Personal Names

Patrons often ask for information on the origin of their first or last names.

Many name dictionaries give origins of common names, but you should also remind your patrons that only a genealogical search of their own family's history will prove the origin of their own name. The name dictionaries give common origins and clues, but can't be used for the definitive answers on a person's own name.

Because many names derive from places where a family once lived, it helps to check geographical sources as well as name dictionaries.

There are specialized dictionaries of names in addition to general ones. The specialized dictionaries usually cover names originating in specific countries. Larger libraries are likely to have a selection of the specialized name dictionaries so if you don't find your patron's name in the sources you have, be sure to refer the question. If the patron knows the country the family originally came from, be sure to pass that information on.

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This page was updated December 8, 2003.