What's in a name?
July 18, 2003 9:32 AM   Subscribe

What does your last name mean? This site has a good variety of surnames with etymologies that seem to be trustworthy in general. You may have to try variant spellings; for instance, "Cardoso" comes up empty, but "Cardozo" gives:
Spanish and Portuguese, derived from Cardoso 'place where thistles grew', town or city from which the first bearer moved; also found in the form CARDOZA; made popular by the Sephardim moiety (Spanish-Portuguese group of Jews).
And if your name isn't there, you can try Behind the Name, which depends on submissions from readers and so is spottier, but has (for example) Nixon ("son of Nicholas"), which vitalog omits. Enjoy!
posted by languagehat (52 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
GOLDFINGER :
German-Jewish, compound name favorite with the Jews, often formed by combining two pleasant words.
posted by the fire you left me at 9:37 AM on July 18, 2003


Majewski: Italian, designating a person born in May.

And I thought my in-laws were Polish. Silly me!
posted by Holden at 9:38 AM on July 18, 2003


Borgmann (German) - Not found in either site.

Though, I looked it up in the German Dictionary:

Borg - Credit or To Borrow
Mann - Man

Borrowing man.

Pretty fitting since I have a nice debt load from Credit Cards.
posted by da5id at 9:39 AM on July 18, 2003


Kind of interesting:

HITLER :
German, originally designated the 'supervisor of saltworks'; after the World War II families named Hitler hurried to change their names, and today very few Hitlers are left to endure senseless insults.


MUSSOLINI :
Italian, 1) translates to 'gnat'; applied as a nickname implying real or fancied resemblance to the insect; 2) in some cases the name means the 'rear end of something' plus a diminutive ending.

posted by angry modem at 9:43 AM on July 18, 2003


what's this got to do with bush?
[ducks and grins]
posted by quonsar at 9:43 AM on July 18, 2003


That's fascinating, da5id. My first car loan was from a company called Borg-Warner. I was an irresponsible lad, just out of college, and I got monthly phone calls from a courteous collection agent (it was always the same guy), asking when I was going to get around to mailing a check. He would gently warn me of the consequence of not paying. And so the name Borg-Warner -- "Credit-Warner" -- was the perfect name for my lender. I wonder if that was deliberate. Surely not...
posted by Holden at 9:46 AM on July 18, 2003


Nixon is available under Nix.

NIX :
English, produced by the first part of Nicholas 'people's victory', a popular saint's name known throughout the Western World. St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra in the fourth century, was the popular patron saint of children. NIXON English, produced by the first part of Nicholas 'people's victory', a popular saint's name known throughout the Western World. St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra in the fourth century, was the popular patron saint of children.
posted by nyxxxx at 9:46 AM on July 18, 2003


Well, neither of the two sites has 'O'Neill', which miffs me quite a bit. Mostly because it's very likely that a yet another boneheaded web programmer has forgotten how to parse apostrophes. (don't get me started on that one.

Doing some googling I found this page which quickly reminded me why geneology puts me to sleep nearly instantly.

On teh other hand, the name seems to come from a Norse captain who was in a race to land on Ireland first, and seeing that he was losing supposedly cut off his own hand and threw it on shore so he would technically be te first.

Which would actually explain a lot about my family, come to think of it.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:50 AM on July 18, 2003


"One with an ugly or misshapen head."

Oh thaaaaaanks, L-hat. I'm going back to bed now.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:50 AM on July 18, 2003


My last name is a derivation of a root that translates to Little King. You may all bow.

can't... resist... Kneel before Zod!
posted by widdershins at 9:51 AM on July 18, 2003


Search results: 0 names

Sorry, no results were found.

