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The idea of having a surname (“last” name) is a relatively recent phenomenon. Surnames began to emerge in Europe during the 13th through the 15th century. Initially, many surnames came from occupations.

Some of the common recognizable occupations which became used as surnames include Butcher, Taylor, Shepherd, Smith  (Smythe), Wright, Carpenter, Barber, Bowman, Archer, Brewer, Mason, Potter, Glover, and Fletcher. This is, of course, only a partial list of names which are easily identifiable as occupational names.

Some other occupational names include:

“Chandler”, referring to a candlemaker

“Collier”, a coal or charcoal seller

“Coleman”, a person who gathered charcoal

 “Stoddard”, which means “stud-herd”, was a name originally given to a horse breeder

“Kellogg” did not originally refer to a breakfast cereal but to a hog butcher: in Middle English “kellen” meant “to kill” and thus “Kellogg” meant “to kill hogs.”  

“Lorimer” was originally a surname given to people who made spurs, bits, and small attachments to the harness. “Lorimer” is based on the Latin word “lorum” which means “harness or strap.”

“Cooper” was a name given to a barrel maker who made items which included casks, wooden tubs, buckets, and vats. In terms of etymology, “cooper” comes from the Latin “cupa” meaning “cask.” Related to “Cooper” is “Hooper” which referred to the craftsmen who made the metal or wooden hoops to bind the barrels, casks, tubs, buckets, and vats made by the coopers.

“Barker” was a name given to leather tanners. To tan hides, they had to harvest tree bark for its tannin which was essential in processing the hides.

“Tucker” was a name given to people who processed raw cloth by beating and trampling it in water. “Tucker” comes from an Old English verb meaning “to torment.”

While most of the occupational surnames referred to male occupations, the ending “-ster” refers to females: Webster was a female weaver; Baxter was a female baker; Brewster was a female brewer.

Originally posted to Cranky Grammarians on Sat Oct 05, 2013 at 03:19 PM PDT.

Also republished by History for Kossacks.

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