What's in a Name?

What’s in a Name?

November 29, 2018 Off By support@thebestforkid.com

One thing that makes genealogy difficult and challenging is the fact that surnames often evolve over time. As surname changes, it makes it that much more daunting to find the right match with your relative. It’s hard to be sure when this happens, but you can still trace your lineage when you understand that this happens. Some of these common issues about names can help you find more information about your family.


Sometimes names have changed only because the person collecting the information at the point of entry to a new country spelled their name incorrectly. There was a time in history when no one spelled words the same. Spelling was based more on the sound of the words instead of the convention. Think about the names DeLorenzo and DiLorenzo, or Barry and Berry. There isn’t much difference – only the choice the writer made to use “e” or “i”, or “a” or “e” for the same sound.


By tradition, people change their surnames when they get married. In some cultures, children take their mother’s surnames or a combination of maternal and paternal names. In others, women only take the man’s name which is passed down to their children. In Spanish culture, usually, two or more last names are used. If you’re of Hungarian descent, the surname was put before the given name.


Surnames used to mean something, such as what they did for a living (e.g. “Baker”). If the family were no longer bakers and married into a Fisher family, then the name would change there without record. It was a medieval practice of adding what someone does to their given name. In Slavic countries, different names are given for the surname based on whether the person was male or female. In China, the 100 most common surnames are shared by over 85 percent of the population. That can make it super-hard to find a connection.


Thankfully, the main issue is spelling errors and not anything else. Most names stay the same and only change depending on the tradition of naming children. Misspellings can be a huge issue for those who wish to find out information about their heritage. But, only if you let it become one. It’s not going to invalidate your research if you try some common spellings of your name. Just match the misspelling with other known information.

Don’t Put Blocks in Your Way

Rather than being concerned about surname meaning, instead, focus on finding people based on what you do know. It’s okay to change the spelling to try to find the information. If the dates and other facts match up, you’ll locate the person you need to locate. That’s why you must think outside the box when you’re conducting research about your lineage. After all, it hasn’t been that long in history that spelling has been a thing; people normally wrote words how they sounded and not by any rules.

As you conduct your search, try different spellings, switch around surnames and given names, and transpose the dates. Due to entry errors, this may help you find what you’re looking for.