Teaching English as a Foreign Language:
A Bush By Any Other Name
Surnames of Objects
In still other examples of surname adoption, surnames were taken from inanimate objects thought or believed to have unique properties or super-natural characteristics. Science, being what it was during the sixteenth century, still had a long way to go in explaining the properties of most elements. Thus superstitions and pagan beliefs sometimes played a key role in the selection and adoption of a person or family’s surname. Some surnames were taken from foodstuffs or plants. Others were assumed from nature or natural objects. Many if not most of these surnames are still in widespread use today. Note the varieties in spelling as English spelling was not “standardized” during that era.
Rice, Rhys, or Rhize
Bean or Beane or even Beene
Corne or Cornell
Stone or Stowne – later shortened to Stowe
Bush or from old English By(u)ssche
Glass or Glaz
Pine or Pyne
North or Northe also Nord or Norde
Steel or Steele believed to be derived from Steale
Thorn or Thorne
Peck or Pecke also Beck or Becke – related to Becker
Day, Daye or Daley
Street or Streete also Streeter
Bend or Bender
Bell or Belle
Forest, Forester or Foster, Forster
Winyter, Winter or Winters
Summer, Summers or Sumner also Summerville
Brook or Brooks
Ford, Forde or Foord(e)
Wood, Woode or Woods
In previous articles, we’ve seen how English language surnames were developed from occupations, animals, nature, and colors. This should help to give our English as a Foreign Language learners an interesting and unique glimpse into the nature and intricacies of the English language.
It was none other than “the Bard”, William Shakespeare who wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Indeed, and we’ve only taken a brief look at some of the more common English language surnames. There are still hundreds, if not thousands more we haven’t even considered in this series of articles.
These examples of surnames created or adopted from a variety of sources illustrate the beginnings of the development and use of the family surname or last name, as we know it today. Similar examples of surnames can be found in a number of other foreign language families. Why not ask your English language learners about unique or historic surnames (or first names) in the country where you are living and working now. It could prove to be a very unique and interesting history.
After all, who really knows, “What’s in a name?”
Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an English language teaching and learning expert author and university professor in Cali, Colombia. Live your dreams in paradise, find romance, high adventure and get paid while travelling for free. For more information on entering or advancing in the fascinating field of teaching English as a Foreign or Second Language send for the no-cost pdf Ebook, “If You Want to Teach English Abroad, Here’s What You Need to Know”, by sending an e-mail with "free ELT Ebook" in the subject line. For comments, questions, requests, to receive more information or to be added to his free TESOL articles and teaching materials mailing list, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org