25 Words That Don’t Mean What They Used To

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When the English clergyman Thomas Fuller used the word unfriended in a letter dating from 1659, we can be pretty sure he wasn’t talking about his Facebook page. Instead, Fuller used the word to mean something like “estranged” or “fallen out,” a straightforward literal meaning that has long since “fallen out” of the language.

It’s to be expected that the words we use will change and develop over time as they begin to be used in original and innovative new contexts. But in some instances, these developments can lead to words gaining new meanings entirely different from their original implications—and the 25 words listed here have done just that. 

1. ALIENATE

A person handing over the keys of a house.
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Alienate, like alien, is derived from the Latin word alienus, which was used to describe anything that was unfamiliar, unconnected, or foreign. And when alienate first appeared in English as a legal term in the mid-1400s, it meant to transfer ownership of some property over to someone else, so that it is now “foreign” or “unconnected” to you. It’s from here that the modern meaning of “estrangement” or “distance” eventually developed.

2. AMBIDEXTROUS

Two businessmen shaking hands over a table as they exchange money beneath it.
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Ambidextrous literally means “able to use both hands as well as you can use your right.” It certainly isn’t its earliest meaning, though: When it first began to be used in English in the mid-16th century, an ambidexter was someone who took bribes from both sides in a legal action, and as such ambidextrous originally meant “duplicitous” or “two-faced.”

3. BUNNY

A squirrel on a log with its head cocked to the side, as though confused.
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Bunny derives from bun—which was an old English word for a squirrel, not a rabbit.

4. CHEAP

A number of tags with the word 'sale' on them.
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The use of cheap to mean “low-cost” is a relatively recent invention that dates back about 500 years. That might not sound all that recent, but compare that to the fact that the earliest record of the word cheap in any context dates from the 9th century, when it originally meant something along the lines of simply “trade” or “bargaining” or “marketplace.” Likewise, to cheapen something originally meant to ask how much it costs.

5. DUMP

A bored woman with a thought bubble filled with palm trees, flip flops, suitcases, and an airplane.
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Nowadays when we say we’re “down in the dumps,” we mean that we’re in a gloomy, low-spirited mood. But the original dump from which this derives was actually an old Tudor English word for an absent-minded daydream, or a dazed, puzzled state of mind, not a depressive one. In that sense, it probably has its roots in an earlier old Dutch word, domp, meaning “haze” or “mist.”

6. EXPLODE

A man in front of a microphone covered in tomatoes that have been thrown at him.
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The –plode of explode is derived from the same root as applaud—it originally meant “to jeer a performer off a stage.” 

7. FANTASTIC

A unicorn in a forest surrounded by fairies.
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The link between fantastic things and absolute fantasy was once much closer than it is today. Fantastic originally meant “existing only in the imagination,” or in other words “unreal” or “based on fantasy.” Because fantastic things like these would be so extraordinary or bizarre, eventually the word became attached more loosely to weird and fanciful, and ultimately impressive or wonderful things.

8. FASCINATED

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The root of fascinated is the Latin word fascinus, which referred to a magic charm or spell. As such, its original meaning was “bewitched” or “enchanted,” not just “interested” or “enthralled.”

9. GAMUT

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Long before we started using do-re-mi, the first and lowest note of a musical scale was called ut. And the lowest of all the uts was gamma ut (named for the Greek letter gamma), which eventually simplified to gamut. As time went by, the term gamut came to refer collectively to all the notes of a musical scale, and then to the full range of a musical instrument, from where the modern sense of “the full extent” or “scope” of something eventually derived in the mid-1700s.

10. GIRL

A mother holding a baby's feet.
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Bizarrely, the word girl was originally gender neutral and could be used in same way we would use child or kid. Its meaning didn’t begin to become more specific until the 15th century, after the word boy—which originally meant “a male servant or assistant”—was adopted into English (possibly from French) and effectively stole half of the meaning of girl, leaving us with the opposite pair we have today.

