Unit 1 What’s in a Name? TEACHER: Good morning, everybody. Good morning, Felipe, Monica, Theo, . . . and I can’t remember your name. STUDENT 1: Patricia. TEACHER: Right, Patricia. Those are all beautiful names, and that’s our topic today?names. Names are a cultural universal. This means everyone uses names. A person’s name can tell us a bit about a person’s family. Today, we’ll begin by looking at first names and how people choose names for their children. And then we’ll talk about family names, and look at the different categories of family names. Although the scope of the lecture today is English-language names, we can use the same approach, you know, to look at names from any culture. Let’s take a brief look at first, or given, names. There are several ways parents choose the first name for their child. The first way is by family history. Parents may choose a name because it is passed from generation to generation; for example, the firstborn son might be named after his father or grandfather. Although family names are also passed to daughters, it is usually as a middle name. Adding “junior” or “the second” ?for example, William Parker the second?is only done with boys’, not with girls’ names. The second way parents choose a name is after a family member or friend who has died recently, or after someone they admire, like a well-known leader or a famous musician. Although most English first names mean something, for example, “Richard” means powerful and “Ann” means grace, nowadays meaning is not the main reason people select their baby’s name. The third way is to provide a “push” for the child. Parents want to choose a name that sounds very “successful.” A strong name might help them in the business world, for example. Or they might choose a name that works for either gender, like Taylor or Terry. So, given these three methods, what is the most common way parents choose a name? Many parents choose a name simply because they like it, or because it’s fashionable or classic. Fashions in names change just as they do in clothes. One hundred years ago, many names came from the Bible?names such as Daniel, and Anna, and Hannah and Matthew. Then, fifty years ago, Biblical names went out of fashion. Nowadays, names from the Bible are becoming popular again. Similarly, parents often choose classic names, names that were popular in 1900, 1950, and are still popular now. Classic names for boys include Thomas, David, Robert, and Michael. And for girls: Anna, Elizabeth, Emily, and Katherine, just to name a few. They’re classic. They never go out of style. Let’s look at the origin of last names, also called family names or surnames. Researchers have studied thousands of last names, and they’ve divided them into four categories. The categories are: place names, patronymics, added names, and occupational names. A recent survey showed that of the 7,000 most popular names in the United States today, 43 percent were place names, 32 percent were patronymics, 15
percent were occupational names, and 9 percent were added names. The first category is place names. Place names usually identified where a person lived or worked. Someone named John Hill lived near a hill, for example, and the Rivers family lived near a river. If you hear the name Emma Bridges, . . . what image do you see? Do you see a family that lives near a bridge? If you do, you get the idea. The second category is patronymics. That’s P-A-T-R-O-N-Y-M-I-C-S. A patronymic is the father’s name, plus an ending like S-E-N or S-O-N. The ending means that a child, a boy, is the son of his father. The names Robertson, Petersen, and Wilson are patronymics. Robertson is son of Robert, Petersen is son of Peter, and so on. The third category is added names. Linguists sometimes call this category “nicknames,” but when most of us hear the word “nickname,” we think of a special name a friend or a parent might use. The word “nickname” is actually an old English word that means an additional name, an added name. So I’ll use the term “added name.” This category of last names is fun because the names usually described a person. Reed, Baldwin, and Biggs are examples. Reed was from “red” for red hair. Baldwin was someone who was bald, someone who had little or no hair. And Biggs? STUDENT 2: Someone big? TEACHER: Yeah, someone big, right. Now, if we look around the room, we could probably come up with some new last names, like, uh, Curly or Strong. Now, the fourth category is occupational names. The origin of the family name was the person’s occupation. The most common examples of occupational names still used today are Baker (someone who bakes bread), Tailor (someone who sews clothes), Miller (someone who makes flour for bread), and Smith. . . . Now, Smith is actually the most common name in the western English-speaking world. The name comes from an Old English word, smite, that’s S-M-I-T-E, which means to hit or strike. In the old days, a smith made metal things for daily life, like tools. Every town needed smiths. What’s interesting is that many languages have a family name that means Smith. In Arabic it’s Haddad, H-A-D-D-A-D. In Spanish it’s Herrera, H-E-R-R-E-R-A. In Italian it’s Ferraro, F-E-R-R-A-R-O. And in German it’s Schmidt, spelled S-C-H-M-I-D-T. All these names mean smith. Though names may tell us something about someone’s family history, you need to keep in mind that they may not tell us much at all about the present. For example, there’s usually not much connection between the origin of the name and the person who has it now. Take the name Cook, for instance. A person named Cook today probably doesn’t cook for a living. Also, many people change their names for various reasons. Lots of people who have moved to the United States have changed their names to sound more American. This happens less now than in the past, but people still do it. People also use pen names or stage names to give themselves a professional advantage. For example, the writer Samuel Clemens used the pen name Mark Twain, and Thomas Mapother IV uses the stage name Tom Cruise.
So, let’s recap now. In today’s lesson, we looked at how parents choose English first names. We also looked at some common origins of family names. In the next class, we’ll look at how names are given in Korea and in Japan. This is covered in the next section of the book. That’s all for today.
 

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