I have always been fascinated by language, specifically where it originates and how it adapts, mutates, and relates to other languages. That is why I found the recent series of blogs by Andrew’s Kindred so intriguing. It combined my love of etymology with my love of genealogy. I was so inspired, in fact, that I decided to try my hand at chronicling the origins of our families’ surnames.
This is the second installment of a series of posts documenting the etymology of many of our families’ surnames (recent and distant, direct and indirect.)
Now that the A names have been documented, next up is the letter B. Holy cow, there sure are a bunch of B surnames! But, as my grandmother used to say, “In for a penny, in for a pound”, so here goes:
Bachelor/Bachiler (my spouse’s father’s maternal line)
French and English—This notable and long-established surname is of Old French origin, and is a status name for a young knight or novice at arms, deriving from the Old French word bacheler from the medieval Latin word baccalarius. The name was introduced into England after the Norman Conquest and was adopted into Middle English. By the 14th Century the word bachelor had already been extended to mean an unmarried man, but it is unlikely that many bearers of the surname derive it from the word in that sense.
Bailey/Bayley (my mother’s paternal line)
French and English—This surname has three possible origins. First, it can be an occupational name for a steward or official from the Old French words baillis or bailiff and the Middle English word bail(l). The word survives in Scotland as bailie, the title of a municipal magistrate; however, in England this word has developed into bailiff, an officer of the court. The second origin is topographical, denoting one who lived by the outermost wall of a castle or fortified town from the Middle English word bail(l)y, as can be seen in the case of the Old Bailey in London which was part of the early Medieval walls. Finally, the surname can be locational from Bailey in Lancashire, which means berry wood.
Baker (my mother’s paternal line, my spouse’s father’s maternal line, and my brother-in-law’s maternal family)
English—This surname is of Old English pre-8th Century origins, deriving from the word boeccure. The surname is occupational in nature. Possible origins include an official with special responsibilities for the baking ovens in a monastery or castle or the keeper of the communal kitchen in a town or village, since most of the humbler households had no cooking facilities other than a pot over a fire. The right to be in charge of this service and to extract money or loaves in return for its use was in many parts of Britain, a hereditary feudal privilege. Less often, the surname might have been acquired by someone noted for specifically baking fine bread or as an owner of a kiln for the baking of pottery or bricks.
Baliol/Balliol (my mother’s paternal line)
French—According to the Dictionnaire des Postes, thirteen places are named Bailleul in Northern France. M. de Belleval, It seems that there have been nineteen different families of the name, all of which, except one in Normandy, are extinct. The family was of Picard, not Norman, origin. The family took its name from a small village, Bailleul-en-Vimeu, about six miles south of Abbeville in the department of Somme.
Banastre (my mother’s paternal line)
French—From the Old Norman French banestre, itself a development based upon combining the Gallic benna and the Greek kanastron, the surname is a metonymic job description of a maker of baskets.
Banks (my spouse’s father’s maternal line)
English—This name derives from the Northern Middle English word bank(e), itself coming from the Old Danish word banke, meaning a ridge or hillside, and was originally given as a topographical name to someone who lived on the slope of a hillside or by a riverbank. The final “s” on the name preserves the Old English genitive ending meaning of the bank.
Bär (my father’s paternal line)
German—This surname comes from the Middle High German word ber, meaning bear. It could have been a nickname for someone thought to resemble the animal in some way, a metonymic occupational name for someone who kept a performing bear, or a habitational name for someone who lived at a house distinguished by the sign of a bear. (Or, perhaps they liked the strength of the bear and wanting to honor or emulate that.)
Barnett (my spouse’s father’s maternal line)
Irish—Although this famous surname is of early Anglo-Saxon pre-7th Century origins, its longevity in Ireland is such that it might also be regarded as Irish in its own right. The name is either topographical for one who lived on land cleared by burning (Baernet) or is a derivative of the personal name Bernhard, meaning brave bear.