11. HANDICAP

A person putting money in another person's hat.
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Folk etymology claims the word handicap comes from injured soldiers returning home from war and, unable to work, being forced to beg on the streets with their caps in their hands. In fact, that’s completely untrue: Instead, handicap was originally an old form of trade or bartering, in which two trading parties would have their goods assessed by an impartial third person, who would check for any differences in value to ensure that both traded items were of equivalent price. If both traders agreed with his assessment, they would drop a small amount of cash into his unturned cap which he would get to keep as part of the deal; if they disagreed, then no trade would take place and he would get nothing. It was from this original notion of “assessing the relative value of something” that we then came to have handicap races, in which stronger participants would be deliberately impeded to ensure a fair race, in the mid 18th century, and it’s from there that the more general sense of a handicap as an impediment or hindrance eventually derived in the late 1800s.

12. HUSBAND

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A husband was originally a home-owner or a head of a household—and not necessarily a married one. At its root are words meaning “home” or “dwelling” (an etymological ancestor of house) and dweller or freeholder (an ancestor of bond). Wife, meanwhile, meant “woman” originally, a general meaning that still survives in words like housewife and midwife.

13. JARGON

A group of birds on a power line.
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Jargon was originally a word for the chirping and chattering of birds—which is the sense by which it appears in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. And because the noises made by birds are unintelligible to us, it eventually came to be mean “senseless, incomprehensible language.” 

14. KEEN

A little boy in a superhero outfit with a red cape.
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Keen hasn’t always meant “willing” or “ardent”—it derives from an Old English word cene, meaning “brave,” “fierce,” or “warlike.” 

15. LIVID

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Describing something as livid originally meant that it was a grey-blue color, like the color of slate. In this sense, it originally meant “bruised” or “discoloured” when it first began to be used in English in the early 1600s, and it wasn’t until the 1920s that it came to mean “furiously angry”—in the sense of all of the color draining from someone’s face. 

16. MANAGE

A knee-down view of a person riding a brown horse.
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Manage derives, via Italian, from the Latin word for hand, manus, and originally meant to physically “handle” something—and in particular, to control a horse.

17. NAUGHTY

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Naughty is etymologically related to nought, and meant “to have nothing” when it first appeared in the language around 600 years ago. Soon afterward, it came to mean “to have no morals,” and, by extension, “wicked,” “depraved,” or “vicious,” before its meaning softened in the late Middle Ages. It was then that the modern meaning of “mischievous” or “disobedient” first began to appear. 

18. NERVOUS

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Nervous originally meant “sinewy” or “muscly,” or by extension “powerful” or “vigorous.” Back in the 15th century, a nervous person would be one with bulging muscles and who appeared visibly strong. Before long, however, nervous came to refer to impulses and disorders that affected the nerves, and ultimately by the 1700s, excitable or anxious feelings or people.

19. NICE

A man in a vest and tie shrugging.
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Nice derives from a Latin word, nescius, meaning “ignorant” or “not knowing”—and that was its original meaning when it was first adopted into English from French around the turn of the 14th century. Over the years that followed, nice was knocked around the language picking up an impressively wide range of meanings along the way—including “wanton,” “ostentatious,” “punctilious,” “prim,” “hard to please,” “cultured,” “cowardly,” “lazy,” “pampered,” “shy,” “insubstantial,” and “dainty”—before it finally settled on its current meaning in the early 1700s.

20. PUNK

The Tavern Scene from Plate 3 of 'The Rake's Progress', a series of paintings by William Hogarth, circa 1735.
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No one knows where the word punk comes from, but its earliest meaning in English was as another name for a prostitute—the meaning by which it appears in Shakespeare’s Measure For Measure. Over the centuries, the word seems to have accrued a whole host of fairly unsavory connotations, until it first began to be used of a petty criminal or a criminal’s assistant sometime around 1900, and ultimately any disreputable person, an outcast, or an inexperienced person in the 1920s and '30s.

21. QUEEN

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The word queen apparently started life as a general name for a woman or a wife, before its meaning specialized to “the wife of a king” in the middle of the Old English period. It has remained unchanged ever since.

22. RIVAL

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Rival comes from the same etymological root as words like river and rivulet, and when it first appeared in English in the early 15th century was nothing more than another name for a shoreline or the riverbank. The modern sense of “competitor” or “opponent” is presumed to derive from fishermen competing over the best fishing waters—in fact, the Latin equivalent rivalis was historically used to describe someone who lived on the opposite bank of a river from you.

