names or the name of the town or village they ruled as their surname, just after their patronymic. Soeiro Mendes da Maia bore a name "Soeiro", a patronymic "Mendes" ("son of Hermenegildo ��� shortened to Mendo") and the name of the town he ruled "Maia". He was often referred to in 12th-century documents as "Soeiro Mendes, senhor da Maia", Soeiro Mendes, lord of Maia. Noblewomen also bore patronymics and surnames in the same manner and never bore their husband's surname. First-born males bore their father's surname, other children bore either both or only one of them at their will.
Only during the Early Modern Age, lower-class males started to use at least one surname; married lower-class women usually took up their spouse's surname, since they rarely ever used one beforehand. After the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, Portuguese authorities realized the benefits of enforcing the use and registry of surnames. Henceforth, they became mandatory, although the rules for their use were very liberal.
Until the end of the 19th century it was common for women, especially those from a very poor background, not to have a surname and so to be known only by their first names. A woman would then adopt her husband's full surname after marriage. With the advent of republicanism in Brazil and Portugal, along with the institution of civil registries, all children now have surnames. During the mid-20th century, under French influence and among upper classes, women started to take up their husbands' surname(s). From the 1960s onwards, this usage spread to the common people, again under French influence, this time, however, due to the forceful legal adoption of their husbands' surname which was imposed onto Portuguese immigrant women in France.
From the 1974 Carnation Revolution onwards the adoption of their husbands' surname(s) receded again, and today both the adoption and non-adoption occur, with non-adoption being chosen in the majority of cases in recent years (60%). Also, it is legally possible for the husband to adopt his wife's surname(s), but this practice is rare.
- Generation name
- Given name
- Legal name
- List of family name affixes
- Lists of most common surnames
- Maiden and married names
- Name blending
- Name change
- Nobiliary particle
- One-name study
- Patronymic surname
- Personal name
- Skin name
- Surname extinction
- Surname map
- Surname law
- Surnames by country
- Naming law
- T–V distinction
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- Blark. Gregory, et al. The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility (Princeton University Press; 2014) 384 pages; uses statistical data on family names over generations to estimate social mobility in diverse societies and historical periods.
- Cottle, Basil. Penguin Dictionary of Surnames (1967)
- Hanks, Patrick and Hodges, Flavia. A Dictionary of Surnames (Oxford University Press, 1989)
- Hanks, Patrick, Richard Coates and Peter McClure, eds. The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland (Oxford University Press, 2016), which has a lengthy introduction with much comparative material.
- Reaney, P.H., and Wilson, R.M. A Dictionary of English Surnames (3rd ed. Oxford University Press, 1997)
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- Wilkinson, Hugh E. (December 2010). "Some Common English Surnames: Especially Those Derived from Personal Names" (PDF). Aoyama Keiei Ronshu. 45 (3). Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 January 2013.
- Family Facts Archive, Ancestry.com, including UK & US census distribution, immigration, and surname origins (Dictionary of American Family Names, Oxford University Press)
- Guild of One-Name Studies
- Neil Summers (4 November 2006). "Welsh surnames and their meaning". Amlwch history databases. Retrieved 19 September 2008.
- History of Jewish family Names
- Dictionnaire des noms de famille de France et d'ailleurs, French surname dictionary
- Information on surname history and origins
- Most used names in India, world's 2nd most populated country
- Short explanation of Polish surname endings and their origin
- Italian Surnames, free searchable online database of Italian surnames.
- Comprehensive surname information and resource site