ABCs & Our Family Trees: Letters I & J


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 ninth installment of a series of posts documenting the etymology of many of our families’ surnames (recent and distant, direct and indirect.)

Now that the H names have been discussed, next up are the letters I and J:

Ihrich (my spouse’s father’s maternal line)
German—This surname is composed of the Old High German word ih, meaning I, and the German word ric/reich, meaning rich or powerful.

Isaac (my mother’s paternal line and my brother-in-law’s family)
English—Of Biblical origins, Isaac was the son of Abraham and Sarah. It is derived from the Hebrew word yiṣḥāq, meaning [he] laughs. The traditional explanation of the name is that Abraham and Sarah laughed with joy at the birth of a son to them in their old age, but a more plausible explanation is that the name originally meant, “May God laugh/smile on him.” In England and Wales, it was one of the Old Testament names popular among Nonconformists in the 17th through 19th centuries.

Isted (my mother’s paternal line)
English—This surname might be a form of Highstead (a locality/village in the county of Kent, or it could be the name of a lost medieval village, or it could be a variation of  East Head (a village far away in the north of Scotland). High stead means high farm.

Izard (my mother’s paternal line)
English—This surname is of pre-6th Century Germanic origins with two possible origins. The first is from the female personal name Isolde, associated with the ancient tale of Tristran and Isolde. It is composed of is, meaning ice, and hild, meaning battle. It could also be derived from the the masculine Ishard, with the elements is, meaning ice, and hard, meaning hardy or strong. The second possible origin is from the Old Provencal word izar, meaning mountain goat—a nickname given to a good climber or a sprightly, lively person.

Jacobs/Jacobusse (my spouse’s mother’s maternal line)
Dutch—These are patronymic medieval surnames, derived from the Latin name Jacobus. Jacobus is derived from the Hebrew language personal name Yaakov, from the Hebrew word akev, meaning heel. In the Bible, this is the name of the younger twin brother of Esau who took advantage of the latter’s hunger and impetuous nature to persuade him to part with his birthright for a mess of pottage. Jacob was said to have been born holding on to Esau’s heel.

James (my spouse’s father’s maternal line)
English—This medieval surname is of both Biblical and 12th Century Crusader origins. It has its origins in the Hebrew given name Yaakov. Traditionally, the name is interpreted as coming from the word akev, meaning a heel, but has also been interpreted as he who supplanted. Both of these meanings are influenced by the Biblical story of Esau and his younger twin brother Jacob. Jacob is said to have been born holding on to Esau’s heel and took advantage of Esau’s hunger to persuade him to part with his birthright in exchange for food.

Jansen (my spouse’s mother’s maternal line)
Dutch—This is a Dutch/Flemish and Low German patronymic surname meaning son of Jan, a common derivative of Johannes. It is equivalent to the English surname Johnson.

Jenkinson (my brother-in-law’s family)
English—This English surname is much associated with Wales. It is a patronymic form of the medieval male given name Jenkin (son of Jenkin) from the Hebrew name Yochan, meaning the child favored by God.

Jennings (my mother’s paternal line)
English—Of early medieval English origin, this surname is also associated with Wales and Ireland. It is a patronymic surname, deriving from the given name Janyn or Jenyn, meaning little John. John itself derives from the Hebrew name Yochanan, meaning Jehovah has favored (me with a son).

Jiménez (my mother’s paternal line)
Spanish—This surname is of Iberian origin, first appearing in the Basque lands. It is a patronymic construction from the modern-styled given name Jimeno, plus the Spanish suffix -ez, meaning son [of]. The root appears to stem from Basque semen, meaning son.

Johnson (my spouse’s mother’s paternal line, two lines)
English—This surname is a patronymic form of the medieval male given name John (son of John) from the Hebrew name Yochanan, meaning God has favored me (with a son).

Johnston (my father’s paternal line)
Scottish—This surname is of Scottish locational origin from an area in Annandale, Dumfriesshire. The founder of the family, named Jonis, followed his overlords from Yorkshire circa 1174 and was granted the lands to which he gave his name. The second element is the medieval English word tone or toun from the Old English pre-7th Century word tun, meaning a settlement.

Jones (my mother’s maternal line and my mother’s paternal line)
English—This surname is of English medieval origins. It derives either from the male given name John or its female equivalent Joan, both introduced after the Norman Conquest. Both names are written as Jon(e) in medieval documents; a clear distinction between them on the grounds of gender was not made until the 15th Century. However, because of the patronymic nature of  medieval Britain, bearers of the surname Jones are more likely to derive it from John than Joan. John is from the Hebrew word Yochanan, meaning Jehovah has favored (me with a son).

Judd (my mother’s paternal line)
English—Of early medieval English origin, this surname is a diminutive forms of the personal name Jordan. There are two possible sources: it might be an Old German personal name Jordanes, thought to contain the same root as the Old Norse word jordh, meaning land, or it might be taken directly from the name of the river Jordan, derived from the Hebrew word yarad, meaning to go down or to descend (to the Dead Sea). Returning Crusaders and pilgrims would frequently bring back flasks of water from the river Jordan to be used in the baptism of their children, since John the Baptist had baptized people, including Christ Himself, in the river.


Well, that’s it for the I and J surnames… Next up is the K surnames.

For more information on the origins of many surnames, check out Almwch Data, Behind the Name, Irish Origenes, Surname Database, Surname Meanings and Origins, Surname Web, and Wiktionary.

#etymology     #familytree     #surnames

Categories: Cole-Marriner Line, Extended Families, Harwick-Bush Line, Spangler-Kenney Line, Surnames from A to Z, Watts-Stark Line, Williams-Stott Line | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “ABCs & Our Family Trees: Letters I & J

  1. Pingback: Crunching the Numbers, 2021 | Princes, Paupers, Pilgrims & Pioneers

  2. Love the way you have approached your family surnames here. You have given me lots to read and enjoy. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Checked my genealogy quickly—We have Johnson, Jones, and Jacobs in common.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Very interesting. I have some strange names in my family Parley Worden. I need to look up and see the origins of it. Thanks for sharing your ABCs.

    Liked by 1 person

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