Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Where did surnames originate?

Surely we can all name at least one mononym, or an individual addressed by a single name. Many Greek philosophers, like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, are only addressed by one name. Similarly, historical figures like Pocahontas, Montezuma, Stalin, and Michelangelo are only addressed by one name. Not all mononyms only have one name, though. In fact, the majority of mononyms have first, middle, and last names; the adopted single name can result from a number of different factors, like fame, a pseudonym, or simplicity.

The origin of surnames is usually attributed to China and the Roman Empire. Before the public at large used surnames, the privilege was reserved for the aristocracy in large empires. In as early as 3000 B.C., most of the public in China used surnames. Around 3000 years later, the Roman empire followed suit. As populations grew around the world and the need for easier identification rose, the use of surnames increased exponentially. Countries in the Western world were next in adopting surnames. It is estimated that the turn of the 16th century marked the time where the heavy majority of people had surnames at birth.

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