Result Pages:

Read information on these people in the BOOK of LIFE:

ZEDONG Mao (1893 - 1976) Chinese Communist leader

posted by goethean at 9:51 AM on July 18, 2003


BUSH :
1) German and English; originally referred to a person who dwelt near a particular bush;


the talking, burning one, i assume.
posted by quonsar at 9:53 AM on July 18, 2003


(/me skipped typing class as a kid)
posted by Space Coyote at 9:53 AM on July 18, 2003


Mostly because it's very likely that a yet another boneheaded web programmer has forgotten how to parse apostrophes.

nope. "O'Malley" works fine.
posted by quonsar at 9:54 AM on July 18, 2003


Everytime I see how quickly people jump into threads like this with both feet it makes me want to post a "What does your credit card number mean?" thread.
posted by yhbc at 9:55 AM on July 18, 2003


SHORT :
English, patronymic derived from the nickname for small, little, thin dwarfish man.
posted by bshort at 9:58 AM on July 18, 2003


My last name? Yet again unrepresented. Damn you, uncommon German name with silent H and optional umlaut!
posted by eilatan at 9:59 AM on July 18, 2003


There's a kooky theory out there according to which your name has effects over your development in life; if you're called John Fast, for instance, you're likely to become a racer or runner or something like that. BTW, I didn't know today was supposed to be embarrassment of riches day in MeFi. Two great sites (the 1st one seems to contain more entries).
posted by 111 at 10:02 AM on July 18, 2003


"One with an ugly or misshapen head."

Hehe. The jokes just write themselves. My surname means one who struts around like a rooster, so I've got that going for me.
posted by iconomy at 10:03 AM on July 18, 2003


Irish, derived from a nickname designating a pauper;

Oh, goody.
posted by jonmc at 10:09 AM on July 18, 2003


if you're called John Fast, for instance, you're likely to become a racer or runner or something like that

and how would you explain dick trickle?
posted by quonsar at 10:11 AM on July 18, 2003


My surname does come up, although I have my doubts.

You see, nobody can find any relatives with that name farther back than my great-grandfather, which rather makes me suspect it was Anglicized from something else entirely, or that somebody wanted to make a clean break with his past. (And from what I have heard about my great-grandfather, I tend to side with explanation #2).

So the odds of the name telling me much about my ethnic past are pretty slim.
posted by Karmakaze at 10:13 AM on July 18, 2003


I couldn't find my last name on either site, but I WAS able to find its derivation on Ufez's excellent etymology site, since my last name is actually also a proper word in English. It means to stir up, to provoke to activity, coincidentally. Also, widdershins, I'd kneel before you, if you asked nicely & promised to be gentle.
posted by jonson at 10:23 AM on July 18, 2003


derail

Adolph Hitler's real last name is actually Schikelgruber. He was the son of Alois Schikelgruber, an Austrian customs agent. When Adolph was house painter at around 16, he did business under the name of A. Hitler, his mother's maiden name.

Why he would change his name from the classy and interesting Schikelgruber, to boring old Hitler, I'll never know.

/derail
posted by SweetJesus at 10:28 AM on July 18, 2003


Huh. My last name is Thomas - a name I always felt was as common as Smith or Jones. It's not on the site.

Incompetent bastards.

OK! Back to work!
posted by bradth27 at 10:34 AM on July 18, 2003


"Why he would change his name from the classy and interesting Schikelgruber, to boring old Hitler, I'll never know."

Because "Heil Schikelgruber" doesn't have quite the same ring to it.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:36 AM on July 18, 2003


These sites amuse me because my original family name was cumbersome and of Lithuanian origin. The great-grandparents "Americanized" it when they came over to the states; wanting to settle in a largely German area, they ended with mutating their surname into an uncommon, though not unheard of, German surname.

To top it all off, their son married a Spanish woman, and the family became largely absorbed into a Castillian (and later, Cuban) culture. So, I have a German last name that was once Lithuanian, but my cultural heritage is Spanish/Hispanic.

Yeah, *that* doesn't take a long time to explain when someone meeting me for the first time asks, "Oh, are you German"? (Though I'm sure some of you have even more convoluted surname histories.)
posted by Sangre Azul at 10:39 AM on July 18, 2003


Davis returns: "DAVISON :
English, patronymic derived from the Old Testament name David 'beloved', the patron saint of Wales."


Beloved, eh?

You love me! You really love me!
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:49 AM on July 18, 2003


English, originally designated a head servant, the bottler in charge of the butts

heh. i'm in charge of the butts.
posted by sugarfish at 10:51 AM on July 18, 2003


My (Ukrainian-Jewish) last name is a still-existing German/Yiddish word meaning "Screamer" or "Shrieker" or "Crier".

Obvious jokes to follow...
posted by Asparagirl at 10:59 AM on July 18, 2003


crash: watch out for that pesky word "patronymic".