Bartenschlag (my spouse’s father’s maternal line)
German—The meaning of this surname is difficult to discern. In German, bart translates as beard. Schlag is a topographic name derived from the Middle High German word slac, meaning clearing in a wood. It can also be a habitational name from a place named with this word. The word schlag also means a blow or strike.
Basset (my mother’s paternal line)
English and French—This surname has two possible origins, one English and one French. The English source is from a nickname for a man of short stature, from the Middle English and Old French word bas(se), meaning low or short from the Latin word bassus, meaning thick-set or wide. Basset(t) is the diminutive form of the original surname Bass. The French source is locational from a place in Normandy called Basset.
Bates (my spouse’s mother’s paternal line and my spouse’s father’s maternal line)
English and German—This surname has three distinct possible origins. The first and most likely source being the medieval male given name Bate, itself a diminutive of Bartholomew, from the Aramaic patronymic bar-Talmay, meaning abounding in furrows or rich in lands. The name may also be occupational for a boatman, deriving from the Old English pre-7th Century word bat (Northern Middle English, bat), meaning a boat. Finally, the Old Norse bati, meaning profit or gain used in the transferred sense of lush pasture, might have given rise to the surname.
Baum (my father’s maternal line and my spouse’s mother’s paternal line)
German—This surname is generally of 13th century English origin. As such it is a metonymic occupational surname for a seller of spices or perfumes and ointments. The name derives from the word balme, an aromatic substance prized for its medicinal qualities. Balme derives from the Latin balsamun, the use of such medicines being possibly a Roman introduction to England. However, as these families were German in origin, the word most likely is baum, the German word for tree.
Baumgardner/Baumgärtner (my spouse’s father’s maternal line)
German—The surname is occupational in nature. With the combination of the German words baum, meaning tree, and gärtner, meaning gardener. This surname, therefore, indicates someone who owned or worked in an orchard. It could also be a habitational name for someone from one of the villages or areas referred to as Baumgarten.
Beach/Beche (my brother-in-law’s maternal family)
English—This surname is less clear cut in its origins than it might seem. It can be topographical and was derived from the Old English pre-7th century bec, describing one who was resided by beech trees or a beech orchard, as beech nuts were collected as part of the Medieval winter diet. However, the most likely explanation is that the surname has a quite different meaning altogether. It probably derives from baec, meaning a small river or stream, since it was necessary to live as close to fresh water as possible. Finally it is also possible that some modern nameholders derive from beche, an Old English word meaning valley.
Beaufort (my mother’s paternal line)
English—Of English (Norman) and French origin, this surname is a habitational name from various places in France named Beaufort. It derives from the French words beau, meaning beautiful, and fort, meaning fortress or stronghold.
Beck (my father’s maternal line and my spouse’s mother’s paternal line)
German—Beck is a surname of Germanic descent, meaning brook or stream, and is derived from the Old Norse word bekkr. The German name can also be a variant of Becker, which is an occupational surname meaning baker. This surname is also common in England and France. In Northern Middle English the word bekke and the Old Norman French word bec both mean stream. The name may derive from a Medieval English nickname for someone with a prominent nose, from the Middle English beke or from the Old French word bec, meaning a beak. Finally, Beck as a surname may be a metonymic occupational name for a maker, seller, or user of a matlock or pickaxe, derived from the Old English pre-7th Century word becca, meaning matlock.
Beckett (my spouse’s mother’s paternal line)
English—This surname, of Anglo-Saxon origin, has three possible sources. The first is locational either from Beckett in Berkshire or from Beckett in Devonshire. The former place, recorded as Becote in the Domesday Book of 1086, and as Buccot in the Book of Fees for Berkshire, dated 1220. In Old English pre-7th Century, the word beo meant bee, and cot meant cottage or shelter. Beckett in Devonshire, recorded as Bikkecoth in the 1242 Book of Fees for that county, has as its component elements the Old English personal name Bicca with cot as before. Beckett may also be of topographical origin from residence by a stream, the derivation being from the Northern Middle English word bekke. The third origin is as a diminutive of the surname Beake, itself a nickname for someone with a prominent nose, from the Middle English word beke.
