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Individuals & Surnames

Discovered the interesting Phil Jones via a comment he left here. His ThoughtStorms wiki makes for some provocative thinking. I especially like some of his stuff on individuality. One of the tentative ideas is that individuality is a modern concept, and as an example he suggests surnames. People used to be named by function after all.

Did a little digging, though, and it seems the opposite was the case.

For a thousand years Europeans made do with only one last name, but as people tend to do, they multiplied. By the early Middle Ages record keeping was getting tricky. Suppose there were six Johns in the village; how was the tax collector to make sure which one was delinquent? So by royal decree, over a number of years folks began to give themselves a surname, or last name as we call them.
And jobs were just one way of getting a surname. Others were family (e.g. MacDonald), home (e.g. DuPont) and characteristics (e.g. Brown, Bright). Not all these characteristics were flattering though. Guignion meant "the guy with the squint", but the one which should have been IMMEDIATELY guessable was Campbell.

Alastair Campbell roughly translates to "Alastair, the boke with the crooked mouth".

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Comments

I guess that explains my surname--Ternahan. LOL,

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