How History Has Changed Our Last Name

Our last name is a link that ties us to the generations that have come before us. When we research our family, we expect our last name to remain unchanged through the many generations. But if you were to actually explore your ancestors, you may be surprised to find that your last name has changed multiple times throughout history.

What would cause the name to change through time? Interestingly enough, the causes change just as much as the name itself changes.

Most recently, the change of last names has a lot to do with people moving to new countries. There are several reasons people felt it necessary to change their names upon moving to a new location. These reasons include:

  • The possibility of discrimination is one of the major causes of name changes in new countries. Many religious based names may cause issues in certain countries which leads to an individual trying to create a new identification for themselves.
  • Some people wanted to fit in with their new home. They may choose to do this in one of two ways. They may alter their name by changing it to a simple variation due to differences in alphabets. They may have also simply translated their last name into the new language.

Further back in history, there were other reasons for name changes. These reasons were much more basic. Despite how basic they are, these reasons are just as legitimate as the reasons listed above.

  • How a name is pronounced can lead to a misunderstanding on the spelling of the name. This is an issue that is still common today. For example, my last name is Nichols. I often find people spell it Nickels or even Nicholas.
  • Another reason that is seldom an issue anymore is people who cannot read or write were often a major cause of name changes. There was a time when only the richest people could read or write so the majority of people did not know how their own names were spelled.

It is important to understand these reasons for changing a last name when you start to study your family history. By understanding these reasons, you will have a greater understanding of how your family thought at the time and what was important to them.

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