Beer (my spouse’s father’s maternal line)
German—This surname derives from Middle Low German word bare and the Middle Dutch word bere, both meaning bear. This could have been a nickname for someone thought to resemble the animal in some way or as a metonymic occupational name for someone who kept a performing bear. Alternatively, it could have been a habitational name for someone who lived at a house distinguished by the sign of a bear.
Belbusti (my brother-in-law’s family)
Italian—While the origin of this surname is unknown, this surname is composed of two modern Italian words: bel, meaning beautiful, and busti meaning busts. Hmmm… well…Perhaps they were referring to sculptures?
Bell (my spouse’s nieces’ family)
English and French—This surname has a number of possible derivations. It might be a metonymic occupational name for a bell-ringer or bell founder. It might be a topographical name for someone living at the bell, indicating either residence by an actual bell or at the sign of the bell and derived from the Middle English and Old English pre-7th Century word belle, meaning bell. It might have derived from the medieval given name Bel. As a man’s name, this is from the Old French words beu or bel, meaning handsome, which was also used as a nickname. As a female name, it represents an abbreviated form of Isobel. Finally, it might be an Anglicized form of the Gaelic MacGiolla Mhaoil, meaning son of the servant of the devotee.
Belknap/Belnap (my mother’s maternal line)
England—Belknap (or Belnap) is a surname of Norman origin that may come from the Old French word bel, meaning beautiful, and knap, meaning the crest or summit of a small hill. Although today the “k” in Belknap is generally silent as in the words knight or knee, it is evident from documents dating from the Middle English period that it was originally pronounced as a hard “k.”
Bellis (my spouse’s stepfather’s family)
Welsh—This surname is of Welsh origin and is the patronymic (son of) form of Bellis, itself the patronymic form of Ellis, from the Welsh Ap-Ellis which became Bellis. The medieval given name, Ellis, derives from the Hebrew Eliyahu, meaning Jehovah is God.
Bennett (my mother’s paternal line)
English —This surname derives from the medieval given name Benedict, from the Latin benedictus, meaning blessed. This name owed its popularity in the Middle Ages to St. Benedict (circa 480-550), who founded the Benedictine Order of Monks at Monte Cassino and wrote a monastic rule that formed a model for all subsequent rules.
Berlieb (my spouse’s mother’s paternal line)
German—While the origin of this surname is unknown, this surname is composed of two modern German words: ber, meaning about, and lieb meaning dear or love. There are worse things to be named than “about love.”
Berninger (my spouse’s stepmother’s family)
German—This surname is supposedly habitational in origin, referring to someone from Behring/Berning or possibly from Bern.
Bickel (my father’s paternal line)
German— This surname is taken from the German word bickel, meaning pickaxe or chisel, hence it is a metonymic occupational name for someone who made pickaxes or worked with a pickaxe or for a stonemason.
Biedermann (my father’s paternal line)
German—This surname is a nickname for an honest man, from a compound of Middle High German word biderbe, meaning honorable, and the word mann, meaning man. In modern German, this surname’s components, bieder and mann, mean honest man.
Bitler (my spouse’s stepmother’s family)
German—This surname is a derivative of Middle High German word bitelen, meaning to ask or solicit; hence, it is a nickname or occupational name for a suitor, a bidder, or intermediary. At some point, this surname became confused with the surname Bettler, a derivative of betelen, meaning beggar, and the two words were used interchangeably.
Biven (my mother’s paternal line)
English —This is an English surname of Welsh origin with English patronymic -s. The Biven/Bivens surname tends to indicate a family of Welsh origin whose surname only became finally fixed after settlement in England or, more typically, in America. Biven and its variations were originally referred to as ap Evan, meaning of son of Evan.
