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.
Over half of all English surnames used today are derived from the names of places where people lived. This type is known as a locative surname. For example, a man called John who lived near the marsh might be known as John Marsh. John who lived in the dell was called John Dell. Other examples are John Brook, John Lake, and John Rivers. Some names combined two words, such as Underhill (someone who lived at the foot of the hill) and Hightower (dweller of the high tower).
Certain locative surnames are less clear in meaning, since they are derived from earlier forms of English. For example, who would guess that Dunlop means “a muddy hill!” Below are a few helpful clues for determining the meanings of this type of name.
In some cases, the preposition "of" was simply added to the name of a town to form a person's byname. Examples are John of York and William of Orange.
What are locative surnames?
Students will develop an understanding of British surnames derived from locations and learn some of the more common names still prevalent today.
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:
1-2 class periods