Skip to Content

The Weekly News Source for Wyoming's Ranchers, Farmers and AgriBusiness Community

Ud And Id

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

By Lee Pitts

I’ve always been curious as to how people ended up with their last names. I was taught someone named Smith had a relative way back that was a blacksmith, and a Taylor probably had a distant relative who was a tailor.  

If you’re a Forester, Fishman, Forman, Carpenter, Boatman, Cook, Boardman or Bachman (chiropractor), you probably had a relative who was one. You can learn a lot about people by their last name. 

For example, you may not want to arm wrestle someone named Armstrong, nor trade with someone named Crook.

Just how far back would you have to go in your family tree to find the human giving you your last name? It’s universally accepted the widespread use of last names began about the same time farming became possible – 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. The transition to an agrarian society meant people had more fixed roles in a community and some way of identifying them was needed, so the guy who made the donuts became Baker, the one who made the beer was Brewer, the guy who built the carts to haul the crops became Cartwright and the lady who churned the butter became Butterman. (Nowadays it would be Butterwoman).

Don’t get me wrong, some people had names before this, in fact, people had names 33 centuries before Christ was born! There is some disagreement in academic circles as to who was the first person with a moniker. 

Some historians say the first recorded name is Narmer, who was an Egyptian Pharaoh, while another source claims Kushhim was the first name. Kushhim was an accountant by the way, and I think the word Kushhim in Egyptian means “cooks the books.”

There are still others who believe the first recorded name was Urnina or Erectus (no comment). The first female name written down was Neithhotep, which judging by the listings in my phone book, must have fallen out of favor somewhere along the way.  

While those may be the first instances of recorded names, the academics who study such things say the first names probably uttered were Ug and Id. I don’t know how they’d know this if it wasn’t written down because, needless to say, first hand witnesses are difficult to find.

Another common way of acquiring a last name was to be someone’s son. For instance, Steven’s son became Stevenson, ditto Williamson, Robertson, Robinson, Wilson, Peterson, Richardson, Jackson, Johnson, Hanson, Donaldson, Benson and Gibson. Christianson might have been the son of a preacher.

I think John Stetson’s name was pulled out of a hat.

A lot of people have colors as last names like Green, Black, Gray, Brown and White. Perhaps it was a distant relative’s favorite color? Just as last names were needed to identify the various occupations in town, they were also needed to distinguish folks within the agricultural community.  

I personally know people whose last names are Farmer, Corn, Hog, Rice, Berry, Bean, Hamm, Lamb, Land, Beeman, Miller, Lemon, Field, Gardener, Bloom, Burger, Akers and even a Duroc. Surely Mr. Chapman, the pharmacist, can trace his lineage back to a cowboy.

I don’t think it’s fair some people have great names like Champion, Wise, Young, Rich and Angel, while other people (like me) are saddled with last names which should have been changed long ago. 

How would you like to go through life with a name like Gasman, Balderman, Hick, Hood, Gross or Crum? I also know some good folks whose last name is Crye and Baller, and I’ve never seen any of them cry their eyes out at the drop of a hat as their name would suggest. 

My interest in last names can be traced back to my own pitiful one. Do you have any idea how hard it is to go through life as a Pitts? Just ask my poor wife. Believe me, I’ve heard more than my share of Right Guard and stone fruit jokes. Making matters worse, I know for a fact my family survived by pitting apricots in California’s fruit sheds. Thankfully, I am the last of my strain and future generations of unborn Pitts will be forever grateful. 

Don’t get me started on my real first name, which is proof my parents hated me from the very beginning.

Back to top