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
  • 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 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 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 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.

  • 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: What's In A Name? British Surnames Derived from Places

    Last names as we know them now originated

    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.

  • Witnesses to Joan of Arc and The Hundred Years' War

    Statue of Joan of Arc in Meridian Hill Park, Washington, D.C.

    Joan of Arc is likely one of France's most famous historical figures, and has been mythologized in popular lore, literature, and film. She is also an exceptionally well-documented historical figure. Through such firsthand accounts students can trace Joan's history from childhood, through her death, and on to her nullification trial.