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Thread: Origin of your surname

  1. #231
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    Danish. Just means son of …..

  2. #232
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    Mine is either Saxon or Norse. If Saxon, it could mean either "dark" or "pale." I saw the name on a list of Norman surnames, so who knows?

  3. #233
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    Quote Originally Posted by Angriff View Post
    It could’ve been a soldier surname. My family tree back in Sweden has some and they weren’t hereditary so the rest of the family wouldn’t share that surname. But if a brother with the name immigrated perhaps it was turned into a hereditary name here.
    That's one thought I had before I found out about the brother. A Swedish cousin I've been in contact with (although we don't know how we are related yet) suggested that it could have to do with the name of his parents' house too (Westergården). Apparently it wasn't uncommon to just adopt a new name at that time, and between around 1860 and 1901 (when the patronymic system ended so everyone had to) it was increasingly common for people to go ahead and adopt family names.

    It's funny because there are all those (often apocryphal) stories about immigration officials forcing new names on people because the old ones were too hard, and here they had a super simple name (Johansson) and changed it. And I'm kind of glad they did, since at least once they came to the US I didn't have to deal with a Johansson or Johnson (too many Joneses in my family already!).

  4. #234
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    Quote Originally Posted by msmarjoribanks View Post
    That's one thought I had before I found out about the brother. A Swedish cousin I've been in contact with (although we don't know how we are related yet) suggested that it could have to do with the name of his parents' house too (Westergården). Apparently it wasn't uncommon to just adopt a new name at that time, and between around 1860 and 1901 (when the patronymic system ended so everyone had to) it was increasingly common for people to go ahead and adopt family names.

    It's funny because there are all those (often apocryphal) stories about immigration officials forcing new names on people because the old ones were too hard, and here they had a super simple name (Johansson) and changed it. And I'm kind of glad they did, since at least once they came to the US I didn't have to deal with a Johansson or Johnson (too many Joneses in my family already!).
    I'm glad you said "often apocryphal". It seems that immigration officials were one of the least likely sources of name changes. There are a variety of reasons for this, but one is that they didn't just rely on the immigrant's own statement, but worked from lists made in or near the "old country" -- long before the individual or family ever got to the U.S.

    One problem is that some surnames never did actually have one way of spelling the name. Many countries in Europe have multiple dialects, or sometimes even multiple languages. There can be different versions of the same name -- either first or last.

    In fact, it is likely that one reason that there are few (if any) German surnames in the top 100 U.S. names is that the most common German names have several ways of being spelled. For example, the most common surname in Germany today is Müller. But Möller, which is basically the same name, is also among the top 100 German names. Both names mean Miller -- but you can actually find "Miller" in Germany, too, with exactly that spelling.

    The name "Schmidt" is the second-most common surname in Germany. But this is only because the name has three other spellings in German just in the top 50 names: Schmitt (26th), Schmitz (28th), and Schmid (32nd). Of course, all three names mean "Smith", and it's likely that at least some of the "Smiths" among the U.S. most common surnames are actually just translated from German. (And from other languages, too.)

    My surname was never terribly common even in Germany, but there are still multiple ways of spelling the name there. In "standard German", it would be either Buchheim or Buchheimer. An example would be Lothar-Günther Buchheim, author of Das Boot. My ancestor seems to most often have spelled the name according to the Austo-Bavarian dialect, though I believe he actually emigrated from Hesse: Buchhammer.

    However, there is a problem. Sometimes the name appears with just one "m", a phenomenon also found in Germany; and which continued down to the present. So today I have cousins that spell the name as I do, Bookhammer. But I also have cousins who spell it as Bookhamer. These seem to be the most common versions, though I don't think there are more than a few hundred of us (to perhaps over a thousand) -- so it isn't exactly as if the word "common" applies. I also have a 4th cousin once removed who spells the name as "Bookheimer", but he says that spelling only dates back to his grandfather's time. Before that, it was Bookhammer.

    That raises another point, anyway. Not only did many surnames have multiple "correct" spellings (at least in their own dialect), many folks didn't spell very well anyway. And even when they did spell correctly -- or at least consistently (which my ancestors often didn't) -- they didn't always sign their names legibly. (Of course, sometimes it's really the fault of the reader, not the writer.)

    For example, A Collection of upwards of Thirty Thousand Names of German, Swiss, Dutch, French and other Immigrants in Pennsylvania From 1727 to 1776 by Daniel Rupp shows my ancestor's name as Johann Buchharner. There's a lot of evidence to show that this was never the name, but it seems likely that Rupp (or someone working for him) simply misread the written "m" as an "r n". I have a problem with those silly humps myself -- especially since using double-m means you need four of them.

    My point is, it may be misleading to suppose that it was only after immigration that our surnames changed. They may have always existed in multiple forms, or changed more than once even in the "old country". Even siblings may have used different versions of the name.

    Since you mentioned Sweden, I don't know whether there are different dialects but I would strongly suspect so. Even if one is "standard", as is the case in Germany, there are probably still places where others can be found. The same thing is probably true in nearly every country of Europe. I have ancestors who immigrated from Spain in the first or second quarter of the 19th century, but their region has its own language, Catalan (though generally folks can speak Castillian).

    That's why one of my surnames "looks" French rather than Spanish: Pons. The more typical Spanish version of the same name is Ponce, as in "Ponce de Leon". The same version, Pons, is in fact used in France. (And it's ridiculously common in Minorca, where my ancestor emigrated from; which makes searches more difficult.)
    Besides British-German-Catalan, ancestry includes smaller amounts of French, Irish, Swiss, Choctaw & prob. Cherokee. Avatar picture is: my father, his father, & his father's father; baby is my eldest brother.

    GB

  5. The Following User Says Thank You to geebee For This Useful Post:

     msmarjoribanks (07-01-2018)

  6. #235
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    Quote Originally Posted by geebee View Post
    I'm glad you said "often apocryphal". It seems that immigration officials were one of the least likely sources of name changes. There are a variety of reasons for this, but one is that they didn't just rely on the immigrant's own statement, but worked from lists made in or near the "old country" -- long before the individual or family ever got to the U.S.
    Indeed, but it is amazing how often people buy into the immigration official story super strongly and get mad if you suggest otherwise. I've had to bite my tongue lots of times when people just assert that this was a very common cause of name changes.

    In fact, it is likely that one reason that there are few (if any) German surnames in the top 100 U.S. names is that the most common German names have several ways of being spelled. For example, the most common surname in Germany today is Müller. But Möller, which is basically the same name, is also among the top 100 German names. Both names mean Miller -- but you can actually find "Miller" in Germany, too, with exactly that spelling.
    Yep, I have German Millers. Don't know what the original spelling was in my case. Another reason is that lots of German immigration was early (1700s) and lots even later went into more rural/mixed areas and in many cases the names got quickly anglicized. And one reason for that is that there's such overlap between German and English names. There are several in my tree that could be either, there are both English and German sources for the same name (or very similar ones).

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