Wednesday, March 2, 2011

What's Your Family All About?

According to Webster’s Dictionary, “genealogy” is, among other things, “the study of family ancestries and histories.”  Most of us think of family as our mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and so on.  Many of these family members have different last names from the last name we bear either through birth or marriage or through other relationships. This last name business, which defines us as members of a certain family, intrigues me; and, I am always interested in what does something mean in my ongoing search of that family ancestry and history. 

Most of us when we think of last names can associate it with what it probably means.  For example, my maiden name is Newhouse, and the history of the name referred to someone who lived either next to or in a new house.  And, of course, Pederson, the son of Peder (today’s Peter).

There are a lot of Olivers in the family:  Take off the letter r and what do you have?  Olive:  More specifically, olive tree.  Oliver is considered to be English, Scottish, German, French, and Catalaan. (

My grandmother’s maiden name is the Dutch Swarthout, (derivations are Swartwood, Swartout, Swartwout) which translated means dark wood.  The English form for this last name is Blackwood.  But what about those names that are not as obvious? 

Because I always find the hunt to be fun and exciting, I decided to start searching around for the meanings of some of the non-obvious last names that I find in my “Family Ties and Connections”; and, I want to share some of what I found. 

The Irish and Welsh surnames seem to have unique historical connotations. So, here are some common ones found in my “family”:

·         Bryant—is a Gaelic term for dignity, honor. (
·         Llewellyn—Welsh or Celtic?  No one knows for sure.  On one hand, it is thought to be a Welsh form for the Celtic name Lugubelenus (for the gods Lugus and Belenus who are gods of commerce and light, respectively).  On the other hand, it is thought that this name derived from the Welsh word llyw which stands for “leader.”  
·         Murphy—who knew the Murphys were originally sea warriors?  The name “Murphy” comes from the Gaelic name Ó Murchadha, which means “descendent of Murchadh,” which is turn means “sea warrior.”
·         Walsh—I found it interesting that it comes from referring to someone who was originally from Wales. You can see how the name Walsh somehow derived from Welsh:  a simple vowel change. Also, the Middle English word walsche meant "foreigner.” 

Next time, I’ll take a look at some of the French, English, and German names in the family.

For those of you who are interested in pursuing this further, the information above comes from,,, and

Finally, I want to include old family photos in each of my blogs; so, if any of my readers want to share and have me post them for you, please contact me.

I wanted to post a picture today, but for some reason the server kept rejecting the submission; ah, technology. 

Until next time.

© Linda Oliver, 2017

1 comment:

  1. It's funny, a few years back, I finally found out what the meaning of 'Murphy' was. I was kinda surprised because none of my family members on the Murphy side like the water or large bodies of it! So I had a chuckle that they were the original "Sea Warriors"! But I'm sure being from an island nation, you had no other choice but to deal with the water ;) Good post!