What’s in a Name? Quite a Lot, Actually.

I’ve always been interested in the origins of surnames. It goes back to when the subject was brought up in school – way back in the 5th grade in Bloomfield, Connecticut, I think. Our teacher started talking about family names and how many of them identified the family’s trade or occupation. One of the girls in my class blushed. Her name was Sally Brewer.

A lot of names and their origins are that obvious: Baker, Cook, Carpenter, Farmer, Smith, etc. Some refer to occupations or trades that are no longer common. There aren’t too many Archers or Wagoners advertising in the Yellow Pages these days.

But the origins of many family names are more obscure today, mostly because they refer to a trade or skills that are part of the past. A Chandler made candles. A Fletcher was an arrow maker. A Fowler caught birds in snares.

And a Cooper made barrels … which reminds me of a visit we made to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia several years ago.

It’s a beautifully restored town appearing now just the way it was in the mid-1700s. We stopped for almost a half hour on our stroll around the town to watch a cooper actually making a barrel. It’s tough work, especially forming the iron hoops that hold the darn thing together.

And, yes, you can get to Williamsburg by Amtrak. It’s a three-and-a-half hour ride south of Washington. And I must add that a visit to Williamsburg is an absolutely wonderful experience. I recommend it enthusiastically.