What Can Your Last Name Tell You
trace, and rejoices in their ancestors with more unusual names. While an unusual surname undeniably can make genealogical research easier, it doesn’t corner the market on interesting and informative origins. In Western Europe, surnames first came about in Medieval times as civilizations grew larger and it became necessary to distinguish between people.
Sometimes, names were based on occupation: a blacksmith may have been “John le Smith” (John the Smith) which became, over the generations, “Smith,” and a person named Appleby lived by or tended the apple orchard. Celebrity Robin Leach’s ancestor was probably a physician (because in medieval times, physicians used leeches to bleed people). Actor Christopher Reeve’s ancestor, the one to first take the surname, was most likely a sheriff, and Sarah Jessica Parker’s early medieval ancestor probably tended a park.