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

What's in a Name

Surnames and Occupations

William Holden
6/28/97

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.

  • Archer - millitary man who fought with bow and arrow
  • Armour - made arms and armour
  • Baker
  • Barber
  • Barker - tanned hides with bark
  • Bellows - bellows maker, or one who operated the huge bellows in the forge
  • Boardman - cut timber into boards
  • Bowman
  • Brewer
  • Brewster - female brewer
  • Carpenter
  • Carter - transported merchandise in a cart
  • Cartwright - made carts
  • Carver
  • Chandler - candle maker (also, ship's chandler, who purveyed ship's supplies
  • Clark - clerk
  • Cooper
  • Crocker - made pottery crocks
  • Currier - dressed leather after tanning
  • Cutler - made knives and scissors
  • Draper - drapery maker
  • Falconer - raised and trained falcons (a very significant occupation in Medieval times)
  • Farmer
  • Fisher - fisherman
  • Forrester - lumberman
  • Fowler - trapped small birds
  • Fuller
  • Gardner (Gardiner) - cultivated vegetable and flower garden
  • Glazier - glass worker
  • Glover - glovemaker
  • Goldsmith
  • Hooper - the hoop maker for barrels.
  • Horner - hornsmith (made cups, ladles & spoons, etc. of horn)
  • Keeler - barge tender
  • Loomis - loom maker
  • Mason - stone cutter or worker
  • Miller (Mueller, Moeller, Muller) - one who ran the grain mill.
  • Minor
  • Naylor - nailmaker
  • Packman - peddler
  • Painter
  • Pearlman - dealer in pearls
  • Pittman (Pitman) worked down in the pit with the pitsaw
  • Plummer
  • Potter
  • Roper - ropemaker
  • Saddler
  • Sailor
  • Sandler - sandalmaker
  • Sawyer
  • Seaman - worked on a ship
  • Shearer - sheared wool from sheep
  • Shepherd
  • Shoemaker
  • Skinner
  • Slater -
  • Smith (Schmidt, Schmitt, Schmid, Smythe) - blacksmith
  • Stoner - mason
  • Tanner
  • Taylor
  • Thatcher
  • Turner
  • Tyler - made and sold tiles
  • Wagner (Wagoner) - made or drove wagons
  • Wainwright - made wagons
  • Waterman - boat operator, ferryman
  • Weaver
  • Webster - female weaver
  • Wheeler - made wheels or spinning wheels
  • Wheelwright
  • Woodward - forest warden

FROM THE CHURCH:

  • Abbott
  • Bishop
  • Cannon
  • Chaplin
  • Parson
  • Sexton

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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