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When did last names become the norm?

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Questa volta abbiamo cercato: When did last names become the norm?

Back then some people had last names some didn’t but now everyone has a last name when did that happen?

Ed ecco le risposte:

There is no single answer, it varies from place to place. Assuming you’re American, they were already the norm by the time the USA was founded, so you have to look to Europe for the history..

In England, many last names came from professions: Mason, Baker, Taylor (tailor), Chandler (candlemaker), Cooper (barrel maker), and of course Smith. In other countries such as the Netherlands, places were used e.g. the painter Vincent Van Gogh’s name meant “Vincent from Gogh”: where Gogh is a town that still exists today. (He didn’t actually come from there himself, but an ancestor must have.) In Scotland, “Mac” names were “son of”, and the same for “O'” names in Ireland and “-son” names in England.

Back then, last names were usually titles. Or indications of ancestor or job, sometimes even place of birth or residence.

As society evolved, surnames just became more common as a means to identify people and give them individuality. At least, that’s what I think is what happened.

It morphed from being “John, from the hills” and “John, the baker” to “John Hills” and “John Baker”

You’ve gotten lots of answers here, but this would be a good question for r/askhistorians

It happened when state powers became strong enough to force everyone to use official last names. You can still see alphabetical distributions of names in places like the Philippines, because state officials went through with a list of names and assigned them to people who didn’t have one.


I read a book review of a book called Seeing Like a State by James Scott that talks about this, quoted below

>Scott describes the spread of surnames. Peasants didn’t like permanent surnames. Their own system was quite reasonable for them: John the baker was John Baker, John the blacksmith was John Smith, John who lived under the hill was John Underhill, John who was really short was John Short. The same person might be John Smith and John Underhill in different contexts, where his status as a blacksmith or place of origin was more important.

>But the government insisted on giving everyone a single permanent name, unique for the village, and tracking who was in the same family as whom. Resistance was intense:

>>>What evidence we have suggests that second names of any kind became rare as distance from the state’s fiscal reach increased. Whereas one-third of the households in Florence declared a second name, the proportion dropped to one-fifth for secondary towns and to one-tenth in the countryside. It was not until the seventeenth century that family names crystallized in the most remote and poorest areas of Tuscany – the areas that would have had the least contact with officialdom. […]>>State naming practices, like state mapping practices, were inevitably associated with taxes (labor, military service, grain, revenue) and hence aroused popular resistance. The great English peasant rising of 1381 (often called the Wat Tyler Rebellion) is attributed to an unprecedented decade of registration and assessments of poll taxes. For English as well as for Tuscan peasants, a census of all adult males could not but appear ominous, if not ruinous.

>The same issues repeated themselves a few hundred years later when Europe started colonizing other continents. Again they encountered a population with naming systems they found unclear and unsuitable to taxation. But since colonial states had more control over their subjects than the relatively weak feudal monarchies of the Middle Ages, they were able to deal with it in one fell swoop, sometimes comically so:

>>>Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the Philippines under the Spanish. Filipinos were instructed by the decree of November 21, 1849 to take on permanent Hispanic surnames. […]>>Each local official was to be given a supply of surnames sufficient for his jurisdiction, “taking care that the distribution be made by letters of the alphabet.” In practice, each town was given a number of pages from the alphabetized [catalog], producing whole towns with surnames beginning with the same letter. In situations where there has been little in-migration in the past 150 years, the traces of this administrative exercise are still perfectly visible across the landscape. “For example, in the Bikol region, the entire alphabet is laid out like a garland over the provinces of Albay, Sorsogon, and Catanduanes which in 1849 belonged to the single jurisdiction of Albay. Beginning with A at the provincial capital, the letters B and C mark the towns along the cost beyond Tabaco to Wiki. We return and trace along the coast of Sorosgon the letters E to L, then starting down the Iraya Valley at Daraga with M, we stop with S to Polangui and Libon, and finish the alphabet with a quick tour around the island of Catanduas.The confusion for which the decree is the antidote is largely that of the administrator and the tax collector. Universal last names, they believe, will facilitate the administration of justice, finance, and public order as well as make it simpler for prospective marriage partners to calculate their degree of consanguinity. For a utilitarian state builder of [Governor] Claveria’s temper, however, the ultimate goal was a complete and legible list of subjects and taxpayers.

>This was actually a lot less cute and funny than the alphabetization makes it sound:

>>>What if the Filipinos chose to ignore their new last names? This possibility had already crossed Claveria’s mind, and he took steps to make sure that the names would stick. Schoolteachers were ordered to forbid their students to address or even know one another by any name except the officially inscribed family name. Those teachers who did not apply the rule with enthusiasm were to be punished. More efficacious perhaps, given the minuscule school enrollment, was the proviso that forbade priests and military and civil officials from accepting any document, application, petition, or deed that did not use the official surnames. All documents using other names would be null and void