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Investigate the Origin of Surnames

In this worksheet, students investigate the origin of common surnames.

'Investigate the Origin of Surnames' worksheet

Key stage:  KS 2

Curriculum topic:  Writing: Transcription

Curriculum subtopic:  Spelling Awareness (use knowledge of morphology and etymology in spelling)

Difficulty level:  

down

Worksheet Overview

QUESTION 1 of 10

People have many different surnames, and the origins of these can be traced back to many different cultures and countries.

 

In Britain, most people only used their given name (sometimes known as 'first name' or 'Christian name') until the 12th Century. However, there could be confusion between two people of the same name, so different ways of identifying people were needed.

for example:

Peter Johnson (the Peter whose father is called John)

Peter Green (the Peter who lives on the village green)

Peter Baker (the Peter who works as a baker)

Peter Little (the smallest of the four Peters)

 

To begin with, the surnames changed with each generation. Peter Johnson's son would be called Peterson, and if Peter Baker's son became a butcher he would be called Butcher. However, surnames in the UK eventually became fixed.

 

This worksheet investigates four types of surname that have been common in the UK for hundreds of years.

Occupational surnames are very common in the UK. It is easy to guess how names like Carpenter and Miller came about.

 

Sometimes the meaning of an occupational surname is less obvious. The name Cooper is common, but many people do not know that a cooper is a barrel maker.

 

Match these occupational surnames with their descriptions.

Column A

Column B

Thatcher
a person who thatches roofs on houses.
Turner
a builder
Sawyer
a person who saws logs
Mason
a person who turns wood on a lathe to make wooden ...

Many people have surnames based on the place where their ancestors lived. Again, the origin of some of these is obvious, such as Hill or Green, but others are less easy to understand. A 'shaw' used to mean a wood, and a 'thwaite' was a clearing in a wood.

 

Match these place name surnames with their meanings.

Column A

Column B

Banks
a person who lives in a long valley at the bottom ...
Townsend
a person who lives on the edge of a town
Braithwaite
a person who lives in a broad clearing in a wood
Longbottom
a person who lives close to a river

Patronymic surnames are very widespread in the UK. These surnames are based on the name of the person's father.

MacDonald, McDonald, O'Donnell, Donald and Donaldson are all patronymic surnames meaning 'son of Donald'.

 

Sometimes the original name isn't obvious. The surname Jones is very common in Wales and means 'son of John', while 'Dobson' comes from 'son of Robert'.

 

Match these patronymic surnames with their meanings.

Column A

Column B

Harrison
son of Hugh
Hudson
son of Nicholas
Gibson
son of Gilbert
Nicholls
son of Harry

The fourth common group of surnames are based on nicknames or features of the person. These include names like Redhead and Wise.

 

Again, some surnames in this group are harder to work out. Russell originally meant 'red-haired', while 'Blunt' meant 'blonde'.

 

Match these nicknames with their meanings.

Column A

Column B

Longman
a clever person
Swift
a person with white hair
Smart
a person who can run quickly
Snow
a tall person

To which group of surnames does the following name belong?

 

MacNeill

occupation

place

patronymic

nickname or feature

To which group of surnames does the following name belong?

 

Brown

occupation

place

patronymic

nickname or feature

To which group of surnames does the following name belong?

 

Potter

occupation

place

patronymic

nickname or feature

To which group of surnames does the following name belong?

 

Cartwright

occupation

place

patronymic

nickname or feature

To which group of surnames does the following name belong?

 

Dixon

occupation

place

patronymic

nickname or feature

To which group of surnames does the following name belong?

 

Fairchild

occupation

place

patronymic

nickname or feature

  • Question 1

Occupational surnames are very common in the UK. It is easy to guess how names like Carpenter and Miller came about.

 

Sometimes the meaning of an occupational surname is less obvious. The name Cooper is common, but many people do not know that a cooper is a barrel maker.

 

Match these occupational surnames with their descriptions.

CORRECT ANSWER

Column A

Column B

Thatcher
a person who thatches roofs on ho...
Turner
a person who turns wood on a lath...
Sawyer
a person who saws logs
Mason
a builder
  • Question 2

Many people have surnames based on the place where their ancestors lived. Again, the origin of some of these is obvious, such as Hill or Green, but others are less easy to understand. A 'shaw' used to mean a wood, and a 'thwaite' was a clearing in a wood.

 

Match these place name surnames with their meanings.

CORRECT ANSWER

Column A

Column B

Banks
a person who lives close to a riv...
Townsend
a person who lives on the edge of...
Braithwaite
a person who lives in a broad cle...
Longbottom
a person who lives in a long vall...
  • Question 3

Patronymic surnames are very widespread in the UK. These surnames are based on the name of the person's father.

MacDonald, McDonald, O'Donnell, Donald and Donaldson are all patronymic surnames meaning 'son of Donald'.

 

Sometimes the original name isn't obvious. The surname Jones is very common in Wales and means 'son of John', while 'Dobson' comes from 'son of Robert'.

 

Match these patronymic surnames with their meanings.

CORRECT ANSWER

Column A

Column B

Harrison
son of Harry
Hudson
son of Hugh
Gibson
son of Gilbert
Nicholls
son of Nicholas
  • Question 4

The fourth common group of surnames are based on nicknames or features of the person. These include names like Redhead and Wise.

 

Again, some surnames in this group are harder to work out. Russell originally meant 'red-haired', while 'Blunt' meant 'blonde'.

 

Match these nicknames with their meanings.

CORRECT ANSWER

Column A

Column B

Longman
a tall person
Swift
a person who can run quickly
Smart
a clever person
Snow
a person with white hair
  • Question 5

To which group of surnames does the following name belong?

 

MacNeill

CORRECT ANSWER
patronymic
  • Question 6

To which group of surnames does the following name belong?

 

Brown

CORRECT ANSWER
nickname or feature
  • Question 7

To which group of surnames does the following name belong?

 

Potter

CORRECT ANSWER
occupation
  • Question 8

To which group of surnames does the following name belong?

 

Cartwright

CORRECT ANSWER
occupation
EDDIE SAYS
A cartwright was a person who built carts.
  • Question 9

To which group of surnames does the following name belong?

 

Dixon

CORRECT ANSWER
patronymic
EDDIE SAYS
The name means 'son of Dick', but the spelling has changed over the years from Dickson to Dixon.
  • Question 10

To which group of surnames does the following name belong?

 

Fairchild

CORRECT ANSWER
nickname or feature
EDDIE SAYS
The name originally meant 'beautiful child'.
---- OR ----

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