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History and Origin of First Names

First names have originated from places, mythology, history, and nature, but the history of names is so ancient that no one knows how it started. Dating back as far as oral history reaches, people have had names. In prehistoric times, descriptive names were used over and over until a name pool was created and rather than invent new names, parents just used existing names for their children. However, as languages changed some words were no longer used, but were still rooted in names. This is why it is difficult to determine the meaning of many names.

When Christianity blossomed, Christians were encouraged to use names from the Bible. These names stemmed from several languages including Hebrew, Greek and Latin. As name pools continued to change throughout history and cultures, early Christian names changed the least and various forms of the names are commonly used in many cultures today.

Dating back before the 10th century, people were addressed only by first names. The majority of people lived in small communities and did not travel much, so names were not shared within a village. Yet, with the increase of population, travel and cultures, second names or surnames were added to distinguish people from one another. Surnames can be traced back to one of five categories: patronymic, locative, toponymic, epithet, or occupation.

Patronymic names refer to the mother or father (John's son; Johnson), locative names connect a person to a particular place (de Washington; Washington), toponymic names identify a person to landscape features (Robin of the Hood; Robin Hood), epithets refer to person's personal characteristics (a brown-haired man; Brown), and occupation names are the most obvious names in origin (black smith; Smith).

Click here to learn more about the origins of last names.

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