Home >> Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 26 >> Sunstroke to Switzerland >> Surnames_P1


names, name, family, proper, named, daughter and significant

Page: 1 2 3

SURNAMES. A surname is a name added to a baptismal or Christian name which makes it more specific, and is generally a family designa tion. It may be indicative of descent, habitat, craft, or may have originated in totemistic asso ciations, clanship, personal peculiarities or from vulgar nicknames. A proper name, once given or adopted, becomes in time a part of the in dividuality. The giving of names is not neces sarily proof of an advanced civilized condition. It may be considered coeval with and intimately connected with the gift of speech; the Adamic tradition of the origin of common names is a self-evident proposition when applied to pre Adamic savagery. The primal family grew into the primal tribe, and proper names became nec essary; the land and the gathering of men upon it necessitated proper designations for each, or the same name for both.

All proper names have, at first, a peculiarly appropriate meaning, which in time often be comes obscured and ultimately forgotten. Schlegel traced descriptive epithets in almost all Hindu names, and the older names among the Hebrews, Arabs, in fact all Oriental nations, are highly significant and grotesque; as, "son of wool,' "son of wealth,* "son of the scythe,* "young of dog,' "prince of the dogs* among the Tcherkessians of Mount Caucasus. This is measurably true of names of Aryan origin, and noticeably those of Teutonic and Scandinavian lines. The North American native is usually named from some animal, for totemic reasons. and later earns another from some deed of dar ing performed; and similar practices prevail in all savage tribes. In fact, the origin of heraldry may he looked for in totemic devices and sym bols.

The study of proper names is useful in his torical and literary researches — as important as numismatics, heraldry, superstitions, symbol ism and tradition. The name of a man often retains the impress of his country, and some times of the period in which he lived, and may thus furnish a clue to correct a date or vague notion, or to settle a disputed question in chro nology, geography or genealogy; the conquer ors of Andalusia, the Vandals, gave their name to that province, and it is hence not derived from Andalus, son of Japhet and grandson of Noah; the posterity of one man cannot, in rea son, cover 30 degrees of longitude, in three generations, in a barbaric age.

In Rome, family or clan names were heredi tary, but surnames remained individual, sanc tioned by public consent, as Scipio Nasica, Piso Frugi, Lentulus Sura. In the republics of Greece, notably Athens and Sparta, men's names were significant of the power, valor, virtues or victories of the people, as Agesilaus, Charide mus, Demagorus, Demophilus, Demosthenes, Laodice. In fact it is common among all peo ples to exaggerate the importance of the signifi cance of names. Both Greeks and Romans augured well or ill from them. Grecian names are significant, either of religious feeling, the remembrance of great events, some happy omen, chance, friendship or gratitude. Daughters were named from their fathers more scrupu lously than were the sons; Homer uses their names in this wise without exception, as Chry seis, the daughter of Chryses; Briseis, the daughter of Briseus. The son's name was fre quently an enlarged form of the father's, as it was deemed that polysyllabic names were more honorable than shorter ones, which were given to slaves; the Spartan Hegesander named his son Hegesandrides, and Hiero, tyrant of Syra cuse, named his son Hieronymus. There are traces of a desire to adopt family names, among the Greeks, but it generally ended in a vague reference to the hero from whom the family sprung; these surnames were only adopted by those families who pretended to trace back to deities or fabulous periods of history.

The Scandinavians and largely the Germans had none but individual names; every family, as with the Greeks, showed a decided prefer ence for certain names, and these were gener ally transmitted from grandfather to grandson, or from uncle to nephew, for some occult rea son, while the daughter was only known by her father's name (as Alf-hide meaning literally the child of Alf'r). Others retained the root from which the head of the family derived his name, but varying the other syllables (thus, the three sons of the formidable Argrim retained the last syllable which signified rage). There were thus no family names among the Celts, strictly speaking. The songs of the Druids have perished with the names of the heroes they sang of ; but more fortunate were the heroes of Erin and Morven, for the ancient national songs still exist in Ireland and Scotland.

Page: 1 2 3