Common Surnames and What They Mean
In Western culture, few things identify heritage better than surnames. Although people put them on every form and paper used their entire lives, most people do not know the origins or meaning of a surname. Usually the meanings are simple to discover. Below are just a few common surnames and what they mean.
Schneider, Steiner, Schreiber
Germanic roots have a massive influence on Western names. Some of the most common last names in the U.S. are simple verbs in German, showing that not only has English parted from its Germanic roots but also demonstrating a distant relatives occupation. "Schneider" means "to cut," usually referring to a tailor. "Steiner" means "to work stone," so a relative worked with stone at some point. A "schreiber" means "to write" which means...well, you can figure that out for yourself.
Smith remains the most common surname in many English speaking countries; although by itself, it tells little. "Smith" simply refers to striking or working, but usually works as a root to other words.
Lincoln, Washington, Roosevelt
When slaves traveled into the U.S. from Africa, owners often gave them random names, either to make them easier to sell or to remember. As time went on, the traditional African names were lost and only the sold names retained. It remains one of the greatest tragedies of the slave trade, so much so that Malcolm Little changed his name to Malcolm X to protest his unknown last name.
Discovering the origin of a surname sheds light into family history and heredity. Finding a distant relative, either famous or infamous, is a great discovery.