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American surnames Essay

What’s in a name? Names identify us from the many other people in this world although there are some that have common names. More than being identifiers in a crowd, names are also used to trace the origins of a person be it one’s place in the family tree or one’s ethnic cultural beginnings. In fact, 43 percent of American surnames are based on a family’s location. (Smith 2007) Many countries have their own ways of creating last names for people. However, most of these names were derived from a person’s occupation, place of origin, ethnic tribe or their religion.

Whatever the origin of a surname is, these group of letters carry more than just identification but a whole history of families and culture. The Irish in the ancient days did not have surnames because they only had small populations and were not prone to migrating in large groups. They developed their first names based on who else does not have the same name. However, during the eleventh century, the population began to grow and the need for a better system of identification became apparent.

The Gaelic clan system was therefore developed by using the father’s name as a reference for a child’s name. The prefixes, “Mac” and “O” were used to identify the paternal genealogy of a person. “Mac” means “the son of” while “O” means “the grandson of. ” As populations developed, the clans began to break up into different septs or groups which were headed by original members dominating different locations. Therefore, several people with the same last names may be from one single genealogy line but dominant in different residences.

This system of forming surnames became disadvantageous during the seventeenth century when having a Gaelic sounding name was life threatening. During the English invasion, the conquerors wanted to subdue the Gaelic culture so the Irish had to translate their names into English equivalents. This strategy became confusing because of the many misinterpretations and misspellings of the names once they were translated. “Mac an Thomais,” for example became “Holmes” and “Mac Giolla Iosa” became “MacAleese.

” Furthermore, some had to remove the sound of “m” from their “mac” surnames and this completely changed the resonance of the name. Although the Irish gained back their cultural pride in the nineteenth century, not all of them reverted their names back to their original forms. (Irish Names par. 2-9) Though the Irish obviously had a paternal society, the Spanish were more balanced in their views on gender. This is more evidenced by the way they had formed their surnames because the women get to retain their paternal surnames even when they are already married.

The Spaniards carry two last names, their mothers’ and fathers’. The first or primary surname is taken from their father’s original surname while the second surname is taken from their mother’s paternal surname. For example, Juan Santos Cruz marries Maria Lopez Martin, their son’s last name will be Santos Lopez. Sometimes, they still put the “y” in a surname (example: Jennifer Viola y Pardo) wherein the “y” means “and. ” (Campbell par. 1-2)

Canada, being a country with many immigrants also was able to trace how last names originated for their citizens in British Colombia. The study was done by David Robertson, a student of the University of Victoria, who has done research on this subject for several years. Before the European missionaries came in the late 19th century, the aboriginals used to call themselves by traditional names such as “Walking Blanket” or “Quick Mind. ” People’s names were not permanent and can change throughout a person’s lifetime depending on how he or she was a part of the community.

It were the Christian missionaries who necessitated the use of Western-style first names when they were already baptizing the aborigines. With the influence of European political system, the government required surnames for birth registry. At a loss for real surnames, some still adopted traditional names from their culture but most decided to give their father’s name or nicknames to fill in the blank on the surnames portion. This is the reason why many of the surnames ended up with first name terms like George, John, Billy or even Dick. (Skelton pars. 2 to 11)

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