What’s in a name?

SmithA person’s family name can tell a lot about their ethnicity, family history, even what their ancestors did for jobs.  Many older names reflect occupations, such as Baker, Tailor, Smith, and Cook. Surnames can sometimes give clues about where a family comes from, even down to a town or village.

There are a lot of genealogy resources available if you are interested in researching your own family name, or that of your friends. Behind the Name has family names from many different cultures and languages, from Basque to Icelandic, Romanian to Sikh.  An interesting addition is the Statistics option, which allows you to see how common a certain name is in the USA or England and Wales.

The Mandarin Chinese surnames Wang and Li are the most common surnames in the world, with over 90 million people each.

Just out of interest, my surname was ranked 459th out of 88,799 names in the US census of 1990.  You can also tell that my family is from a Cantonese-speaking part of China, as the English transliteration is ‘Wong’, not ‘Huang’ (which is a Mandarin spelling).

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