Saturday, February 1, 2014

Surname Saturday - Bickerstaff

This week a friend sent me the link to a post titled The Origins and Meanings of Ashkenazic Last Names at Jewish Currents.  The author, Bennett Muraskin, briefly reviews how and when Jews living in Eastern Europe were forced to take on last names.  The history surrounding that change was interesting to me but more interesting was his discussion of how those last names were chosen.  As I read through his list and examples I realized that at some time in the past every family who now has a surname had to choose or be given one.  After all, Adam and Eve and other early humans didn't have surnames.

Mr. Muraskin's list of how surnames were chosen is below, minus his examples (go to the post to read those)
A peaceful-looking shepherd --
probably not a Bickerstaff
  • patronymics (son of ....)
  • matronymics (daughter of ....)
  • place names
  • occupational names (craftsmen/workers; merchants; related to tailoring; medical; related to liquor trade; religious communal)
  • personal traits
  • insulting names
  • animal names
  • Hebrew names
  • Hebrew acronyms
  • other Hebrew- and Yiddish-derived names
  • invented "Fancy Shmancy" Names

While I was reading his list of names associated with personal traits I thought of my most interesting surname among those I've researched:


Now, can't you just imagine my quarrelsome, angry ancestor holding his shepherd's staff high, ready to take a quick swing at another shepherd as they argue over the ownership of a sheep standing between them?

But wait!  Let's see what other definitions there are of "bicker." tells me it also means  to run rapidly, move quickly, rush, hurry.  Webster's 1828 dictionary echoes these definitions.  Could my Bickerstaff ancestor have been a speedy runner in earnest to save his sheep from danger?

Chances are I'll never know, but it sure is fun to imagine the possibilities.

How about you?  What's your most interesting ancestor surname and its definition?  Do you know how the name was chosen?

Photo Credit:  Creative Commons via PhotoPin:  Waiting for the Word 


1 comment:

  1. I'm still wondering who would select an insulting name. However, I found "Rucker" was based on a German word meaning "to move or draw" OR a German slang for "thief" or "greedy person." Really? You would choose that??

    I can't find any meaning for Jollett. Eppard (Eppert/Ebert) was a personal name. Davis is from "David," a personal name. Slade=valley. Morrison=son of Morris, I suppose. Walsh=denotes from Wales (Welsh-men). Sheehan=Gaelic for "peaceful."


I appreciate your comments and look forward to reading what you have to say. Thanks for stopping by.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...