Lesson: Names

Lesson: Names


Students will find out why they any significance of their given names, and possible meaning of their surnames.


(none needed)




Given name

Middle name




  • Picking out a name for a baby is a task parents usually really enjoy. They might name their baby after their mother or father, a favorite aunt or uncle, or a character in a book or on a TV show, or because it was a name they heard once and loved. Do you know why you were named your name?
  • In our country, many people have three names: a given name (your first name), a middle name, and your surname (last name). But sometimes people do not have a middle name, and sometimes people have more than one middle name, or the last name of both parents, sometimes with a hyphen between the two names.
  • Many names have a meaning, which your parents might or might not have known when they named you. These meanings go way back in history and most people today don’t know the old meaning, but it can be interesting to see what your name meant way back in history.
  • Over the years, names have sometimes gone in and out of popularity. You can look up and see what the most popular names for babies are today and what the most popular names were in years past.  
  • You can also research different naming traditions or patterns that people in different parts of the world use. Sometimes when you are studying family history, it is good to know what the naming patterns were for the country your family was from.
  • People’s surnames often give us a clue as to what our ancestors’ livelihood was. (Cooper, Farmer, Baker.)


  1. Students use the internet to find the meaning of their first, middle and last name, and have them record their findings.
  2. Homework: ask your family why you were named what you were by asking these questions:
  • Why was I named my first name and middle name? Who picked out the name? Why did you pick that name? Was it an easy choice? Was the name picked out before I was born or after? If you have a nickname, how did it come to be? How old were you when people started calling you by your nickname? Tell me the story of how you picked my names.
  1. The next day, students share the stories of their names.


  • Show students some examples of coats of arms, and have them create their own for their family name. They can explore online to see if their family name has a traditional coat of arm. Chapter 8 in The Kids’ Family Tree Book by Leavitt (Sterling, New York, 2005) has lots of information and ideas about heraldry.
  • Sometimes people “anglicized” their names to prevent discrimination or to just “fit in”. Have students find examples of these changes and the reasons that families changed their names. Does this still happen today with new immigrants?
  • In 1600, Shakespeare wrote in these words for Juliet to speak in his play Romeo and JulietWhat’s in a name? that which we call a rose  By any other name would smell as sweet…” What do you think Shakespeare meant?


“Baby Naming Traditions around the World” by Jeanine Cox, author of The Perfect Name  from http://www.babyzone.com

“What’s Your Name?”, Chapter four in Climbing Your Family Tree by Ira Wolfman (Workman, New York, 2002)