23. SPEECHLESS

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In Old English, speechless meant precisely that—permanently mute, or physically unable to speak. The figurative sense of “stunned into silence” emerged in the Middle English period, and is probably an invention of Geoffrey Chaucer

24. THRILL

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To thrill originally meant “to piece a hole in something”—your nostrils, etymologically, are your “nose-thrills.” The modern meaning of “excite” or “affect” is a more recent figurative development dating from the 1500s (perhaps Shakespeare’s doing) that implies that something “thrilling” has the ability to affect someone very deeply.

25. VOLATILE

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Volatile comes from the Latin verb volare, meaning “to fly” (the same root as volleyball, incidentally) and first described any creature capable of flight, in particular water birds like ducks, geese, and waders. From this original meaning came the chemical meaning of volatile—originally “liable to disperse in fumes”—in the early 15th century, which eventually gave rise to the figurative meaning of “fickle” or “changeable” in the mid-1600s.

25 Different Ways to Say "Fart"

This guy just floated an air biscuit, if you know what I'm saying.
This guy just floated an air biscuit, if you know what I'm saying.
Natty Blissful (farting man), Sudowoodo (speech bubble) // iStock via Getty Images Plus

Over the course of history, the human race has come up with many delightfully creative ways to describe the act of breaking wind. From regional terms to old-timey phrases, here are 25 ways to say fart that you should work into conversation whenever toots come up.

1. Air Biscuit

According to Green’s Dictionary of Slang, an air biscuit is “an extremely malodorous fart or belch.” The phrase dates back to the early ‘90s and originated in the south, but clearly needs to be used everywhere. The act of farting or belching is known as floating an air biscuit, by the way.

2. Bottom Burp

Don’t call it a fart; call it a bottom burp. Green’s notes that this is “generally a children’s usage,” but it was “popularized on BBC TV’s 1980s comedy The Young Ones.”

3. Fartick

This term, from the early 1900s, means “a small act of breaking wind”—in other words, a tiny toot. You can also use the term fartkin. Scientists, by the way, have determined that the median weight of a fart is around 90 milliliters.

4. One-Cheek Squeak

According to Green’s, “an instance of breaking wind.”

5. Bafoon

A ‘40s term for “a stench, [especially] a fart,” according to Green’s. It’s also sometimes puffoon.

6., 7., and 8. Cheeser, Cut the Cheese, and Squeeze Cheese

Once a term for a person who made cheese, according to Partridge's Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, cheeser has meant “a strong smelling fart” since 1811. It’s not the only cheese-related fart term, either: Perhaps you’ve asked “Who cut the cheese?” when you’ve smelled a particularly nasty odor. According to Green’s, this phrase for farting relates to ”the pronounced odor of certain cheeses,” and the Oxford English Dictionary dates oral usage back to 1959. Squeeze cheese is another delightful phrase, seemingly born of the internet, meaning “To fart, flatulate loudly.”

9. Breezer

A 1920s term for an open-topped car, and also an early ‘70s Australian term for a fart.

10. Trump

This word, meaning “to fart,” dates back to the 15th century. It’s also been used as a noun since the early 20th century. Either way, it's derived from the sound of a trumpet, which makes total sense.

11., 12., 13., and 14. Raspberry Tart, Hart and Dart, Horse and Cart, and D’Oyley Carte

Horse and Cart, Raspberry Tart, Hart and Dart, and D’Oyley Carte are all ways to say fart, many originating in England. Welcome to the wonderful world of rhyming slang!

15. and 16. Ringbark and Shoot a Bunny

Ringbark is a term used in New Zealand for breaking wind. Green’s cites the 2003 Reed’s Dictionary of New Zealand Slang, which helpfully notes that “ring is old slang for the anus.” Shoot a Bunny is another New Zealand way to say fart. As a bonus, “Empty house is better than a bad tenant” is what you say in New Zealand after you’ve farted in public. Farting in public is embarrassing, of course, but it's arguably better than the alternative: Holding in a fart could cause the gas to leak out of your mouth.

17. Foist

In early 1600s, the word foist was used to describe something that smelled less than fresh—and before that, in the late 1500s, it was a verb meaning “to break wind silently.” In other words, a more polite way to describe flatulence that’s silent but deadly.

