This webquest consist of three different task.

Task 1: Answer the following questions using the websites provided.

Task 2: Using your personal information on family surnames answer the questions about your family's history.

Task 3: Turn in answers to teacher


Task 1

How did surnames come to be?

In the early years of the Middle Ages, most people in Europe lived in small farming villages. Everyone knew his neighbors, and there was little need for last names. But as the population expanded and the towns grew, a need arose to find ways to differentiate between two people who shared the same first name. Because the British were among the first Europeans to settle in North America, many modern American surnames can be traced back to medieval England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. Common adjectives used as bynames often referred to size - such as Little, Short, or Long—or to hair color or complexion—such as White, Black, or Red (which evolved into Reed). Sometimes, an adjective was combined with a noun to form a byname, like Longfellow or Blackbeard. Names such as Stern and Stout (meaning stout-hearted, not fat) described temperament, while Drinkwater implied someone with a powerful thirst. John Peacock must have been rather vain! A name might also refer to social status, such as Squire, Knight, or Bachelor. And Palmer described a pilgrim who had returned from the Holy Land. (It was traditional for such pilgrims to bring back a palm as a sort of souvenir.)

1. Why can many modern American surnames be traced back to medieval England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales?

2. Where did the surname Armstrong come from?(use link Behind the Name )

3. If you were to give yourself a last name based on a physical characteristic what would your name be?

Names from places

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. Some names combined two words, such as Underhill (someone who lived at the foot of the hill). Many names had the following endings: -ford (the crossing place in a river or stream), -fort (a fortification), -field (an open area where fairs were held), -brook, -wood, and -well. Ashwood, for example, would describe someone who lived in a wood of ash trees. Frequently used place nouns were den (valley), beck (brook), more (river bank), and adder (stream).a brook. The endings -ton, -ham, -wick, -stow, and -stead meant “farm” or “town.” So the name Denton (den plus ton) referred to someone who lived in a town or farm in a valley.  

4. Where would a man in the Middle Ages with the surname Underwood live? (use link Behind the Name)

Surnames derived from Occupations and Professions

Another common type of medieval byname derived from how a man spent his time. Every farming village had a blacksmith to forge iron tools, a miller to grind wheat, a carpenter to craft furniture, and many other specialists. Some “job descriptions” had meanings different from what we might expect. For example, a farmer did not farm, he collected taxes; and a banker was a “dweller on a hillside or bank,” not someone who dealt with money!  

5. What type of work did someone who's last name was Marshall do? (use link: Medieval jobs)

Non-British surnames

Modern American society is known for its ethnic diversity, and this, of course, is reflected in a wide variety of surnames. Chinese names have only one syllable; many Greek names have a religious connection; recently created Hebrew names tend to be descriptive; all Italian surnames end in a vowel; most Japanese names are locative; and so on.

6. Where would a person with the last name Russo have ancestors from? (country)

7. What does the name Russo mean? (use link: Last name meaning)

Now that you know a little bit about the history of British surnames lets see you put your brain to the test... See how many names you can match with their meaning!



Task 2

Using the links provided in task 1 along with (surname, African surnames Asian surnames, Ancestory)research the meaning of your last name.

Research your mother's maiden name.

Research your maternial and paternial grandmother's last names.

8-9. What is the meaning of each name?

10. If you could change your last name to something else what would you change it to? Why? (explain the meaning of your new last name)

Task 3

Write about it:

Traditionally when a woman married she took her husband's last name. Today more and more women are keeping their own surname or creating a combination by hyphinating the two last names. What are your views on this?

Proceed to evaluation