Anyone interested in names knows there is a veritable ocean of articles, books, and websites that cover everything imaginable about names and naming. There are, in fact, people whose hobby is collecting names–funny names, weird names, and celebrity names, for example. In fact, people who have an unusual (some would say unhealthy) fascination for names are called Name Nerds. Names and naming are, however, more than just a hobby for genealogists. Understanding the history of names, as well as finding name definitions and patterns, can sometimes make or break a genealogist’s quest to find ancestors.

Among the numerous sources of information about names and naming are two websites that are extremely valuable as well as entertaining. These two websites are Behind the Name: The Etymology and History of First Names and its sister-site, Behind the Name: The Etymology and History of Surnames. Both of these websites are not only entertaining but are also filled with information and definitions of names that can be very helpful to genealogists.

Behind the Name: The Etymology and History of First Names, found at, offers background information about names and naming. It also offers search capabilities where people may type in a name and browsing capabilities to search by gender and by nationality (everything from African to Welsh), ethnicity, or topics such as astronomical, biblical, literary, and mythological names. It even offers ancient and medieval names and their meanings. The entries provide the meaning, pronunciation, variations and other information about the name.

Behind the Name: The Etymology and History of Surnames, found at, offers browse capabilities for names derived by given names, location, nickname, and occupation. Surnames are also searchable by nationality. The emphasis is placed on European surnames from Albanian to Welsh, but the site also includes regions like Basque, Catalan, Cornish, Frisian, Galician, and Provençal. In spite of the European emphasis, the database also includes surnames from other nationalities and cultures like African, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Jewish, Khmer, Turkish and Vietnamese.

These websites are fun. Just try to visit either one and leave after only one search. Before you know it, you will find yourself looking at names that have “fiery” meanings or names associated with “warriors.” The sites offer a lot to anyone interested in names and are user friendly enough for Name Nerds and genealogists alike to use and enjoy.

Comments (8)

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  1. Very interesting information Thank you for sharing.

    John 01 January 2012
    3:26 pm
  2. Thanks for sharing these sites. I find this immensely valueable not only for cultural reasons but to explore the implications this has in the digital age where so many things are defined by numbers and letters. Identity is a sacred thing that we take too much for granted. Thanks again

    Troy 07 December 2011
    11:05 am
  3. Interesting information, thank you for sharing

    Carol 13 November 2011
    8:00 pm
  4. What interesting information Thank you for sharing.

    13 November 2011
    7:59 pm
  5. I have an ancestor with the first name of Craven. It helped to know that he wasnt the first son and was probably named after his mothers side. Turned out his mothers name was Ursula Craven. It helped trace that particular branch back to 1501. Too many Georges and Johns out there

    Gillian 10 November 2011
    5:29 pm
  6. Ive been using both Behind the Name and Behind the Surname for years. Both are fascinating sites with very helpful and knowledgeable members who often help when you post on the message boards.

    Missy 07 November 2011
    8:18 pm
  7. Popularity in naming patterns often reflect contemporary literature and the culture of the media. Thus Ariel was popular at the time of the release of the Disney movie, The Little Mermaid. Not surprising, Jacob is currently at the top of list of baby names thanks to author Stephanie Meyers and the movie industry. The U.S. Social Security website offers a fun page for those with an interest in naming patterns back to the year 1879. Tradition and patronymics played a stronger role in historical naming patterns. http//

    Laurie 03 November 2011
    2:57 pm
  8. I am just know getting on the band wagon as far as my ancesters. Wish me luck.

    Irene 02 November 2011
    7:12 am

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