18. Fizzle

This word, which originated in the 16th century, originally meant “to defecate.” But by the mid-17th century, fizzle (also spelled fisle) had acquired an additional meaning: to fart. Want to know how to use it in a sentence? Consider this example from 1653: “The false old trot did so fizzle and foist, that she stunk like a hundred devils.”

19. Prat Whids

Prat (derived from pratfall) is a 16th century British cant or slang word for the buttocks. Whid is a cant word meaning “to speak or tell” or “to lie.” So this phrase for breaking wind literally means “buttock speaks.”

20. Opened One’s Lunchbox

An Australian term for fart that, according to Green’s, debuted in the Barry McKenzie comic strip. You can apparently also say upon tooting that you "dropped your lunchbox."

21. Wind the Horn

This UK term dates back to around 1660.

22. Tail Scutter

An Irish slang term for a fart from the mid-1960s.

23. Rim Slide

According to Green’s, this is a prison slang term from the ‘80s for “a silent but foul-smelling fart,” helpfully noting that “the fart slides from the rim of the anus.” (Emphasis, it must be said, is Green's.)

24. Orange Banana

This isn’t technically a slang term for a fart, but it is toot-adjacent, and we couldn’t resist including it: It’s the “flaring effect produced by breaking wind next to a lit match,” and reportedly comes from college campuses in the late ‘80s.

25. Bronx Cheer

When you make a fart noise with your mouth, that’s called a Bronx Cheer—a term that dates all the way back to 1908.

The Origins of 62 Last Names

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SasinParaksa iStock via Getty Images

Last names. You've probably got one or two, and they definitely came from somewhere. Whether it's ancient or modern, signifies the beauty of nature or an abstract concept or a job, or is something Grandma came up with on the fly, last names are intimate things that anchor us to our heritage.

Here are the meanings and origins of 62 last names (maybe including yours).

1. Green

Woman in a forest with binoculars
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Welcome, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia fans. Did you know that the last name Green has been around since before the 7th century? You could have gotten that name by playing the role of the "green man" on May Day, which involved dressing in green clothing and leaves. But people were also given the name Green if they just liked wearing the color green a lot. So if you're interested in changing your last name, look no further than your closet.

2. Smith

Blacksmith forging a horseshoe
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Smith is an old English name given to those who worked with metal. It's probably related to a word that meant "to strike" or "to smite," which means it may have referred to a soldier or to the person hitting metal to form it into armor.

3. Schmidt

Wrought iron detail on wooden door
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Similarly, Schmidt is basically the German version of Smith, which also derives from the word smitan, which pre-dates written history.

4. Lopez

Red wolf
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The popular Spanish last name Lopez came from lupus, the Latin word for wolf.

5. Thomas

Twin babies crying
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It's from the ancient Aramaic word תאומא, meaning twin, but you can use it on singles or all three triplets.

6. Hill

A small white house on a green hill in the sun.
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Hill is an English name referring to, you guessed it, someone living on a hill. Other people got the name not from location, but from the name Hildebrand or Hilliard.

7. Lynch

Man on a sailboat
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In parts of England, Lynch meant someone who lived by a hill. In Ireland, though, it may have meant seaman

8. Murphy

Vikings rowing in boats
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Slightly different, Murphy comes from the Irish term for a sea warrior, which is basically a Lynch during war time. There's most likely a Viking connection here.

9. Novak

Woman giving a casserole to a neighbor
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Novak comes from the Slovak word for new or newcomer. Good to know if people start calling you that as soon as you get to Serbia. 

10. Gomez

Man kissing his toddler son
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Gomo, which comes from old Spanish, meant man, and the "ez" at the end there makes it mean "son of man."

11. Cook

A male chef's hand seasons a rack of ribs.
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If your last name is Cook, you probably have some ancestors who did that for a living.

12. baker.

Man at potting wheel
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Dating back before the 8th century, Baker could have referred to someone baking bread, running a communal kitchen, or owning a kiln for firing pottery.

13. Baxter

Man holding a loaf of bread
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Baxter is the masculine version of the word bakester, which originally meant a woman who bakes.

