Hereditary Surnames

After the 12th century, hereditary surnames were adopted according to fairly general rules. The hereditary principle became such a recognized institution in feudal Europe that a son might well expect as his due to enter his father's functions when his father died or retired. Thus, a man by the name of John, who took over his father's function as the local blacksmith would be known as John the Smith. Only after the office had been held for several generations in lineal descent till the period when surnames became general, did the title of the office come to be applied to all his family. In this example the family was known as Smith. Other examples include: Miller, Baker, Potter and Fromage.

Names based on occupation transcended the cultural and linguistic boundaries of Europe. Names like German: Schumaker (maker of shoes), Ashkenazic Jewish: Zimmerman (carpenter), Polish and Jewish: Stolarski (joiner), Dutch: Schuyler (teacher) and Italy: Calderone (seller of spices) prove this phenomena throughout Europe.

Surnames of Office include military, judicial, papal and other positions of authority. Here again we find examples through all parts of Europe with names like English: Archer, France: Chevalier, Germany: Jeger (hunter) and others are good examples of military positions.

Judicial and papal titles like Bailiffe, Squire and Abbott are still commonly seen with the same surname spelling today. These surnames often had suffixes that pertained to the particular trade:

Suffix Examples:

makerCandlemakere, Schumaker, Wannamaker
hewerFleshewer, Stonehewer
smithArrowsmith, Brownsmith, Naesmith
wrightWheelwright, Cartwright
sterKempster (a wool-comber), Blaxter, Baxter (a bleacher)


  1. ^ Swyrich, Archive materials