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

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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

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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

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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

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

5. Thomas

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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If your last name is Cook, you probably have some ancestors who did that for a living.

12. baker.

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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

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

14. Becker

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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

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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

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Adams means "son of Adam" in England and Scotland. They borrowed the Adam part from Hebrew, of course.

17. Rogers

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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

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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

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You would be correct in assuming that Robinson means "son of Robin." Or Robert.

20. Roberts

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Roberts means "son of Robert," and Robert means "fame" and "bright."

21. Johnson and Jones

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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

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The name Jack is also derived from Yohanan, so Jacksons and Johnsons are really kinda the same.

23. Evans

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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

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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

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The Greek word for "manly" gave us Anders and Andrew, and therefore Anderson, the son of Anders.

26. Wilson

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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

39. [Another] walker

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

40. Allen

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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

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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

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

43. COHEN

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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

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The original Parker was a gamekeeper. Or maybe a park keeper. Makes sense.

45. Wright

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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

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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

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

48. Muller

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Weber is German for "weaver." It probably stemmed form the Old English word webbe, which meant "to weave."

57. King

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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

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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

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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.

10 Rad Gifts for Hikers

Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

The popularity of bird-watching, camping, and hiking has skyrocketed this year. Whether your gift recipients are weekend warriors or seasoned dirtbags, they'll appreciate these tools and gear for getting most out of their hiking experience.

1. Stanley Nesting Two-Cup Cookset; $14

Amazon

Stanley’s compact and lightweight cookset includes a 20-ounce stainless steel pot with a locking handle, a vented lid, and two insulated 10-ounce tumblers. It’s the perfect size for brewing hot coffee, rehydrating soup, or boiling water while out on the trail with a buddy. And as some hardcore backpackers note in their Amazon reviews, your favorite hiker can take the tumblers out and stuff the pot with a camp stove, matches, and other necessities to make good use of space in their pack.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Osprey Sirrus and Stratos 24-Liter Hiking Packs; $140

Amazon

Osprey’s packs are designed with trail-tested details to maximize comfort and ease of use. The Sirrus pack (pictured) is sized for women, while the Stratos fits men’s proportions. Both include an internal sleeve for a hydration reservoir, exterior mesh and hipbelt pockets, an attachment for carrying trekking poles, and a built-in rain cover.

Buy them: Amazon, Amazon

3. Yeti Rambler 18-Ounce Bottle; $48

Amazon

Nothing beats ice-cold water after a summer hike or a sip of hot tea during a winter walk. The Yeti Rambler can serve up both: Beverages can stay hot or cold for hours thanks to its insulated construction, and its steel body (in a variety of colors) is basically indestructible. It will add weight to your hiker's pack, though—for a lighter-weight, non-insulated option, the tried-and-true Camelbak Chute water bottle is incredibly sturdy and leakproof.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Mappinners Greatest 100 Hikes of the National Parks Scratch-Off Poster; $30

Amazon

The perfect gift for park baggers in your life (or yourself), this 16-inch-by-20-inch poster features epic hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Once the hike is complete, you can scratch off the gold foil to reveal an illustration of the park.

Buy it: Amazon

5. National Geographic Adventure Edition Road Atlas; $19

Amazon

Hikers can use this brand-new, updated road atlas to plan their next adventure. In addition to comprehensive maps of all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, they'll get National Geographic’s top 100 outdoor destinations, useful details about the most popular national parks, and points on the maps noting off-the-beaten-path places to explore.  

Buy it: Amazon

6. Adventure Medical Kits Hiker First-Aid Kit; $25

Amazon

This handy 67-piece kit is stuffed with all the things you hope your hiker will never need in the wilderness. Not only does it contain supplies for pain, cuts and scrapes, burns, and blisters (every hiker’s nemesis!), the items are organized clearly in the bag to make it easy to find tweezers or an alcohol wipe in an emergency.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiker Hunger Ultralight Trekking Poles; $70

Amazon

Trekking poles will help increase your hiker's balance and stability and reduce strain on their lower body by distributing it to their arms and shoulders. This pair is made of carbon fiber, a super-strong and lightweight material. From the sweat-absorbing cork handles to the selection of pole tips for different terrain, these poles answer every need on the trail. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Leatherman Signal Camping Multitool; $120

Amazon

What can’t this multitool do? This gadget contains 19 hiking-friendly tools in a 4.5-inch package, including pliers, screwdrivers, bottle opener, saw, knife, hammer, wire cutter, and even an emergency whistle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. RAVPower Power Bank; $24

Amazon

Don’t let your hiker get caught off the grid with a dead phone. They can charge RAVPower’s compact power bank before they head out on the trail, and then use it to quickly juice up a phone or tablet when the batteries get low. Its 3-inch-by-5-inch profile won’t take up much room in a pack or purse.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Pack of Four Indestructible Field Books; $14

Amazon

Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail will be a match for these waterproof, tearproof 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch notebooks. Your hiker can stick one in their pocket along with a regular pen or pencil to record details of their hike or brainstorm their next viral Tweet.