14. Becker

Small house by a forest stream
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Becker is the German word for baker, and the name might have sprung up for the same reasons Baker and Baxter did in England, but it's also possible that the last name denoted someone living by a stream, or bach.

15. Hall

Long old-fashioned hallway
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They were the people who worked in a house or a hall. Or even if you just lived near one.

16. Adams

Stained glass depiction of Adam and Eve in the garden with a snake.
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Adams means "son of Adam" in England and Scotland. They borrowed the Adam part from Hebrew, of course.

17. Rogers

Statue of Athena holding a spear
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Rogers means "son of Roger." Roger isn't the first man in an alternate version of the Bible, though: His name comes from the legend of the Danish king Hrothgar, who can be found in Beowulf. Hrothgar, by the way, means "famous spear."

18. Thompson

Celtic crosses in old graveyard
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There are of course, a ton of these "son"s. Let's just get a bunch out of the way. Thompson, which is Celtic, means either "son of Tom" or refers to a place called Thompson in Norfolk.

19. Robinson

European robin in a snowy tree
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You would be correct in assuming that Robinson means "son of Robin." Or Robert.

20. Roberts

Sunlight through clouds
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Roberts means "son of Robert," and Robert means "fame" and "bright."

21. Johnson and Jones

Mosaic of John the Baptist
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Johnson and Jones both mean "son of John." The name John comes from the Hebrew Yohanan, which means "Yahweh has been gracious."

22. Jackson

Statue of John the Baptist on the Charles Bridge in Prague
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The name Jack is also derived from Yohanan, so Jacksons and Johnsons are really kinda the same.

23. Evans

Warrior holding a sword and shield
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Evans—besides meaning "son of Evan"—is a name that changes definition depending on your background. In Welsh, it also evolved from Yohanan. In Celtic, it means "young warrior." We're learning a lot about what people used to value: warriors, fame, religion, hills.

24. Martinez

Statue of Roman god of war Mars
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It's a Spanish last name meaning "son of Martin," and "Martin" comes from the Roman god of war, Mars.

25. Anderson

Man lifting weights in a gym
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The Greek word for "manly" gave us Anders and Andrew, and therefore Anderson, the son of Anders.

26. Wilson

Cat looking longingly at food
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The Will part of Wilson is from the Germanic word meaning "desire." Gives an even deeper meaning to the Tom Hanks' best friend in Castaway.

27. Olsen

Old family photos for genealogy
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The name Ole came from an Old Norse word meaning "ancestors' descendants". So I guess the Olsens of the world are the "sons of ancestors' descendants."

28. Philips

Man and horse
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The Greek name Philippos, meaning "lover of horses", gave us the name Philip. Therefore, every Philips in your life is the son of a horse lover.

29. Fox

Sleeping red fox
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The name Fox was taken from the animal's name. It's one of those last names that started out as a nickname. Usually, people who were called Fox were clever or else had red hair or both (probably just one or the other).

30. Russell

An intricate braid in the hair of a redheaded woman.
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Then there's the name Russell, which is an Anglo-Norman word meaning "red haired" or even "red-skinned."

31. White

Curvy river in green landscape
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White probably referred to a person who had white hair or a very light complexion. It's also referred to people living near the bend in a river.

32. Brown

Man in brown suit holding a drink
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The original Brown was someone with brown hair or who wore a lot of brown clothes. But really, wasn't that everyone in like the 5th century? I guess that explains why there are so many Browns.

33. Kim

Pile of gold bricks
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Kim means "gold." It's also the most popular surname in South Korea. One in five people living there is a Kim.

34. Li

Bowl of plums
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Li can mean "plum" or someone who lived near a plum tree. It's the second most popular surname on the planet.

35. Lee

A meadow filled with purple wildflowers
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The direct translation of Lee from Old English is "an open place," so it might have referred to a meadow or a water meadow.

36. Stewart

Butler at a door
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The Scottish name would have denoted a guardian who handled administrative tasks for a big royal household. It comes from the ancient word "stigweard."

37. Clark

Vintage typewriter with paper
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Clark means "professional scribe." So if I live near a hill and I'm something of a scribe, would be a Lynchclark?

38. Walker

Raw wool and tools
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Walker could have been someone who did fulling, which was walking on cloth to improve its quality.

