January 28th, 2010

Does Your Last Name Define Who You Are?

If you are like me, you may at some point thought about your last name.

What does it mean?

Where did it come from?

Am I related to anyone famous?

Maybe my last name means nothing. It might simply be a made-up name without history.

Your last name is your ID.
The name you have serves to define and identify you to others. Consider the number of times every day someone asks for your last name.

“Can I see your driver’s license please?”

“Sign here please!”

“Could you please spell your last name?”

If you are a male, it is simple. Your name remains the same. From the day, you were born to the day you die. (Unless you are unconventional, and take the name of a spouse). Women on the other hand have to endure a constant change of last names.

The origin of your last name and what it means.
While attending university I was fortunate to meet students from all over the world. That is where my curiosity with last names began. Whenever I meet someone new, I like to guess the origin of his or her name. For me, a last name gives insight into the history and culture of different people. It is also an excellent topic for conversation.

Meanings of names research tools available online!

With the increasing popularity of family genealogy, search tools make it easier to delve into your ancestral past. You can get lost in the journey of discovery.

Visit my favorite meanings of surnames website, Behind the Name and you will find tools to help you:

• Research the origin of your last name

• Follow the journey of your last name through history to see what your family tree reveals

• Research different spellings of your last name

• See how and when changes happened and

• if you are lucky, find the first occurrence of your last name in history.

New last name, new identity.
Recently, I was talking with a friend about family genealogy and researching last names. She is convinced that her last name defines and identifies who she is.

Growing up, my friend was always proud of her family name. She still is. Her last name meant something to people where she grew up. Her family was revered for their generosity and kindness. They opened their hearts and home to people in need. That, she told me, made her proud.

With misty eyes, she explained that the moment the priest uttered the words, “I now pronounce you husband and wife”, and she felt like a different person. Her new last name immediately: identified her as the spouse of her husband and defined her as one-half of their partnership.
In the blink of an eye, someone’s life becomes different with the change of name.

What’s in a last name anyway and why should I care?
In preparing for this post, I conducted a quick search online for conversations about last names. It was not surprising to learn, people in general, do not care about their last names and their origins. I have met people who could not remember their last name from a previous marriage and frankly did not care.

I came to realize not everyone shares the excitement of researching family genealogy. Not everyone wants cares about their ancestors. In their minds, it doesn’t really matter. A name is just a name and why should they care?

No matter how you feel, I believe we are who we are, because of our names. Whether or not it’s the name, given to you at birth or the name from a marriage. Your last name is your defining link and unique identifier.

My last name, Walters, is a very common name, but not so common for people with my heritage. My family is a mix of several European nationalities, but my Dad’s parents were both from Romania. No one in Romania is named Walters. This led me to do a little digging and I found out that when my great grandfather came to Canada with his new bride and my grandfather (his son from a previous marriage), great grandfather’s name was not Walters, but Vultura. The story goes that he wanted a more anglicized family name as he forged his way in this new world.

I will never really know if the change of surnames made him the proud and hardworking man that he was, or if it was his pride that made him change his name. In any case, the Walters continue to be proud people.

Because of this story and others I’ve heard like it, i strongly believe that your last name does define who you are.

What are your thoughts? I would love to know what your surname means and how it came to be your surname.