Sunday, September 5, 2010

Gary Brock's "Surnames and Their Meanings" Talk

written by Susi Pentico and Gary Brock, edited by Randy Seaver

CVGS President Gary Brock presented “Surnames – Origins and Meanings” at the August Weekender Program on Sunday, 29 August as a followup to the Surname Game played at the Annual Picnic, with about 30 people in attendance. Gary started his presentation by giving a history of the development of the use of names over history. He put up this nice word "Etymology."

He then gave us a history of language usage and name development. He explained the difference between a "common" name (given at birth) and a "Christian" name (given at baptism). Languages developed, not from an identifiable people or tribe, but rather in a group of loosely related peoples, still partially prehistoric, up until about 4,000 BC.

Gary showed a migration chart that depicted the migration paths of Homo Sapiens up out of Africa to the Middle East and then splitting, with one branch leading West into Europe and the other to the East. The chart showed that humans were in central Africa about 200,000 years ago, in the Middle East about 100,000 years ago, had migrated to East Asia by 40,000 years ago, and had migrated to the Americas by 15,000 years ago.

The earliest use of surnames was by the Chinese. Surnames were given so that the rulers could keep track of the people in their kingdom, region, or area. Soon, it became evident that they had to add another name to differentiate people with the same given name (e.g., taxes were collected, and one Henry claimed they paid when it was another Henry). By 1370, surnames were used through out most of Europe. Initially, people were named for either where they lived, what they did, or what they looked like. For instance, John who lives over the hill became John Overhill, Tom who lives at the Lang crossing of the river became Tom Langford, and Peter who lived near the woods became Peter Underwood. Patronymics were used in some areas, where the father’s given name was carried to the son (e.g., the son of Peter had a surname of Peterson).

Gary had created tables to define the origin and meaning of each of the surnames used in the Surname Game at the Picnic. Not everybody who played the game was at the talk, so he shared the information on the people who did attend the picnic. The first name shared was ERDMAN, which is also ARDTMAN and it means “armor.” He discussed the SMITH/SCHMIDT surname which covered many pages of data. The name SELF means servant; WEBER means a weaver of cloth; HOFFMAN is a farmer. He found nothing for BELLWOOD and two other names. He used Google, Ancestry and two or three other sites to find answers.

It was a very interesting talk because of the history of the human race and the language development was shared before the meaning of the various surnames.

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