September 26, 2020

The picnic shelter at Pleasant Grove Church of Christ was the site of the September 26, 2020 meeting of the Morrow County Genealogical Society. It was a beautiful, warm and sunny day with a light breeze—a perfect day to meet in the shade of the shelter, with plenty of room for social distancing and visiting with friends.

Dan and Janet Rhodebeck presented the afternoon’s program entitled “What’s in a Name?” While in Bible times people had only one name, Bible names later became inspirations for first names in more modern times. Surnames or last names developed from the need to differential one person from another. Even in Bible times there were clarifiers such as James and John “sons of Zebedee” or James “the lesser”. Many early surnames derived from the relationship of father and son. The prefix “O” in Irish, “Mc” or “Mac” in Scottish, and “Fitz” in French all mean “son of” as does the suffix “-son”. Word origins can help in family research. If you are unable to locate immigration records you can use word origins to determine which country your ancestors likely came from.

Locative surnames were first developed to indicate where someone lived. Initially someone may have said “John who lives by the marsh”, but eventually this was shortened to “John Marsh”. Other examples of locative surnames include Brook, Dell, Lake, Rivers, Fort, and Field. Another type of surname is based on occupation, also called Status surnames. Some examples are Baker, Cook, Potter, Taylor, and Archer. Some surnames were developed as a physical description. Short, Blunt (fair hair, light complexion), Reed (red hair), Swartz (black hair), Roth (red hair), and Crouse (curly hair) are all examples of descriptive surnames.

Some last names were developed to describe someone’s character, such as Sweet, Smart, or Wise, and animal or bird names have also been used as last names, such as Brock (badger), Lamb, or Wolf. Other surnames are based on seasons: Winter, Summer.

A popular myth about surnames is that people who immigrated through Ellis Island had their names changed by intake workers when they arrived in the United States. The truth is that ships had manifests, and these lists of passengers were used for immigration.

For anyone curious about changing a name, Dan shared the process for changing one’s name in Morrow County. At the conclusion of the program, Dan and Janet shared a book about Morrow County Surnames which was researched by local historian Stan Sipe. The Pleasant Grove Schoolhouse and the giant old church bell were also available for attendees to investigate. Several members and guests were present to enjoy the presentation. Please see our additional post regarding the Family History Treasure Hunt 4-H awards.