Lesson Plans: Grades 3-5
Curriculum Unit

What's In A Name? (4 Lessons)

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The Unit

Overview

MacDonald. Carpenter. Underwood. Green. These are typical American names that reflect a family's British origins—but they tell us little about the people who currently bear them. How times have changed! In the Middle Ages, a person's second name served a useful function. In some cases, it revealed where he lived; in others, it told who his father was, what he did for a living, or even what he looked like.

In this unit, students will learn about the origins of four major types of British surnames. They will consult lists to discover the meanings of specific names and later demonstrate their knowledge of surnames through various group activities. They will then compare the origins of British to certain types of non-British surnames. In a final activity, the students will research the origins and meanings of their own family names.

Guiding Questions

  • What are the origins of British surnames?
  • What did these names once tell about the people who bore them?
  • What similarities exist between British and non-British surnames?
  • How can we find the origins of our own surnames?

Learning Objectives

  • Explain how and why surnames came to be
  • Describe four types of British surnames and give examples of each
  • Compare the derivations of British and certain non-British surnames
  • Tell the origin and meaning of their own surnames

Preparation Instructions

Become familiar with the materials used in the lesson plan. Locate and bookmark websites you plan to use. Download and duplicate charts used in the activities. Secure several copies of a local phonebook for the Assessment exercise in Lesson 3.

You can find additional background information about surnames at the following sites:

The Lessons

The Basics

Grade Level

3-5

Subject Areas
  • Art and Culture > Subject Matter > Anthropology
  • History and Social Studies > Place > Europe
  • History and Social Studies > Place > The Americas
  • History and Social Studies > World > The Medieval World (500 CE-1500 CE)
  • History and Social Studies > Place > The Middle East
  • History and Social Studies > Place > Asia
Skills
  • Critical thinking
  • Cultural analysis
  • Discussion
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Interpretation
  • Logical reasoning
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Animals of the Chinese Zodiac

    Animals of the Chinese Zodiac image

    In this lesson plan, students will learn about the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. In the process, they will learn about Chinese culture, as well as improve reading, writing, and researching skills.

  • Lesson 2. The Debate in the United States over the League of Nations: Disagreement Over the League

    Woodrow Wilson for League of Nations

    American foreign policy debate over U.S. entry into the League of Nations-collective security versus national sovereignty, idealism versus pragmatism, the responsibilities of powerful nations, the use of force to accomplish idealistic goals, the idea of America. Understanding the debate over the League and the consequences of its failure provides insight into international affairs in the years since Great War. In this lesson, students read the words and listen to the voices of some central participants in the debate over the League of Nations.

  • Lesson 8: On the Road with Marco Polo: Homecoming

    A map of Marco Polo's route to and from China.

    This lesson can serve as the culminating review lesson for the entire EDSITEment Marco Polo Curriculum Unit, or you may use it to complete your own series of lessons for 3rd through 5th graders that focus on Marco Polo's journey to China and back.

  • Lesson 6: On the Road with Marco Polo: Sea Voyage to India

    A map of Marco Polo's route to and from China.

    After spending 17 years in China, Marco Polo and his father and uncle finally had an opportunity to return home to Venice. Student follow their homeward journey starting with a sea voyage to India.

  • Lesson 4: On the Road with Marco Polo: Crossing the Deserts of China

    A map of Marco Polo's route to and from China.

    After resting up and replenishing their supplies in the trading city of Kashgar, Marco Polo and his father and uncle continued eastward on their journey from Venice to China.

  • Lesson 3: On the Road with Marco Polo: From Hormuz to Kashgar

    A map of Marco Polo's route to and from China.

    The Polos were so concerned about the seaworthiness of the ships they found at Hormuz that they changed their plans and decided instead to follow a series of trade routes across Asia to China. Students will "accompany" them on this leg og the trip, from Hormuz to Kashgar.

  • Lesson 2: On the Road with Marco Polo: From Venice to Hormuz

    A map of Marco Polo's route to and from China.

    Marco Polo's father and uncle returned to Venice when he was 15 years old. Two years later, when they set off again for China, they decided to take Marco with them. Students will take a “virtual” trip with Marco Polo from Venice to China and back. The first leg of the journey ends at Hormuz.

  • Morality "Tails" East and West: European Fables and Buddhist Jataka Tales

    Malaysian Buddha figurine.

    Fables, such as those attributed to Aesop, are short narratives populated by animals who behave like humans, and which convey lessons to the listener. Jataka Tales are often short narratives which tell the stories of the lives of the Buddha before he reached Enlightenment. In this lesson students will be introduced to both Aesop’s fables and to a few of the Jataka Tales, and through these stories will gain an understanding of one genre of storytelling: morality tales.

  • George Orwell's Essay on his Life in Burma: "Shooting An Elephant"

    George Orwell confronted an Asian elephant like this one in the story recounted  for this lesson plan.

    Eric A. Blair, better known by his pen name, George Orwell, is today best known for his last two novels, the anti-totalitarian works Animal Farm and 1984. He was also an accomplished and experienced essayist, writing on topics as diverse as anti-Semitism in England, Rudyard Kipling, Salvador Dali, and nationalism. Among his most powerful essays is the 1931 autobiographical essay "Shooting an Elephant," which Orwell based on his experience as a police officer in colonial Burma.