We loved your dad.
posted by yhbc at 11:02 AM on July 18, 2003


GODWIN: English, patronymic derived from the Anglo-Saxon name Godwin 'God's friend,' common before the Conquest, became the etymon of family names.
posted by Holden at 11:09 AM on July 18, 2003


Vitalog's entry for my surname is incorrect; at least, it's not what I learned in class. They have:
TAGGART :
Scottish, referred to the son of the priest; sometimes arose as a nickname for one whose behavior, spirit, or appearance resembled that of a priest.
Actually, the name is not Scottish (although it is found there) -- it's Irish. It's an anglicization of the Irish language surname Mac an tSagairt (that's an eclipsis, not a typo), which does indeed mean "son of the priest" but as I was taught by my Irish Gaelic instructor at UCLA it is a surname referring to people born in a time and era in Ireland where the laws of priestly celibacy were, ah, "not strictly enforced." I like that one better.
posted by chuq at 11:35 AM on July 18, 2003


Very interesting - thanks, languagehat!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 11:45 AM on July 18, 2003


Also, widdershins, I'd kneel before you, if you asked nicely & promised to be gentle.

Don't you think you should be the one asking nicely to kneel before me and promise to be gentle?
posted by widdershins at 12:03 PM on July 18, 2003


my last name comes from this pretty flower :)
posted by dabitch at 12:05 PM on July 18, 2003


derail
SweetJesus: Hitler's real last name is actually Schikelgruber
This is often repeated, but I don't think it's true. I think it just sprang from WW2 propaganda to diminish Hitler in the British public perception by giving him a funny name. According to BBC Education's Walden on villains and these other sources, Alois Schickelgruber changed his own surname to Hitler in 1876 by the equivalent of deed poll, long before Adolf was born.
/derail
posted by raygirvan at 12:09 PM on July 18, 2003


dabitch - jeg lurte litt på det...
posted by widdershins at 12:09 PM on July 18, 2003


I have an Americanized version of a Anglicized version of a Polish name (my grandfather stopped in England on his way here). Of course, at the time it was considered a Russian name being there was no country named Poland.

That said, I have to wait until I get home to find the other spellings of my last name. Neither site worked with the present spelling.
posted by tommasz at 12:13 PM on July 18, 2003


111 - that John fast story is kinda funny as I've heard the same. I knew a young man however named "Frisk" (Healthy) who died at the age of 21 after being anything but healthy for years. Worst is, we can't stop cracking jokes about they poor boys name.

widdershins, nu vet du. :) Fin blomst!
posted by dabitch at 12:15 PM on July 18, 2003


My name is an Anglicized form of an Irish one that means "fire sprung". Wish I had known this when I was getting in trouble for starting fires as a kid: "It's not my fault. I'm just living up to the family name!"
posted by turacma at 12:51 PM on July 18, 2003


This is often repeated, but I don't think it's true. I think it just sprang from WW2 propaganda to diminish Hitler in the British public perception by giving him a funny name. According to BBC Education's Walden on villains and these other sources, Alois Schickelgruber changed his own surname to Hitler in 1876 by the equivalent of deed poll, long before Adolf was born.

I don't know raygirvan. I didn't just hear this around. My father, who's a really, really big World War I and World War II history buff, absolutely insists that Hitler's real name was Schikelgruber. I couldn't find a ton of information on the internet, but he's been telling me this for years. It would be like going against 10 years of history that was beaten into me, throughout middle school, high school and college.

I'll ask him for the specifics. If you're right, I'm sure he'll be crushed.
posted by SweetJesus at 12:53 PM on July 18, 2003


dabitch, yes, it backfires all the time. I know a blonde called Bruna and a raven-haired brunette called Sandy.
posted by 111 at 1:05 PM on July 18, 2003


heh. turacma started fires as a kid.
*moves closer to the door*
posted by quonsar at 2:04 PM on July 18, 2003


chuq> Prior to 11-something, there were no "laws of celibacy" for priests. My family is a sept of the MacMillans, which means in Gaelic (as MacMhaolain) "son of the tonsured one", and is descended from a bishop of all things. It's more common than you'd think to have a last name that refers to being the descendant of ecclesiastical fornication.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 2:55 PM on July 18, 2003


And of course in the Orthodox church it's not only OK for priests to marry, it's downright expected, hence the very common Greek name Papadopoulos 'son of a priest.'

da5id: I'm pretty sure the borg in Borgmann is the old Germanic word for 'stronghold, fortified place,' like the German vocabulary item Burg; the Old English was also burg, which has disappeared as a vocabulary item but gives the surnames Burrough(s), Burrow(s), and Borrow(s)—not to mention place names in Bury (like Bury St Edmunds).

nyxxxx: Well, you would look up Nix, wouldn't you?