Buy it: Amazon

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12 Surprising Facts About Bela Lugosi

Mabel Livingstone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Mabel Livingstone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On October 20, 1882, one of the world's most gifted performers was born. In his heyday, Bela Lugosi was hailed as the undisputed king of horror. Today, more than 85 years after he first donned a vampire’s cape, Lugosi's take on Count Dracula is still widely hailed as the definitive portrayal of the legendary fiend. But who was the man behind the monster?

1. Bela Lugosi worked with the National Theater of Hungary.

To the chagrin of his biographers, the details concerning Bela Lugosi’s youth have been clouded in mystery. (In a 1929 interview, he straight-up admitted “for purposes of simplification, I have always thought it better to tell [lies] about the early years of my life.”) That said, we do know that he was born as Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó on October 20, 1882 in Lugoj, Hungary (now part of Romania). We also know that his professional stage debut came at some point in either 1901 or 1902. By 1903, Lugosi had begun to find steady work with traveling theater companies, through which he took part in operas, operettas, and stage plays. In 1913, Lugosi caught a major break when the most prestigious performing arts venue in his native country—the Budapest-based National Theater of Hungary—cast him in no less than 34 shows. Most of the characters that he played there were small Shakespearean roles such as Rosencrantz in Hamlet and Sir Walter Herbert in Richard III.

2. Bela Lugosi fought in World War I.

SALY NOÉMI, Fortepan // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The so-called war to end all wars put Lugosi’s dramatic aspirations on hold. Although being a member of the National Theater exempted him from military service, he voluntarily enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian Army in 1914. Over the next year and a half, he fought against Russian forces as a lieutenant with the 43rd Royal Hungarian Infantry. While serving in the Carpathian mountains, Lugosi was wounded on three separate occasions. Upon healing from his injuries, he left the armed forces in 1916 and gratefully resumed his work with the National Theater.

3. When Bela Lugosi made his Broadway debut in 1922, he barely knew any English.

In December 1920, Lugosi boarded a cargo boat and emigrated to the United States. Two years later, audiences on the Great White Way got their first look at this charismatic stage veteran. Lugosi was cast as Fernando—a suave, Latin lover—in the 1922 Broadway stage play The Red Poppy. At the time, his grasp of the English language was practically nonexistent. Undaunted, Lugosi went over all of his lines with a tutor. Although he couldn’t comprehend their meaning, the actor managed to memorize and phonetically reproduce every single syllable that he was supposed to deliver on stage.

4. Universal didn't want to cast Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula.

The year 1927 saw Bela Lugosi sink his teeth into the role of a lifetime. A play based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker had opened in London in 1924. Sensing its potential, Horace Liveright, an American producer, decided to create an U.S. version of the show. Over the summer of 1927, Lugosi was cast as the blood-sucking Count Dracula. For him, the part represented a real challenge. In Lugosi’s own words, “It was a complete change from the usual romantic characters I was playing, but it was a success.” It certainly was. Enhanced by his presence, the American Dracula remained on Broadway for a full year, then spent two years touring the country.

Impressed by its box office prowess, Universal decided to adapt the show into a major motion picture in 1930. Horror fans might be surprised to learn that when the studio began the process of casting this movie’s vampiric villain, Lugosi was not their first choice. At the time, Lugosi was still a relative unknown, which made director Tod Browning more than a little hesitant to offer him the job. A number of established actors were all considered before the man who’d played Dracula on Broadway was tapped to immortalize his biting performance on film.

5. Most of Bela Lugosi's Dracula-related fan mail came from women.

Universal Pictures via Heritage Auctions, Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

The recent Twilight phenomenon is not without historical precedent. Lugosi estimated that, while he was playing the Count on Broadway, more than 97 percent of the fan letters he received were penned by female admirers. A 1932 Universal press book quotes him as saying, “When I was on the stage in Dracula, my audiences were composed mostly of women.” Moreover, Lugosi contended that most of the men who’d attended his show had merely been dragged there by female companions.

6. Bela Lugosi turned down the role of Frankenstein's monster.

Released in 1931, Dracula quickly became one of the year's biggest hits for Universal (some film historians even argue that the movie single-handedly rescued the ailing studio from bankruptcy). Furthermore, its astronomical success transformed Lugosi into a household name for the first time in his career. Regrettably for him, though, he’d soon miss the chance to star in another smash. Pleased by Dracula’s box office showing, Universal green-lit a new cinematic adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Lugosi seemed like the natural choice to play the monster, but because the poor brute had few lines and would be caked in layers of thick makeup, the actor rejected the job offer. As far as Lugosi was concerned, the character was better suited for some “half-wit extra” than a serious actor. Once the superstar tossed Frankenstein aside, the part was given to a little-known actor named Boris Karloff.

