Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Single names

A few of the country's most famous people are known by single names, such as Madonna, Cher, or Sting. For the most part, "mere mortals" need at least two names. We have just had several solar panels put on our house. A neighbor whom we had met briefly, but did not really know, called on us to find out what was going on, and introduced himself as "Arend Boer". After confirming that he was from the Netherlands, I mentioned that his last name meant "farmer" in English. He confirmed this, and mentioned that many Dutch people 200 years ago had no second name. He told us that when the area we now know as the Low Countries was occupied by Napoleonic forces, there was an edict that all the people have at least one other name. He told us that his ancestor had decided to use his occupation as a second name. This reminded me that such last names as "Carpenter" and "Cooper" in English came about for similar reasons. However, most English folk several hundred years ago simply added "son" to the parent's name: Johnson, Robertson, Watson, etc, are just a few examples of this. There was also a time in Germany when Jewish people were also forced to adopt a second name. Many of them chose precious objects, such as gold, silver, and diamonds to form this second name, and variants of names using these objects remain as clues to Jewish ancestry to this day. I have noticed a pleasant tendency nowadays for introductions to be limited to first names On a recent evening , I was introduced to a "Mike" and his wife, "Teri" (although she may have spelled that name in some other way). I have no idea what their last name is--or names are, if they follow the modern fashion of a woman choosing not to adopt her spouse's name


  1. Of course you are known throughout the church as "Nigel" no need for a second name. Others so named have to come up with differentiation! Marge Christie only needs "Marge" - at least so it was "in the day." As to modern fashion - in the Scandinavian countries until recently women kept their family name adding daughter or dottir.

  2. That's the way it is in Iceland still, even for sons, Ann.

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