The Name Game

I’ve been mulling about last names.  Once in awhile you run across one that just makes you wonder…  why??

I mean, once upon a time, people didn’t have last names, right?  And then as the population grew and people traveled more, that got confusing, I suppose.  So they identified men as John the Butcher or John the Scribe or John from Athens or whatever.  And eventually we had last names, or so I’ve been told.  None of us chooses our last names, and we get so used to them we hardly think about it, but I’m sure you, as I, have been occasionally struck by an unusual last name.

Many last names are pretty obvious.  Mason, Carver, Carpenter, Miller, Cook, Cartwright, Hunter, Fletcher, Chandler, Archer Smith, Baker–you can guess where those came from.  And the ones that tell who their daddy was are quite straightforward, too–Peterson, Johnson, Carlson, etc. 

But some of them aren’t so self-explanatory.  For instance, I used to know someone with the last name Fickle.  Now doesn’t it just pique your curiosity as to why someone way back sometime was referred to as John the Fickle?  Did he go around wooing young maidens, then breaking their hearts?  It just makes you wonder.

I noticed in the phone book the other day the last name Shanty–John who lived in a Shanty, as opposed to John who lived in the Manor, perhaps?  And I’ve heard of someone with the last name of Outhouse–really, do you suppose??? 

And what about colors?  I suppose that White, Black, and Brown could have just been physical descriptions, but what about Mr. Green?  Were his forebears chronically ill with stomach flu? 

Speaking of forebears, we know some people with the last name of Forbear.  Was that just a reference to an illustrious family tree, or did their great-great-great….many times great granddaddy once shoot four bears in one day? 

What interesting and unusual last names do you wonder about? 



About dayuntoday

I'm a wonderer. I spend a lot of time mulling, pondering, and cogitating. This is just a place to park some of those thoughts.
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25 Responses to The Name Game

  1. BooksForMe says:

    Great post!  Very funny.  I have often wondered about last names, especially my own maiden name: Mosqueda.

  2. mamaglop says:

    I DO wonder about exactly that.  There was a person named Turnipseed in our phone book for a while.  One of Secunda’s friends is named Door.  I like to think up first names that would go with that, like Mahogany.  How about Marshall for a last name of Artz?

  3. aj1965 says:

    I knew a man at church with the last name of Belch……. hmmmm!  There was a last name I heard recently that puzzled me a bit.  I can’t recall the name, but, I remember it had a negative conotation to it….. like a word to describe a bad or negative character quality, like… “Devious” or “Sullen” or something like that.  I would be very tempted to change my name, I believe, if I had a name like that. 
    Just stopping by…..

  4. lglavy says:

    hmmmm…..methinks your pre-wedding brain is on overload!  Can’t say i’ve ever given this much thought, but you do pose an interesting question.  Lavy….hmm….lazy misinterpreted?  If I’m really supposed to be a Lazy, then I’m going right back to bed!

  5. Anonymous says:

    You’re a hoot, lady!  But when we think of our own last names, it makes you wonder where they originated from.  It’s quite interesting how some traditions come about isn’t it?!  Hope you’re calm, cool, and collected, for that wedding 

  6. Pancake.No, I’m not kidding.  I saw it in the phonebook the other day!  ROFLOL

  7. Anonymous says:

    Very interesting.  Now I want to look through the phone book and see all the strange names!

  8. fwren says:

    Quackenbush ~ what???  A duck in the hedge?  A quacking shrub?  A bush that is cracking up?         Do you need a honeymoon, girlfriend?  Can’t believe you had time to think about this!  What a hoot ~ enjoy these last few days before all the hullabaloo ~ enjoyed seeing your kids over the weekend ~

  9. homefire says:

    @mamaglop – oh, a descendent of Johnny Turnipseed!  (oops, no, that was Johny Appleseed, wasn’t it? )

  10. homefire says:

    These are great!  Keep them coming, folks!
    I thought of another one–we have some friends with the (I think) rather unfortunate last name of Heck.  Now do you suppose that Heck once had another (more socially acceptable) meaning than just a swear word?  You have to hope so!

