How Fixed Was That Last Name?

A person’s last name might not have been as “fixed” as you think. There are several reasons why your ancestor’s last name may not be as permanent as you think, including:

  • gender–women in some cultures change last names upon marriage (some cultures do not do this)
  • ethnicity–in some cultures the same name is not passed from parent to child
  • parental marital status–a parent marrying after the child is born may cause the child to be listed with different names in records
  • attempts to avoid “the law”–your relative may have changed his name to avoid authorities
  • desire to hide ethnicity–your relative may have changed or alter his name to disguise his ethnic origins
  • desire to be unique–if the town was full of Carl Carlsons, your relative may have changed his name to avoid confusion
  • family squabbles–your ancestor may have changed his name (or its spelling) to avoid be associated with certain relatives
  • translation–your ancestor (or some clerk) may have translated your ancestor’s last name into a different language

Name changes are not just for non-English speaking immigrants. Others had reasons to change their last name or have it changed for them as well.


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