There are those who say that we began to have first names and last names so the king could identify us to tax us.

First there was John, then there was John’s son (Johnson), and so forth and so on. You can see where this logic is going for the female. Their names did not count.

Then of course there were people who drew their names from where they lived.

One William lived on the hill by the church so he became Churchill.

If you follow this thought you can come up with endless versions of names from places, and names from second generations, then third generations and so forth and so on.

Such thoughts about the origin of names are indeed simple, so simple that I imagine that people sometimes followed this procedure, and some times branched out, as in the names of some who lived by the branch, or the river — Mr. Rivers or Mr. Branch.

I met a man who was named Rainwater.

And of course, because there were no phone books, I wonder where some one who might have been common got the name of King. Or Bishop? Or Pope?

If indeed we did have to have particular names so we could be taxed, I suspect some of us might have found a way to confuse the tax collectors.

These ideas are just silly ideas on my part that probably have no relation to the reality of where names originated.

It strikes me that the Internet might serve as a neutral source for the study of where our names originated.

I was told that some people pronounced their names differently so they would not be confused with the families at the other end of the road.

For example, there were the Jordans, pronounced “Jurdans,” and the Jordans pronounced Jordans and then the Smiths pronounced “Smyths.”

I was told when I was growing up in Evergreen, that mecca of “name culture,” that the name Morgan had to do with the marriage of someone of high breeding to some one of not-so high breeding. Such marriages were referred to as “Morganic marriages.”

When we were about five and six, my friend Pace Bozeman and I had many deep conversations about names while we were growing up.

Where in the world did the Baggets come from? Or the Cunninghams? Or the Simmonses? Or the Bozemans?

Pace told me that the Bozemans were Dutch, and that took care of that.

I don’t recall that we ever had any formal discussions with our parents about where names come from, or any kind of discussion at all. And it was never a part of our schooling.

As I grew older, but not wiser, or smarter, I figured some people did not want to discuss the history of names because at some point the snob factor pops up.

I hope to follow up on this point by studying the history of names via the Internet.

God bless the Internet. It is a neutral source for so many questions, and someone has to ask dumb questions.


Gillis Morgan is an associate professor emeritus of journalism at Auburn University and an award-winning columnist. He can be reached at