Surname Overview

There are thousands of surnames all over the world. Many more than 100 or 200 years ago. Almost every surname has changed over time. New spellings of the old names have created many problems for genealogists. The new spellings and sometimes different pronunciations, have added to these problems. There are sometimes many variations of the same name. A good many variations of the name Salisbury exist. Including the name Sandsbury.

Before the Social Security System was established in the United States in the 1930s; people could spell their name however they wanted to. This was done many times without regard, to the way it sounded.

People often changed their names when they came from another country. They wanted to fit in. And they wanted their children to fit in. People were sometimes unkind to someone whose name sounded different. A family whose name was Schmidt might change it to Smith. A person whose name was Johanson might change it to Johnson.

Many people’s names were changed because they couldn’t read or write. If you need to have someone write your name for you; you don’t know whether they are spelling it correctly or not. Some people would carry a piece of paper, or whatever they could find. This was done so that when they found someone who could read and write, they would have that person write their name. This was done so that they could learn to write their own name. If the name was Wallace, the person spelling the name might have spelled it Wallis; because that is the way the name sounded to him.

If you can’t read or write, then you are really at the mercy of those people who can read and write. Names were spelled differently even in the same family. In the Lewman family, we find a number of spellings: Lewman, Looman, Luman, Lehman and Leaman. These people were a father, two sons, a grandson and a granddaughter. They didn’t seem to care about the traditional spelling.

Some names just changed over the course of time. The name Widmer was German. This name went through many changes before it became Whitmore. The name Whitmore is an English name. Over a period of about 100 years this name changed, leaving names like Wetmore and Windmer in its wake. Now, remember that Germany wasn’t unified as a country until 1871; but the German people existed long before, in smaller regions.

The name Carpenter is very interesting. Many people have names that reflect their occupation. Again people changed their names to fit in to society. The people who came from the German regions were no different. There were a good many people who came to America with the name Zimmerman. The name Zimmerman when translated into English becomes Carpenter. A large number of these people became Carpenters.