An interesting topic for discussion on Father’s Day is ‘the origin of your family name’. Perhaps you could do some research beforehand and then reveal your findings as you give your father a copy of the meaning of his surname, along with a picture of his family Coat of Arms or smaller crest (symbol), and if possible, your family motto.

If you can’t trace your father’s Coat of Arms, create one yourself. Think about your family values (e.g. justice is a scale), and interests like music, reading, animals, etc. and include these symbols along with leaves and wings and meaningful colours, for example gold represents generosity. Don’t forget to write your family name at the top or bottom. Also, if you can’t track down your family motto, then you can create your own. ‘Work hard, play hard, and help another every day’, ‘Travel beyond the horizon’, ‘Untied rearranged – United!’

When investigating the history of your surname, you may find yourself hitting many roadblocks because your family name could have changed several times over the centuries due to shifting country boundaries, conflict, and other influences, especially in Europe, however you can often get free basic information from ancestry.com, houseofnames.com, forebears.io, selectsurnames.com, etc.

Alphabets also vary from country to country, and this can affect the spelling of names. In days gone by some names may have been spelled phonetically on forms and perhaps an immigrant signed with an “X” which does not necessarily mean they were illiterate.

When communities were still small, people were called simple names like Fox, Wildgoose, Smalldove, etc. What do you think your, or your father’s name might have been if you have lived back during those times? Toogood perhaps?

When standardized spelling arrived in later centuries names became more creative, reflecting landscapes and trades, among many other identifiable themes. Smalldove might instead now be known as Mary of the Wood and Toogood - John the Butcher. As villages and towns grew and more than one John appeared, they had to find ways of differentiating the two. This gave rise to names like John, son of Robert, which eventually evolved into John Robertson and so on.

Have fun tracing the origin of your family name. This information will add a fascinating layer to your family history and your father will love the gift of an enjoyable and priceless keepsake this Father’s Day.

Signed: Lesley of the Newmarket