Mother’s Little Secret

Did you know that your mom has a secret? The clues to unlocking it are contained in three words spoken over you at the time of your birth. Only minutes after you were pulled from the comfort of your mother’s womb, she informed the hospital of the name you would use for the rest of your life.

In a recent Bible study, a group of friends and I discussed the words that we speak over ourselves and others. It was during this discussion that I became intrigued about the meaning of the biblical names I was reading.

From 1 Chronicles 4:9 I read the following:

His mother had named him Jabez saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.”

Although the chances are pretty slim that we will meet anyone named “labor pains”, have you ever thought of where your name actually came from or the meaning behind it? What if your name is the key to identify those who came before?

In genealogy, we are told to start with ourselves and work backward in time from the known to the unknown. By first examining the surname inherited from your father, you gain several early “wins” as you start building your tree and narrow the searching to a few select families in a given area.

Although variants of my own surname have been common for about 1,000 years, most surnames have only been in use since the middle ages. Many family names originated by a location, occupation or trade, as well as a topographical feature. Surnames started as a descriptor to distinguish between people who shared the same given name or establish a relationship between people or places.

The Gaelic Irish O’ meant “of” or “grandson of”.  In Scotland it is “Mac”, meaning “son of”. Many DNA projects utilize a surname study to determine the connections groups have to each other, but looking into the meaning can tell you much more than just a mutual biological connection.

The Conner surname originated as O’Connor or the Irish Gaelic Ó Conċuḃair, the Kings of Connacht, of which several separate and distinctive clans can be traced back to the 5th century. The Irish origins of the meaning of the surname translate to “strong willed”, “high desire”, or “wise”.

It can also mean “helping warrior”, “patron of warriors”, or “wolf-lover”. I have found one source that state the meaning as “conqueror” and it has been said that the words Caesar, Czar, and Tzar can find origins derived from the surname.

It was during my parent’s generation when naming patterns and conventions fell out of common practice. Recalling when my mother told me about my own given name, I found something unexpected. When asked about where my own name came from, she said “we had originally planned to name you David” but there were already several people in our family with the same name and they wanted something different.

While I was disappointed not to have been named after someone as well-known as David the Goliath slayer with a surname possibly meaning “conqueror”, I was happy that my parents had decided against it. However, there is a story behind the names that my parents eventually agreed upon. Apparently each of the given names used in naming of my siblings and I were friends or acquaintances of my mother. The name STEVEN is derivative of a Greek word meaning “wreath”, “crown”, “honor”, or “reward”. Literally translated as “that which surrounds or encompasses”.

Middle names are equally important in my family. My brother’s is a derivative of the middle name an uncle who was killed in Vietnam just before my parents were married. My sister shares hers with my mom’s sister. I am somewhat unique as I share mine with my grandfather who went by his middle name rather than his given name. It is also the nickname derived from the given name of my father’s oldest brother. The name RAY is of an English-Norman origin meaning “counselor” (English), “wise protector” (German), “regal” (French), or “radiant” (Latin). Both the Scottish and American meanings translate to the word “grace”. A helping warrior, encompassed by grace…I like that!

I look at my surname as the lasting inheritance and legacy I leave behind, passed down through the ages as a reminder of a past in which I am irrevocably linked. However, we should not overlook given or middle names. This post is the first in a series as we explore further our surname origins as well as delve deeper into ways to use our given and middle names to find our ancestors.

This Mother’s day, take your mom to lunch or dinner and perhaps over dessert she will share the secret of where your given given and middle names originated so that you can look up the meaning behind them. Please like, share, and comment with your own story of where your names find their origin.