In the early centuries, many people were illiterate and rarely traveled away from their home, so it was not necessary to have a surname. However, by the 5th century, populations grew and people began to migrate, making it necessary to distinguish one name from another.

Significance

Commonly, surnames originated from the father's first name, but have evolved through the centuries because of social class and culture.

Identification

Surnames have been derived from geographical locations, occupations, physical or character descriptions.

Time Frame

In the 5th through 11th centuries, common people were becoming educated and more apt to travel or relocate, deeming it necessary to distinguish one person from another.

Considerations

If you are researching your genealogy, consider the fact that surname spellings may have changed over generations.

Fun Fact

Many surnames were changed drastically when immigrants checked into Ellis Island.