Bjørnsson (my mother’s paternal line)
Norwegian—The surname Bjornsson is derived from the Old Norse personal name Bjorn, meaning bear, while the suffix -son indicates son of.
Blackman (my mother’s maternal line)
English—This surname is Anglo-Saxon of pre-9th Century origins. It is ethnic and described either a Scandinavian Viking, somebody who was fair, or conversely one of the Old English (Welsh or Cornish) who were dark-haired and of swarthy complexion. The confusion comes about because the pre-5th Century English word for white or fair was blaec, whilst the later Anglo-Saxon English for black was blaca. It can therefore be seen that even without the major problems of dialect and poor spelling in early records, the is an obvious capacity for mistakes. Its original meaning would have depended on to whom it referred.
Blain (my mother’s paternal line)
Scottish—Chiefly recorded in Ayrshire and Wigtownshire, this surname derives from the pre 10th Century Old Gaelic Mac Gille Blaan, meaning the son of the follower of St. Blaan. The translation is from Mac, meaning son of, gille, a follower, and the saint’s name Blaan, a diminutive of bla, meaning sallow.
Blake (my mother’s maternal line)
English—This surname has two contradictory origins. The derivation might be from the pre-7th Century adjective blac, which translates as black, meaning dark-haired or of swarthy complexion. It also might have referred to the native Old English word blaac, which translates as white, meaning fair-haired or fair complexion.
Blankenbaker (my spouse’s father’s maternal line)
German—This is the Americanized spelling of the German surname Blankenbacher, a habitational name for someone from the town of Blankenbach in Bavaria. There is also a river in Bavaria called the Blankenbach.
Blecher (my father’s paternal line)
German—This is an occupational surname for someone who worked with tin or sheet metal, derived from German word blech, meaning tin.
Boggess (my mother’s paternal line)
English—This surname is derived from the Middle English word boggish, meaning boastful or haughty.
Boice (my mother’s maternal line)
English/Welsh—This surname has a number of possible origins. It might describe someone who lived by a wood, hence deriving from the Old French word bois, probably introduced after the Norman Conquest. It might be a patronymic from the Middle English occupational word boy, meaning a lad or young servant. Finally, it might derive from an Old English and Welsh pre-7th century personal name Boia.
Boon/Boone (my mother’s paternal line)
English—This surname is of Old French and Anglo-Saxon origin and has two possible sources, each with its own derivation and meaning. It might be Norman-French, deriving from a nickname for a good person from the Old French word bon, meaning good, itself from the Latin word bonus. The name was introduced into England after the Norman Conquest and might have been bestowed in a complimentary or ironic sense on a good person. The second possible source is also from a nickname, found recorded mainly in the north of England—Bain, a name given to an exceptionally tall, lean person. The derivation in this instance is from the Old English pre-7th Century word ban, meaning bone. In northern dialects, the long “a” was preserved, whereas in the southern dialect it was changed to an “o” sound.
Boppard (my father’s paternal line)
German—This surname is most likely locational in origin from a town in the Rheinland-Pfalz state called Boppard.
Borthwick (my mother’s paternal line)
Scottish—This surname is locational from the ancient barony of Borthwick by Borthwick Water in the former county of Roxburghshire, Scotland.
Boscawen (my mother’s maternal line)
English/Cornish—The surname comes from Boscawen-Un, stone circle near the village of St Buryan, Cornwall, dating from the Bronze Age (the period between 2100 to 750 BC).
Bouchard (my brother-in-law’s paternal family)
French—The surname Bouchard is a Norman name, combining the French word bourgh, meaning a town or village under the shadow of a castle, with the German word hard, meaning brave or strong” (heard), see Burkhardt. It is also a French nickname for someone with a big mouth, derived from the word bouche.
