This article previously appeared in The M-WTCA Scribe, Vol. 3 No. 2 June 1974

Key words: surname, occupation

What's in a Name

Surnames and Occupations

William Holden

In early days many a man was not known by a surname. Rather, his identification was associated with his occupation or craft. Each hamlet and town had a miller, for example, who operated the mill for grinding the grain. If his given name happened to be "John", he was referred to as "John the miller" to distinguish him from "John the carpenter".

Through the years, as times changed, better educational systems raised the literacy levels, better governmental organizations developed, and written records became more necessary. Because of these factors, and probably others, there arose the need for more accurate personal identification. Thus, "John the miller'; was shortened to "John Miller" and thus "Miller" became his surname and was passed on through succeeding generations.

Presented here is just a surface-scratching list of the relatively common names in our communities which originated with the craft or occupation of some early ancestor.


It is obvious from this list that many given names are derived from surnames.

Before the advent of lexicographers there were apt to be many phonetic variants in the spelling of any word including both given and surnames. This greatly complicates historical research in old records.



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Wartrace TN, USA. All rights reserved.

This came from on 09 Nov 2003 FJA NOTE