What Are Some Common Derivations of Popular Names?


Quick Answer

Many English first names are derived from Anglicized forms of Greek or Hebrew names, such as Michael, meaning "who is like God," and Sarah, meaning "noble lady" or "princess." John is an Anglicized version of the Greek name Ioannes, which means "God is gracious."

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Full Answer

Unlike many popular first names, common surnames often do not originate not from a religious source, but rather a profession. Smith, for example, is the most common of all surnames in the United States and has as its source the English name for a metal worker. Miller, another of the most common surnames in the United States, is the occupational name of someone who works at a mill.

Other popular English surnames are no more than patronymic derivations of popular first names. Williams and Johnson are derivations of the first names Will and John, respectively. Still other surnames were not bestowed upon individuals until they had acquired a specific social standing. Freeman, for example, was a surname only taken by free persons who had escaped the bondage of slavery or completed the contractual obligations of indentured servitude. Variations of this surname, such as the German Friemann or the French Foissy, were often Anglicized upon immigration to Anglophone countries.

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