Sunday, July 15, 2007

Origins of Our Surnames

I've always been interested in the origins of our family surnames, and as a matter of fact, have included whatever I have been able to find on those origins on each of the family history pages of my genealogy website. For this Carnival of Genealogy, I have listed each of the surnames of My Sixteen--my great-great-grandparents' generation--on which I have been spending the majority of my research. I've also included my husband's Sixteen. Wherever I have a family history page for that particular surname, I have linked it accordingly. I've used a variety of books and websites over the years to find my surname meanings. Randy has a great post over at his blog that lists some of these websites. For my Frisian and Dutch surnames, I used the translation website, Travlang.

My surnames:
  • ROBBINS - English; "son of Robin;" Robin ("bright, flame, fame, red" - get it? Robin Redbreast) is a nickname for Robert, which means "bright-hearted."
  • KIMBALL - English; "royal, bold."
  • LEWIS - probably Old English; "son of Lowis or Lodowicus," which in turn means "famed warrior."
  • WILKINSON - English; son of Wilkin, a nickname for William, itself meaning "will" or "resolve."
  • YORK - English; "from the city of York or from Yorkshire." York is the English derivative of the Latin Eboracum, the city's name as given by its Roman conquerors.
  • M(a)cARTHUR - Scottish; "son of Arthur," which is Greek for "bear-guardian."
  • BARBER - English; to barb means to cut; barbers were haircutters, dentists, and surgeons.
  • FREDENBURG - Dutch; originally Vredenburg, a place name in the Netherlands; a German meaning is "stronghold of peace."
  • VALK - Dutch and German; "falcon" (both my parents' surnames originate from bird names!).
  • DeJONG - Dutch; "the younger (one)."
  • TUINSTRA - Frisian; "from the garden."
  • WIERSMA - Frisian; probably "from the weir (small dam on a stream or canal)."
  • HOEKSTRA - Frisian; "from the corner."
  • TON - Dutch; "barrel, buoy;" could be a occupational name, similar to the English surname, Cooper ("barrel-maker"); or could be a nickname ("barrel-chested").
  • STRONG - English; originally Strang; both mean, literally, "strong." Princess Diana is my most famous cousin from this line, which also includes Nathan Hale ("I regret that I have but one life to give for my country") and J.P. Morgan.
  • WRIGHT - English; similar to Smith in that it is an occupational name for a worker in a particular trade: Wainwright, for instance, means "wagon maker."
Some step and adoptive surnames:
  • HOLST - German; "from Holstein," which in turn means "dweller in the woods."
  • CONCIDINE - Irish; originally MacConsaidín, Gaelic form of Constantine, which itself is from the English medieval personal name, Constantinus.
  • DeVRIES - Frisian; "The Frisian."
My husband's surnames:
  • MIDKIFF - probably a variation of the English, Metcalf(e), literally meaning "meat calf." A herder, or an insulting nickname. There are towns named Midkiff in both Texas and in West Virginia. The actor Dale Midkiff is a distant relative.
  • WILBOURN - English; probably a place name. A burn is also Scots Gaelic for "stream."
  • TOLLIVER - Southern American dialect pronunciation of the original Taliaferro, meaning "iron cutter" in Italian. Booker T. Washington's middle name was Taliaferro (probably the name of an ancestral slaveowner); my husband is descended from this famous Southern family, which includes a relative that was a Civil War general, William B. Taliaferro.
  • COLLINS - English; "son of Colin;" Colin is a diminutive of Nicholas, Greek for "victory of the people."
  • WESTABY - English; "lives by the River West."
  • SNOOK - German, originally Schnuch; unknown.
  • LERFALD (two ancestral lines) - Norwegian; place name.
  • CHAPLIN - English; occupational name, "clergyman."
  • HAINLINE - German; originally Heinlein, a nickname for Heinrich (Henry), meaning "home power."
  • LYTON (TURK) - Lyton was an alias. The original name was Turk. Lyton was probably an English location name; Turk also is likely English, a nickname for someone with a swarthy complexion.
  • DAILEY - Irish; from the Gaelic Ó Dálaigh "son of Dálach", meaning "meeting, assembly."
  • MARTIN - French (for this particular family); from the Latin Martinus, meaning "war" (Mars was the Roman god of war).
  • HUBBY - English; one of two place names in Yorkshire; one means "by the settlement;" the other "by (St.) Hugh."
  • LUKE - English; personal name, taken from the Bible; originally derived from Latin "light."
  • HEWITT- English; derivative of Hugh, meaning "heart, mind, spirit."
There's probably way more information here than any of you wished to read! These do help define some of the ethnic roots of our ancestors, and I'm hoping that this post will show up in Google search results made by other researchers.


Janice said...


At least your surnames are rarer than the Smith, Brown, Jones surnames that drive some of us crazy because they are so common. Thank you for posting the meanings of these names, it is very interesting.


Miriam Robbins said...

Thanks for reading through them, Janice. This post wasn't the best example of quality writing...more of a hurried list thrown together!

Anonymous said...

I may be able to help with Snook.

In Yiddish, a language which takes a lot from German, a "Shnook" is someone who is easily fooled -- (from which we get the word 'snookered')

However, a more appealing explanation of the surname is the Old English word, Snoc, which is a projecting piece of land.

Miriam Robbins said...

John, for a long time I thought this line might be Jewish. There was Rebecca Snook, my husband's 2nd-great-grandmother; her father Reuben; and his father, Levi. Later, I found some published research that showed this family was from the Palatine area of Germany, and immigrated for Protestant religious reasons.

Thanks for commenting!