Bowne (my mother’s maternal line)
English—This surname is of Anglo-Saxon origin and is one of the earliest topographical surnames existing today. The derivation is from the Old English pre-7th Century word burna or burne, meaning spring or stream. It was originally used as a topographic name for someone who lived beside a stream. In the south of England, the term was gradually replaced by the Old English word broc, meaning brook, and came to be restricted in meaning to an intermittently flowing stream, especially one that flowed only in winter. This meaning of bourn is still found in the dialects of Kent, Surrey and Wiltshire. In the North, however, the word burn is still used for a stream.
Boyd (my spouse’s mother’s maternal line)
Scottish/Irish—This surname is of Scottish and Irish origin and is thought to be locational from the island of Bute in the Firth of Clyde, the placename being of uncertain etymology. Locational surnames were developed when former inhabitants of a place moved to another area, usually to seek work, and were best identified by the name of their birthplace.
Boyer (my father’s paternal line)
English—This surname is an occupational surname for a maker or seller of bows, an important and respected profession in medieval England. It derives from the Old English pre-7th Century word boga, itself from the word bugar, meaning to bend, as well as from the Middle English words bow and boiwyere.
Bradley (my spouse’s father’s maternal line)
English—This is an early medieval Anglo-Scottish surname originates either from the varied villages called Bradley or from now lost places. This surname is derived from the pre-7th century English word bradleah, meaning of a broad clearing suitable for agriculture.
Bradshaw (my mother’s paternal line)
English—This surname is of pre-7th century Anglo-Saxon origins. It is locational from any one of the places called Bradshaw in the counties of Derbyshire, Lancashire, and West Yorkshire. The place is first recorded as Bradeshaghe in 1246, from the Old English word brad, meaning broad or wide, with sceaga, a thicket or grove.
Braun (my stepfather’s family)
German—This surname is from German word braun, meaning brown (Middle High German word, brun), It referred to the color of the hair, complexion, or clothing, or from the personal name Bruno, which was borne by the Dukes of Saxony, among others, from the 10th century or before. It was also the name of several medieval German and Italian saints, including St. Bruno, the founder of the Carthusian order (1030–1101).
Brendel (my father’s maternal line)
German/English—This early surname is of pre-5th century Germanic origins. Recorded in more than 50 different spellings, it usually derives from the male given name Brando. This is itself a short form of a popular compound personal name such as Hildebrand and originates from brinnan, meaning a flash, as in a flash of lightning. The name can also be topographical and relate to a person who lived by a brant, an area of agricultural land, one which was cleared by fire
Brewer (my brother-in-law’s maternal family)
English—This surname is of Anglo-Saxon origin and might be an occupational surname for a brewer of beer or ale, derived from the Old English pre-7th Century word, breowan, meaning to brew, later evolving to the Middle English word brewere.
Bridger (my spouse’s mother’s paternal line)
English—This name is of English topographic origin for someone who lived by a bridge. The derivation is from the Medieval English brigge, itself coming from the Old English pre-7th Century word brycg, meaning bridge. Toponymics formed by the addition of -er to some topographical feature i.e. a bridge, brook etc., were particularly common in Sussex in the early 14th Century. The -er meant a dweller at.
Bright (my mother’s maternal line)
English—This is a Medieval English nickname or given name meaning bright, fair, or beautiful. The name derives from the Old English pre-7th century word beorht, meaning bright or shining. It may also be a short form of the Olde English personal name Beorhthelm—a compound of the elements beorht (bright) and helm (helmet).
Brome (my mother’s paternal line)
English—This name is of Anglo-Saxon origin and is either a locational or a topographical surname. As a locational surname, it derives from any one of the various places called Broom in Bedfordshire, Durham and Worcestershire, Broome in Norfolk, Shropshire and Warwickshire, and Brome, in Suffolk. Most of the places are recorded in the Domesday Book as Brume or Brom and all share the same meaning and derivation from the Old English pre-7th Century word brom, meaning (place of) broom or gorse. As a topographical surname, it denotes residence near a place where broom grew.