39. [Another] walker

Two park rangers
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Another occupation related to that name: military officers who would monitor a forest area by, you know, walking.

40. Allen

Vellos in an orchestra
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This name means "little rock" or "harmony." So please enjoy using your Harmony Wrench to build your next swanky piece of IKEA furniture.

41. Myers

A black sign with golden letters reading City Hall
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In English, Myers means "son of the mayor." It may have also been used as a nickname for someone pompous.

42. Singh

Regal lion
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Singh means "lion." Sikh in origin, it's given to a son on achieving manhood.

43. COHEN

Hot priest
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It's Hebrew for "priest." But the name might also come from Gaelic Irish where it meant "son of wild goose."

44. PARKER

Female park ranger with lions
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The original Parker was a gamekeeper. Or maybe a park keeper. Makes sense.

45. Wright

Woman using a power tool
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The name comes from an Old English word for "craftsman," and usually denoted someone who made things with wood, like windmills or wheels.

46. Carter

A donkey in front of a green cart that has a sack in it
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Carter is also English. It originally referred to a job in which someone would transport goods via cart, hence Cart-er.

47. Schneider

Female tailor
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Schneider means "tailor" in German. The English version is, of course, Taylor.

48. Muller

Windmills and tulips
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In German, Muller meant someone who operated a mill. The English version of that one is, also of course, Miller, and they both would have needed a wright to build their mill.

49. Cooper

Warehouse full of barrels
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In England, a cooper was someone who made barrels. If you get a bunch of barrel makers together in tiny cars you have many coopers in Mini Coopers.

50. Moore

Yorkshire moors
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Moore has multiple meanings. It may have meant someone who lived by a moor or someone who worked on boats, or someone who was dark-skinned, like Othello.

51. Perry

Close-up of a bunch of golden pears on the branch of a pear tree
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In Old English, if you were named Perry, it meant that you spent a lot of time near pear trees. That sort of feels like a lazy nickname situation. In French, it was someone who worked in a quarry.

52. Turner

Wood being turned on a lathe
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Turner also has a couple different origins. It might mean "turn hare," or someone who can run faster than a hare. It could also mean "one who works with a lathe".

52. torres

Belem tower in Lisbon Portugal
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In Portuguese and Spanish, Torres means "tower." So, someone with that last name was someone who lived by a tower.

53. Hoffman

Female farmer in a wheat field
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In German, Hoffman meant someone who was a steward on an estate. Or someone associated with a farm. Either way, do not hassle the Hoffman. 

54. LEWIS

Cannon overlooking a river
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Lewis comes from many cultures and has a few different meanings. An English Lewis was the son of a Lowis. Lewis also developed various first names in France and Germany and Normandy and so on. Those with the last name Llewellyn, in Welsh, usually becomes Lewis in English. They all came from the Frankish name Hludwig which meant "famous battle."

55. Young

Female teacher and children in preschool
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Young referred to the youngest child. You might also might have earned the surname if you were young at heart.

56. Weber

A woman weaving at a hand loom.
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Weber is German for "weaver." It probably stemmed form the Old English word webbe, which meant "to weave."

57. King

Statue of King Edward VII
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In English, King obviously means leader, but many people adopted it who weren't rulers, and it was used as a nickname quite often. You'll notice, for instance, that the Queen of England is not named Elizabeth Queen. But the name became popular among American immigrants from Ireland, and in the 16th century it was also common to give orphans in France the last name Roi, meaning "king."

58. Garcia

Brown bear cub climbing a tree
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The etymology of Garcia isn't certain but most believe it came from a Basque word meaning "bear," or "young bear."

59. Rodriguez

Female chief executive officer
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Rodriguez means "famous chief." But it may also have come from a word meaning "red-haired one." So, if you're a famous red-haired chief, you're all set.

60. Campbell

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Campbell derives from two Scottish-Gaelic words: cam meaning "crooked" and bell meaning "mouth." Shout out to all the crooked mouths out there.

61. Abdullah

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Abdullah means "servant of God." It's popular among Arabic Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

62. Mwangi

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Mwangi is the most popular surname in Kenya, and it means "rapid expansion."

In this episode of The List Show, John Green examines the origins of 62 surnames. For a transcript, click here.

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