Where Did Last Names Come From, How Did Surnames Originate, and What Do they Mean?

In the Middle Ages, most common people didn’t have a last name.

Many of our familiar surnames came from the necessity to distinguish between two people with the same first name by adding their occupation, location, or a physical characteristic.

William the tanner and William the blacksmith became William Tanner and William Smith.

Poor country people who worked the land took the name of their land lord, so a regal surname usually doesn’t mean regal ancestry.

Other occupational last names:

Taylor — makes or repairs clothing
Carter — makes or repairs carts
Miller — ground flour from grain
Wainwright — wagon builder
Bishop — worked with a bishop

Last names with geographic origins:

Atwood — one who lives near the forest
Eastman — one who is from east of here
Westwood — one who is from the western forest
Dunlop — from the muddy hill
Churchill — lives near a church on a hill