Our name is a big part of our identity and our genealogy search. It is what other people know us by and something that distinguishes us from everyone else.
What's In a Last Name?
The use of last names, or surnames, became much more prevalent in 1066, after the Norman Conquest. Since this time, surnames have become the norm in society with a few exceptions, Madonna, Prince and Cher. The origin of your last name largely depends on the ethnic background of your ancestors. For example, Spanish people commonly use Catholic Saints' names, Orthodox Jews are required by religious law to name one of their babies after a deceased relative and the Chinese usually have three names, a family name, a generation name and an individual name.
English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish last names are typically grouped into one of four categories: occupations, localities, nicknames or first names.
Many people acquired their last name due to their trade or occupation. These names are self-explanatory: Farmer, Baker, Mason and so on.
Some people were named after where they were from, localities, or after geological characteristics of the land. Marsh, Hill and Sydney are examples of surnames of this type.
People were often named after nicknames; these are some of the most interesting last names. Kennedy, for example, is Gaelic for "ugly head," Gotobed, stemmed from someone who was lazy.
Last names based on first names were very common in the history of Britain and Ireland. Often a suffix or prefix was added to indicate the relationship of the individual with the person after whom the individual was named. For example, the suffixes "son," means "son of" and "kin," is a diminutive. The prefixes "Fitz," often indicated illegitimacy, "O" means grandson and "Mac" and "Mc" mean "son of."
These suffixes and prefixes combined with the first name of the father created names like Johnson, Stevenson, Perkin, Fitzgerald, O'Brien and MacDonald.
Does Your First Name Have Significance?
Your first name is one of the most important gifts your parents gave you. Most first names have a meaning and you can easily find the meaning of your first name on the Internet through sites like behindthename.com. The most popular boys name in 2004 in the United States was Jacob, which in Hebrew means holder of the heel. It comes from the biblical Jacob who was born holding his twin brother Esau's heel.
The most popular girls name in 2004 in the United States was Emily, the medieval feminine form of Aemilius. Aemilius, derived from Latin aemulus meaning "rival." As you can see, first names come from many different roots.
Our names are much more than a word that identifies us. So take some time and investigate your heritage and your name with genealogy search you might be surprised.
Benes, Clarence H, & Steinbrink, John E, Social Studies: Living up to your name (1996)
Kennedy, John. British Surnames: First-names, Localities, Occupations and Nicknames.  23 Sept. 2005, http://genealogy.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.familychronicle.com%2Fbritish.htm
Powell, Kimberly. Glossary of Last Name Meanings and Origins  23 Sept 2005, http://genealogy.about.com/library/surnames/bl_meaning.htm