Lesson Plans: Grades 3-5

Lesson 3: British Surnames Derived from Occupations or Professions

Tools

The Lesson

Introduction

Last names as we know them

Last names as we know them now originated in the Middle Ages from people’s occupations, where they lived, their father’s first name, or even their appearance or disposition.

Another common type of medieval byname derived from how a man spent his time. Every farming village had a blacksmith to forge iron tools, a miller to grind wheat, a carpenter to craft furniture, and many other specialists. Some "job descriptions" had meanings different from what we might expect. For example, a farmer did not farm, he collected taxes; and a banker was a "dweller on a hillside or bank," not someone who dealt with money!

Guiding Questions

What can we learn about medieval occupations through British surnames?

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to explain how certain British surnames derive from people's occupations, and recognize some of the more common names still prevalent.

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.

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

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Occupational Surnames
  • Learn more about medieval occupations by accessing the following links available through EDSITEment-reviewed resource Labyrinth:
    • Medieval Professions. After the students read the text under Types of Jobs, make a list on the board of some medieval professions. Ask what modern names might be derived from them.
    • Medieval Jobs. After reading the list of occupations and their descriptions, determine which might be the origins of surnames.
    • The Urban Economy. Scroll down to the drawing. Call upon students to describe the various occupations represented in this urban scene
Student Activity:

Return to the Surname Origin List. Have the students, working in pairs, look up the names on the list, find their meanings, and write them on the chart (Occupational Surnames) also available in .pdf format.

Name What It Means

1. Ackerman

1.

2. Bailey

2.

3. Bowman

3.

4. Brewster

4.

5. Buckman

5.

6. Carter

6.

7. Carver

7.

8. Chapman

8.

9. Clark(e)

9.

10. Crocker

10.

11. Dexter

11.

12. Fishman

12.

13. Fletcher

13.

14. Fuller

14.

15. Gardner

15.

16. Harper

16.

17. Hooper

17.

18. Kellogg

18.

19. Luther

19.

20. Mason

20.

21. Mercer

21.

22. Miller

22.

23. Minter

23.

24. Parker

24.

25. Partridge

25.

26. Porter

26.

27. Sawyer

27.

28. Shepard

28.

29. Smith

29.

30. Stewart

30.

31. Sumner

31.

32. Tripper

32.

33. Viner

33.

34. Walker

34.

35. Webster

35.

36. Woodward

36.

37. Wright

37.
38. Zeller 38.

Assessment

  • Hand out copies of a local phonebook to groups of three students. Have each group select a "scribe." When you give the signal (this is a timed activity), have each group go through the phone book. Their goal is to find as many names with British origins that seem to relate to occupations, such as Skinner or Carter, which the scribes will record. Each name must be followed by a description of the occupation to which it alludes. After about twenty minutes, give a signal to stop. Have the scribes count the number of names they have. Whichever group has the most names wins. (You might wish to go over the names after class to make sure that each one is “legitimate.”)
  • Play "What's My Line?" In medieval times, most people were illiterate. For this reason, craftsmen and artisans hung signs above their workshops containing graphics to indicate what line of work they were in. For example, a tailor might have a sign with a picture of a needle and thread. Instruct the students to select a profession that has been discussed in this activity and to draw a sign to indicate it. To play the game, one student holds up his sign and asks, "What's My Line?" Whoever guesses the answer goes next. The game continues until everyone has had a turn.

The Basics

Time Required

1-2 class periods

Subject Areas
  • Art and Culture > Subject Matter > Anthropology
  • History and Social Studies > Place > Europe
  • History and Social Studies > World > The Medieval World (500 CE-1500 CE)
Skills
  • Critical thinking
  • Cultural analysis
  • Discussion
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Interpretation
  • Logical reasoning
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
Authors
  • Suzanne Art (AL)