Are you looking for a new last name? Going into hiding? Under witness protection? Just want a new start? Do you have a character with a first name but you can't decide on a surname? Our last name generator can help!
Why You Have a Surname
Last names are usually also referred to as surnames or family names in English-speaking countries, although elsewhere they are not always placed last. (In Japan, for example, the family name is always listed first, with the given name listed second.) The tradition of the last name representing family dates all the way back to the Romans, who spread the idea of a hereditary surname across their Empire (although they also had an additional middle name, the 'nomen', which denoted which class of families the particular Roman belonged to). This imprinted the basic structure of 'first name/middle name/surname' into dozens of cultures, and while some still drifted from the fundamentals, especially during the Middle Ages, many keep a style of naming that is very close to their Roman forebears.
The evolution of surnames happened gradually across the world, and for a variety of reasons – in England, for example, the introduction of family names is largely seen as happening thanks to the massive survey by the occupying Norman rulers that was recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086. For many centuries, surnames would often be either occupation or location based, referring either to a person's job or to the area where they were born (or sometimes where they worked), and were mainly used simply as a way to differentiate people (especially if they happened to have the same given name).
While the years since 1600 have seen hereditary family names adopted by the majority of cultures around the world, there are still exceptions that do not use this style of names, including a number of peoples in East Africa, alongside Icelanders, Tibetans and Javanese. There have also been a number of situations where hereditary surnames have been changed, often due to political persecution (such as when Jewish families fled the Third Reich in 1930s Germany).
The types of surname used will usually fall into specific categories: there are the names derived from a given name (which can either be taken from a specific first name (like 'Wilheilm'), a patronymic (a surname handed down from the father), matronymic (a surname handed down from the mother), or taken from a clan (such as 'O'Brien); then there are the occupational surnames (such as 'Potter', 'Smith', 'Parker' or 'Thatcher') or the toponymic surnames, which often denote the location of a person's birth (which can be either places of habitation ('London' or 'Hamilton), geographical features ('Bush' or 'Wood') or the name of landowners' estates ('Staunton' or 'Windsor'). There are also surnames that are derived specifically from nicknames (like the German 'Schwartzkopf', meaning 'black hair'), ornamental surnames (which were particularly used for slaves during the era of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade), and also gender-specific versions of surnames, which are common in countries like Greece and Poland (with a surname like Papadopolous being modified to Papadopolou for any daughters in the family).