Brooke (my spouse’s father’s maternal line)
English—This surname of Old English origins is habitational from one who lived at one of the villages called Brook or for someone who lived by a brook. However, some research suggests that for many nameholders the origin was job descriptive, deriving from the Norman French word broc, meaning pitcher or ewer, and as such was a metonymic for one who delivered fresh water from such a vessel.
Brossman (my father’s paternal line)
German: The first half of the surname is from the Middle High German word brossen, meaning to sprout or bud, hence an affectionate nickname for a young son. The second half of the surname comes from the Middle High German word mann, a nickname for a fierce or strong man or for a man contrasted with a boy. In some cases, it may have arisen as an occupational name for a servant from the medieval use of the term to describe a person of inferior social status.
Broughman (my spouse’s father’s maternal line)
Scottish—The roots of this surname reach back to the language of the Viking settlers who populated the rigged shores of Scotland in the medieval era and us derived from the locations where they resided, such as Overbrough and Netherborugh in Harray, Orkney Islands.
Browne (my mother’s maternal line and my mother’s paternal line)
England and Ireland—This surname (spelled as Browne) is much associated with Ireland. It originates from the Old English, Norse-Viking, and Anglo-Saxon pre-7th century word brun. It was originally a nickname for either a person of brown hair or swarthy complexion or for one who habitually wore brown clothing. If the latter, the nickname might refer to a member of a holy order, many of whom wore brown.
Bruce/Brus (my mother’s paternal line)
Scottish—This surname is of Norman-French origin and is a locational name either from an extensive fortress built by Adam de Brus at Brix between Cherbourg and Valognes, Normandy, or from Brieuze, a place less than 10 miles from Falaise, Normandy.
Bruehl/Broyles (my spouse’s father’s maternal line)
German—This was topographic name for someone who lived by a swampy area, from the Middle High German word, brüel, or Middle Low German word brul, both which mean swampy land with brushwood. This surname is also a habitational name for someone from Brühl, Germany. At some point, this surname became Americanized to Broyles.
Bryant (my spouse’s father’s maternal line)
Irish—This interesting surname is of Old Breton-Irish origin and derives from the Celtic personal name Brian. It is believed to contain the element bre, meaning hill or brigh, meaning strong. Breton bearers of the name were among the Normans who invaded England in 1066, and they later went on to invade and settle in Ireland in the 12th century, where the name became confused with a native Irish version. That version was derived by descendants of Brian Boru, who rose to the high kingship of Ireland in 1002. This native Irish name had also been borrowed by Vikings, who introduced it independently in North West England before the Norman Conquest.
Buchanan (my mother’s paternal line)
Scottish—This long-established surname, having no less than 17 Coats of Arms and with several notable entries in the Dictionary of National Biography, is of Old Scottish origin. It is a locational name from the district of Buchanan, northwest of Drymen in Stirlingshire. It is from the Gaelic word buth, meaning house, and chanain, meaning of the canon.
Burkhart (my spouse’s stepmother’s family)
German—This surname is derived from the German word burg, meaning castle, and hart, meaning hard. Saint Burkhard was a bishop who founded several monasteries in Germany in the 8th century.
Busch/Bush (my spouse’s mother’s paternal line)
German—This topographic surname indicated one who lives close to a thicket or wood, coming from Middle High German word busch, meaning bush. It can also be a habitational name from a place named with this word. pre-7th century Norse-Viking word buski.
Butler (my mother’s paternal line)
English—This aristocratic surname is of Norman-French origins and is one of the very few to be accepted as pre-1066 in origin and recording and even rarer still to be recorded in France. This surname is job descriptive, deriving the Old French word bouteillier, meaning one who supplies the bottles, specifically wine. However, Bouteillier in the surname sense defines status in a royal or at least noble household.
Whew! I am so glad I finally documented through all those surnames. I am pretty certain I now have writer’s cramp! Well, once I recover from these “killer” Bs, I will start researching the C surnames in our families. Stay tuned…