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The History of Names in Genealogy

Maiden names are difficult to come by since most women in history took the name of her husband.

Maiden names are difficult to come by since most women in history took the name of her husband.


One of my favorite hobbies is genealogy research. There is quite a bit of work involved with this hobby, but well worth it. Something I find really interesting is to see how the names have changed throughout the centuries and have become family names. I’ve learned that words like “ap” or “de” preceding last names, usually means “of”, and the last names are the areas they’re from or the names of their fathers. For example, Avelina De Ros, means Avelina of Ros. Ros is her father. Margaret de Gloucester means Margaret of (or from) Gloucester. My favorite name was Isabel of the Scots. I believe that this is how “last” names came to be, once the world became more populated.

In some cases, a nickname was used to identify someone, such as William the Lion, and Humphrey the Old. Other nicknames were impressive, and some of them were not; I prefer to talk about David the Saint, or Edgar the Peaceable, than Ethelred II the Unready.

It’s also interesting to see the age differences between husbands and wives. Some of the husbands married teenage girls when they, themselves were in their twenties, thirties, and even forties. Some people didn’t have children until they were in their forties. However, other information shows many couples who were close in age, and many couples who had children as teenagers, or in their twenties.

What I found fascinating was that some ancestors married into their own families. Obviously the children of Adam and Eve had to marry each other; but as late as 1750, Daniel Boone (not the American Pioneer) married Sarah Boone, his second cousin. Families that were joined by marriage usually had more than one tie; siblings from one family would marry more than one sibling from another. For example, John Moss married Martha Barnhart. In 1834, Martha died, and in 1837, John married her sister, Barbara Barnhart. Hannah Boone married Smith Coffey 1802, and Anna Boone married William Coffey in 1804; two brothers married two sisters. This was very common in the American Colonial Times.

An Original Family Crest

An original family crest from the old country.

An original family crest from the old country.

Many families changed their names when they immigrated to America, for several different reasons. One example is the Schneider family of Croatia. I realize that Schneider is not a Croatian name, but it is, however, a Croatian profession. A Schneider in Croatia means tailor. When members of this family arrived on Ellis Island, they did not speak English and misunderstood when asked for their names. They stated their profession, “Schneider”, and now that is the family name they are known by in this country.

Where You Paying Attention?

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. What does "Schneider" mean in Croatia?
    • Farmer
    • Tailor
    • Butcher
    • Carpenter
  2. Prefixes like "ap" or "de" represent which of the following?
    • Royalty
    • Near
    • Atop
    • From or of
  3. A coat of arms is sometimes called which of the following?
    • shield of life
    • family map
    • family crest
    • family secrets

Answer Key

  1. Tailor
  2. From or of
  3. family crest

Family Crests

Family crests, sometimes called the coat of arms have been used in heraldry for centuries. Although family crests and the coat of arms are believed to be the same, in fact they are not. A coat of arms consists of the shield, mantling, and supporters. The family crest is the actual picture with symbols placed on the front of the shield.

Each color and symbol in a family crest represents a trait of that family. The colors and symbols can also represent what country, territory, or another part of the world the family is originally from.

You can find family crests and many other items on This website is absolutely wonderful making it easy to search and find your ancestors.

Thank you so much for your interest in my hub. Your opinion is very important to me. Please feel free to leave a suggestion, comment, or constructive criticism in the comments section below.

"Be kind to one another" ~ Ellen

God Bless You ~ Margaret Sullivan


Mmargie1966 (author) from Gainesville, GA on July 28, 2012:

So true. I chose to take my husband's last name, but use my maiden name as a middle name. I have also informed my family that I want my maiden name included on my head stone. I know it's a little morbid, but I am my daddy's daughter and I was born with his name.

It is extremely frustrating when the maternal line hits a brick wall in your genealogy searches simply because there is no maiden name unless you are lucky enough to find a marriage record.

Thank you so much for all your wonderful and encouraging comments!

Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on July 28, 2012:

You mentioned one of my pet peeves about the tradition of taking on the husband's name. Far too much of our history is lost due to that tradition (which I respect, for those who choose it, but it breaks my heart to know I'll never learn some ancestors' names). I actually saw one record of a woman who was only listed as 'Mrs. Joe Smith' (example). No first name. The only record was that it was a female who married Joe. Sad!

Voted up and up!

Dianna Mendez on July 14, 2012:

I love hearing about families who have found a part of their history. We found some interesting bits through the years that have surprised us. We have a big of Apache blood, and also French. We even found our family crest! Enjoyed your information. Vote up!

Jasmine on July 10, 2012:

Oh, I see that the Croatian letters are missing (they're replaced with question marks, sorry, nothing I can do about it - the letters were there before :( I hope my comment was helpful to you, as your hub has been to me!

Mmargie1966 (author) from Gainesville, GA on July 10, 2012:

Wow! Thank you for commenting, vox vocis! Some family stories can end up confusing...yes, this is my ancestry. I'm glad you enjoyed the hub, and thank you for voting.

Jasmine on July 10, 2012:

Does the Schneider family from Croatia belong to your family tree? When did they immigrate to America?

Just a short note: The word "Schneider" is a German word for "tailor" and one of the most common German names. The surname and the word meaning "tailor" became alternatives to the Croatian surname Kraja?i? and "kroja?" standing for "tailor" at the time of the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy. So, I'd like to point out that "Schneider" is not a "Croatian profession" - it's a world's profession that had a Croatian name for it long before the word "Schneider" appeared as an alternative for the existing word. I, for example, use the original word.

Of course, there are cases in which there's a Schneider on the male side of the family who marries a Croatian, and whose children marry Croatians, so the German gene is eventually lost, but the surname survives.

However, it is generally accepted that the Croatian surnames falling under this category ("occupation" surnames) date back form the 16th cent. There are no records of the surname Schneider from that time, but there are two variations of the name Fisher (also typical German) and one direct Germanism - Wagner (From "Wagen" - "wheel," hence "wheeler").

English surnames Blacksmith or Goldsmith are also examples of "occupation" surnames. So, you had names like John the Blacksmith throughout the history without the "lost in translation" influence. The word "smith" is of Anglo-Saxon origin, though; Wayland Smith (Old Norse Völundr) is a heroic blacksmith in Germanic mythology.

I enjoy reading your genealogy hubs! Voted up!

P.S. You probably notice that I'm very much interested in etimology :)

Mmargie1966 (author) from Gainesville, GA on July 10, 2012:

I find it difficult to track records outside of the U.S. also, Marcy. Thanks so much for commenting!

Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on July 10, 2012:

What a great topic, Margie - I have a love of family history as well, and whenever I hear a name that's part of my genealogy, it warms my heart. I've done a lot of research, but I'm having trouble getting more details from the Old Country. However, each time I work on it, I find at least some tidbits of information.

Voted up and up, and shared!

Mmargie1966 (author) from Gainesville, GA on July 10, 2012:

Its quite possible Horsfall was originally a nick name and eventually became the name you know it to be. Thank you for commenting, Nettlemere! As always, I appreciate all participation!

Nettlemere from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on July 10, 2012:

History of names is fascinating isn't it. My mother's family are Parry's which is a welsh name derived from ap Harry. Two of my favourite surnames are Haythornthwaite and Horsfall. I often wonder with horsfall did it arrive because the person was known for falling off their horse.

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