Space Coyote: O'Neill is simply 'son of Neil'; Neil (Gaelic Niall) is of uncertain etymology ('cloud'? 'passionate'? 'champion'?). It was adopted by the Scandinavians as Njal and became very popular.

45 comments... Wish I'd known etymology was this popular!
posted by languagehat at 5:04 PM on July 18, 2003


here's a site for Chinese surnames

it's in English, but you'll need Chinese to read the last names and thus pinpoint correctly, in the event of similar spellings (which are all wrong anyway)

http://leader.linkexchange.com/1/X1488683/showiframe?
posted by firestorm at 9:44 PM on July 18, 2003


hmm.. I have not been sleeping lately


ignore that link
the site is actually

www.yutopian.com/names/

my last name is of the flood fighter, and if any of you play Dynasty Warriors series, it is the same as Lu Bu's ^^

as for Mussolini, I've been told that for a long time Italians went without last names, and when the order came for all people to approbriate names many chose joking names, little knowing perhaps that they would become permanent - for instance I know of a person who's last name means 'broken pussy', dreams of cherry poppin, I see ^^
posted by firestorm at 9:46 PM on July 18, 2003


I'm another person whose married surname is of German origin and shows up in neither of languagehat's links, yet it does show up in the etymology dictionary linked by Ufez Jones. It means stonecutter. My maiden surname, however, "owes much of (its) popularity to the fact that it conceals large numbers of non-British family names that have been so translated in this country." And my first name means lake or pool, so there you have it.
posted by Lynsey at 11:27 PM on July 18, 2003


Nice, but neither has my name. Here's a good link: Hebraized and other Israeli surnames (cf. Jewish first names and surnames).
posted by Zurishaddai at 12:08 AM on July 19, 2003


Jewish names are some of the most interesting around, because they come from so many sources and go through so many filters as they pass around the world. Beth Hatefutsoth (the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora) has a database of family names; unfortunately, they charge $5 (€5.50) for each name you want them to tell you about. But there's an interesting introduction that's well worth reading, with some surprising revelations: Katz, for instance, is not (in origin) 'cat' but is a Hebrew acronym of Kohen Zedek ('rightful priest') (?"?).

Some other interesting etymologies: Zelig/Selig is a Yiddish translation of Baruch 'blessed'; Leib/Loeb/Loew 'lion' is from the blessing of Jacob on Judah ("you lion's whelp") in Genesis 49 (similarly Hirsch/Hersch 'deer, stag' is from the blessing on Naphtali and Wolf/Wulf from the blessing on Benjamin); for unclear reasons Ephraim was associated with a fish (hence Fisch, Fischel, Fischman, &c.) and Issachar with a bear (hence Baer, Berman, Berlin, &c.); Beilin and Beilis are from Yiddish Beile=Bella (Isabella).

My favorites are the geographically based ones. Many are simply the names of (mostly German) towns: Auerbach, Ginsburg (= Königsberg), Landau, Friedland, Epstein. But the really fun ones are heavily disguised: Halperin/Halpern from Heilbronn, Galperin (like Horowitz and Hurwitz) from Horovice in Czechoslovakia, Lipschitz/Lifshits from Leobschütz (now Glubczyce) in Poland; Oistrakh from Österreich (Austria); Shapiro/Spiro from Speyer; and my personal favorite, Dreyfus from Treves, the French name of Trier in western Germany.
posted by languagehat at 11:43 AM on July 19, 2003 [1 favorite]


Had never heard that about the geography-based names, languagehat. Fascinating.

Interesting -- my last name is from the German for "dairy farmer", while my mother's family were the Herdmans.
posted by Vidiot at 11:30 PM on July 19, 2003


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