  11. samcgarber says:

    Then there’s the slim chance that a last name originated in a language other than English – thus when transliterated so that people illiterate of other languages can pronounce it, it ends up being an English silly word.

  12. Plowhead….my husbands cousins are Plowheads…obviously something to do with plows I would think…but they say it is just lost in translation and is really just sounding like a plow… 🙂

  13. cereneone says:

    I, too, have heard many an unusual name in my life.  I do know that when slavery was abolished the slaves chose their last name. Some would simply take on their former master’s name (if he had been a kind master), while others would just chose something they liked or at random. 

  14. AngelAware says:

    My Last Name is Smilie Well I got it from my husband Im proud of that name for sure. Its funny too because he always smiling But his dad….not so much?  My mom went to school with a Hortense Hicklemyer…..I was always greatful I did not end up with a name like that. I mean come on why do parents name there kids such names that will torment them there whole lives?

  15. SpazzyMommy says:

    This post is quite timely….being as I so phone answering for a company now- I am always hearing all sorts of names- some common….and some hard to pronounce. I’m always inquisitive about things and often times ask “where are you from?” or “What does that name mean?”
    Well, yesterday I had a call from a man with the last name (and this is true!!) Dingledorf.  I asked him to say it once more so that I would make sure that I heard him right. At that moment I was so glad that I’m not doing counter sales or face to face sales….because I broke out in a huge grin- (and trying to keep the smile out of my voice was HARD!!)
    I mean…..who wants to become MRS. DINGLEDORF??  No thanks!! (LOL)
    RYC: Thank you SO MUCH for your comment to me. It was one of the most meaningful to me, because I know that I’m not totally wacko- you understood what I was saying- and maybe I had just a slight case of the “martyr syndrome” too?? (grin)

  16. marys_hubby says:

    I wonder why the customers I deal with at work…when the ones w/crazy last names leave messages, they always say it quick and slurred and never spell it. And the person with the name Smith or Jones says it slow and spells it.

    RYC: Oh yeah…go Giants!

  17. homefire says:

    hmmm.  Well, Dingledorf would surely take the prize so far…or maybe Belch?    I mean, how could you possibly keep a straight face on that one? 
    More!  I love these!!! 

  18. Anonymous says:

    @homefire – You would keep a straight face the same way you would if you met Mr Burp or Mrs Gas.

  19. This is a great post! I alway had much sympathy for my largely-endowed eighth grade history teacher, Doris Boob.

  20. the_grat says:

    savage. =) loland similar names like ‘death’ ‘cruel’ ‘pain’ – what the heck kind of names are that ?

  21. homefire says:

    @TeacherPerson – That one laughed me into a severe coughing fit!  That is just pitiful!  I would change my name, I think!
    @the_grat – Yeah, it’s funny how you get used to some names that are indeed, really bad.  I didn’t even think about Savage, but it’s sure one that does make you wonder about the origin.  Are there really the last names Death, Cruel and Pain?  Never run across those.

  22. the_grat says:

    @homefire – yep.  look in your phonebook for more.  🙂  i personally knew both a dr death, and a dr deatherage.  not very inspiring.  and i have a client with the last name ‘cruel’.  pain was a white pages inspiration.

  23. bubston says:

    Just stopping by… saw you at my mom’s … sparrow59.  I do the very same thing… but not only with names of people… I often think about how some town or thing got it’s name as well.  Like you said… somethings you can tell… but others… my hubby and I do this off and on from time to time…. especially if we are traveling.  Like your post… can we be friends?

  24. Stopping in to say hello! I had to comment on this one. We have the color Black covered for you. Yes, that is our last name. No, we are not of that skin color – neither is any of my husbands family. Also, I have family members that are the Greene’s. They are not always sick with the stomac flu, lol …. but they are super healthy and earthy. Maybe thats where it comes from?! Very interesting topic. Feel free to stop by my site anytime Blessings, Ashley

  25. Anonymous says:

    Used to know a family named Sourbeer. 
    And how about Engelbert Humperdinck?

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