Moviegoers eventually did get to see Lugosi play the bolt-necked corpse in the 1943 cult classic Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. According to some sources, he strongly detested the guttural scream that the script forced him to emit at regular intervals. “That yell is the worst thing about the part. You feel like a big jerk every time you do it!” Lugosi allegedly complained.

7. Bela Lugosi's relationship with Boris Karloff was much more cordial than it's usually made out to be.

It’s often reported that the two horror icons were embittered rivals. In reality, however, Karloff and Lugosi seemed to have harbored some mutual respect—and perhaps even affection for one another. The dynamic duo co-starred in five films together, the first of which was 1934’s The Black Cat; Karloff claimed that, on set, Lugosi was “Suspicious of tricks, fearful of what he regarded as scene stealing. Later on, when he realized I didn’t go in for such nonsense, we became friends.” During one of their later collaborations, Lugosi told the press “we laughed over my sad mistake and his good fortune as Frankenstein is concerned.”

That being said, Lugosi probably didn’t appreciate the fact that in every single film which featured both actors, Karloff got top billing. Also, he once privately remarked, “If it hadn’t been for Boris Karloff, I could have had a corner on the horror market.”

8. Bela Lugosi was a major soccer fan.

In 1935, Lugosi was named Honorary President of the Los Angeles Soccer League. An avid fan, he was regularly seen at Loyola Stadium, where he’d occasionally kick off the first ball during games held there. Also, on top of donating funds to certain Hungarian teams, Lugosi helped finance the Los Angeles Magyar soccer club. When the team won a state championship in 1935, one newspaper wrote that the players were “headed back to Dracula’s castle with the state cup.” [PDF]

9. Bela Lugosi was a hardcore stamp collector.

Lugosi's fourth wife, Lillian Arch, claimed that Lugosi maintained a collection of more than 150,000 stamps. Once, on a 1944 trip to Boston, he told the press that he intended to visit all 18 of the city's resident philately dealers. “Stamp collecting,” Lugosi declared, “is a hobby which may cost you as much as 10 percent of your investment. You can always sell your stamps with not more than a 10 percent loss. Sometimes, you can even make money.” Fittingly enough, the image of Lugosi’s iconic Dracula appeared on a commemorative stamp issued by the post office in 1997.

10. Bela Lugosi almost didn't appear in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein ... because the studio thought he was dead!

The role of Count Dracula in this 1948 blockbuster was nearly given to Ian Keith—who was considered for the same role in the 1931 Dracula movie. Being a good sport, Lugosi helped promote the horror-comedy by making a special guest appearance on The Abbott and Costello Show. While playing himself in one memorable sketch, the famed actor claimed to eat rattlesnake burgers for dinner and “shrouded wheat” for breakfast.

11. A chiropractor filled in for Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space.

Toward the end of his life, Lugosi worked on three ultra-low-budget science fiction pictures with Ed Wood, a man who’s been posthumously embraced as the worst director of all time. In the 1953 transvestite picture Glen or Glenda?, Lugosi plays a cryptic narrator who offers such random and unsolicited bits of advice as “Beware of the big, green dragon who sits on your doorstep.” Then came 1955’s Bride of the Monster, in which Lugosi played a mad scientist who ends up doing battle with a (suspiciously limp) giant octopus.

Before long, Wood had cooked up around half a dozen concepts for new films, all starring Lugosi. At some point in the spring of 1956, the director shot some quick footage of the actor wandering around a suburban neighborhood, clad in a baggy cloak. This proved to be the last time that the star would ever appear on film. Lugosi died of a heart attack on August 16, 1956; he was 73 years old.

Three years after Lugosi's passing, this footage was spliced into a cult classic that Wood came to regard as his “pride and joy.” Plan 9 From Outer Space tells the twisted tale of extraterrestrial environmentalists who turn newly-deceased human beings into murderous zombies. Since Lugosi could obviously no longer play his character, Wood hired a stand-in for some additional scenes. Unfortunately, the man who was given this job—California chiropractor Tom Mason—was several inches taller than Lugosi. In an attempt to hide the height difference, Wood instructed Mason to constantly hunch over. Also, Mason always kept his face hidden behind a cloak.

12. Bela Lugosi was buried in his Dracula cape.

Although Lugosi resented the years of typecasting that followed his breakout performance in Dracula, he asked to be laid to rest wearing the Count’s signature garment. Lugosi was buried under a simple tombstone at California's Holy Cross Cemetery.

This story has been updated for 2020.