How Do You Learn to Pronounce Surnames?

An easy way to learn to pronounce a surname is to use one of many websites that allows you to look up a surname so you can see it spelled out phonetically. Other websites allow you to type in a surname so you can hear it pronounced.

Surnames, or family names, are used around the world. In the West, Middle East and Africa, the family name is typically the surname. In the East, countries such as China, Korea and Japan place the family name first and the given name second.

The British began to use family names in the 13th and 14th centuries as the population started to grow, and they needed a way to differentiate between people with the same first names. Many common English names that made it over to America were adjectival names such as "Little," "Stout" or "Peacock." Many Gaelic names also made it over to America. For example, "Cameron" means "crooked nose."

Iceland is a Western country with a different tradition. Icelandic people do not have family names. Instead a son or daughter takes his or her father's first name, and adds "son" or "dottir" as a suffix. This name becomes the last name, and it does not change when the person get married.