The Use Of Surnames Started During The Middle Ages In England – Today we all have last names, also called surnames, but how and when did we start using last names? History tells us the custom started in Medieval England in the year 1066.

In the early years of the Middle Ages, most people in Europe lived in small farming villages. Since everyone knew his or her neighbors, and there was little need for last names. This changed however when the population expanded and the towns grew. Suddenly, there was a need to find ways to differentiate between two people who shared the same first name.

Medieval England

Prior to the introduction of surnames in England in 1066, everyone had just one name. Surnames had many different sources, but they can be roughly grouped into four categories: patronymic, locative, occupational or status, and nicknames. Common adjectives often referred to size, such as Little, Short, or Longor to hair color or complexion such as White, Black, or Red (which evolved into Reed). Sometimes, an adjective was combined with a noun to form a byname, like Longfellow or Blackbeard.

Ancient History Facts: The Use Of Surnames Started During The Middle Ages In England

A person with a nickname could for example be called Robert Red (symbolic of his hair color). If Robert lost his hair, people would call him Rabert Bald.

See also: Law Of The Innocents

Patronymic names identified people as their fathers’ children. Locative surnames identified people based upon where they were born, live or work or the land they own. Occupational or status names were also common. They identified people based upon their jobs or social status. Thomas Smith would have been the Thomas in the village who was the blacksmith. Robert Knight might have chosen his surname to reflect his social standing as a knight.

Because the British were among the first Europeans to settle in North America, many modern American surnames can be traced back to medieval England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales.