The history of a last name can provide fascinating insight into family backgrounds. Researching heritage, using the last name as a starting point, can help individuals to understand and connect with their personal history.
It is very natural to be curious about ancestry, and a person's last name is a good starting place to begin the research.
Last names were not used until medieval times. By that time, populations had expanded so much that last names became necessary to distinguish between people for tax purposes. The names assigned or selected were generally quite simple and based on personal information, such as occupation or appearance. Examples of last names based on occupations are Smith or Baker. Examples of names that signify a person's appearance or a notable physical attribute are Young or Armstrong.
Many last names are patronymic, meaning that they indicate the name of the person's father. For example, Peterson means "son of Peter" and MacDonald means "son of Donald." Last names can also indicate a geographic feature of the home of the individual, such as Hill or Bush. A last name of King indicates the person's social status.
A last name can also reveal from what part of the world ancestors likely came. Genealogists can track the prevalence of last names to specific regions with remarkable accuracy.