The map above shows the most common European surnames that have their origins as a specific type of occupation. Both Millers and Smiths are particularly popular.
The data is somewhat unscientific as it comes from Wikipedia, supplemented with data from reddit.
Nevertheless, there are a few interesting facts:
- Occupational surnames are very rare in Nordic countries, so for example Möller (Sweden) and Møller (Norway) are actually not very common.
- In the Netherlands there are collectively more people with last names relating to smith than baker, but these are split along different spellings (e.g. Smit, Smits, Smid, de Smit, Smet, Smith)
- Places with a variation of priest are mostly Orthodox countries, where lower orders priests don’t have to take a vow of celibacy.
- Similarly imam is popular in the muslim countries of Europe (Bosnia, Albania and Kosovo)
- In Catalonia, the most common surname is Ferrer which means smith
- Murphy or sea-warrior is most bad-ass occupation listed.
And in case you’re curious about what each of the jobs is here’s a brief explanation:
- Smith: The origin of “smith” is debated, it may come from the old English word “smythe” meaning “to strike” or it may have originated from the Proto-German “smithaz” meaning “skilled worker. (source)
- Miller: A miller usually refers to a person who operates a mill, a machine to grind a cereal crop to make flour. (source)
- Priest: A priest is a person authorized to perform the sacred rituals of a religion, especially as a mediatory agent between humans and one or more deities. (source)
- Imam: An imam is an Islamic leadership position. It is most commonly in the context of a worship leader of a mosque and Muslim community by Sunni Muslims. For Shi’a Muslims, the Imam has a more central meaning and role in Islam through the concept of Imamah, the term is only applicable to those members of the house of the prophet ahl al-Bayt, designated as infallibles. Imam may also be used in the form of a title for renowned Muslim scholars. (source)
- Baker: A baker is someone who makes, bakes and sells breads, rolls, biscuits or cookies, and/or crackers using an oven or other concentrated heat source. (source)
- Landowner: A landholder/landowner is a holder of the estate in land with considerable rights of ownership or, simply put, an owner of land. (source)
- Miner: A miner is a person who extracts ore, coal, or other minerals from the earth through mining. (source)
- Sea-warrior: Murphy is an Anglicized version of two Irish surnames: Ó Murchadha/Ó Murchadh (“descendant of Murchadh”), and Mac Murchaidh/Mac Murchadh (“son of Murchadh”) derived from the Irish personal name Murchadh, which meant “sea-warrior” or “sea-battler”. (Muir meaning “sea” and cath meaning “battle”). (source)
- Shepherd: A shepherd or sheepherder is a person who tends, herds, feeds, or guards herds of sheep. The word stems from an amalgam of sheep herder. (source)
- Skinner: A Skinner is a person who skins animals such as cattle, sheep, and pigs, part or whole. Historically, skinners engaged in the hide and fur trades. (source)
You can read the full post on Marcin Ciura’s blog.
To learn more have a look at the following books:
- What’s in a Surname?: A Journey from Abercrombie to Zwicker
- The Surnames Handbook: A Guide to Family Name Research in the 21st Century
- The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility
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Maurizio Morabito says
Surely sea-warrior in Ireland would be a way to call a Viking?
Brendan Murphy says
I have been told that Murphy is also derived from ‘Muir Cuain’ which means ‘Hound of the sea’ and my first name ‘Brendan’ comes from ‘Brean Dán’ which means ‘Fair Drop’ so with the ‘O’ it all translates as ‘Fair Drop son of Hound of the Sea’ – eat my wake!
Brendan Sweeney says
Brendan derives from the Old Irish Brénainn (the ‘d’ was added later), which is related to the Old Welsh ‘breenhin’ the root of the name, meaning Prince or King. It probably has the same origins as the name Brennus/Brennos, which was the name of the leader of the Gaulish tribe, the Senones, who sacked Rome around 390 BCE.
I’m from Finland and just to say: Kinnunen does not mean skinner, it doesn’t mean actually anything. And Finland is also part of Nordic countries, but not part of Scandinavian.