Can you imagine if today, as in centuries ago, we were known as our job titles? Like, Oh hey, Ms. Programmer! or This is my friend, Alex Attorney.
Back in the day (we’re talking waaaay back), in small medieval villages across Europe, that’s exactly how it was. There weren’t a ton of first names to choose from, so to distinguish this John from that John, people would tack his occupational title onto the end. This is John Carpenter, and that over there is John Baker, and here we have John Weaver.
Since sons often took over their fathers’ occupations, that’s how we got last names. *cue “The More You Know” theme*
Over the years, of course, people branched out — and now John Baker probably works in social media, even though his last name indicates differently.
Since we no longer need to identify ourselves by our jobs, many of these occupational surnames have crossed over — with a vengeance — into first-name territory. Some of our most popular boys’ names come from jobs: Carter, Mason, Cooper, and Spencer, just to name a few.
Now, thanks to the diligence of professional genealogist Jane Hewitt, we have a whole new database of old occupational names to choose from. The book that she co-authored with her husband, Dictionary of Old Occupations, is a fascinating glimpse into the hundreds of jobs she’s seen recorded on old documents throughout her career. (You can find her list, with all the occupations and their meanings, here.)
Some of the occupational titles Hewitt has compiled aren’t exactly name-worthy … unless you want to call your kid Knocker-Up, Lum Swooper, Nimgimmer, or Pee-dee (yes, these are all real jobs!).
But among the Pussers, Shufflers, and Vabsters are occupations that most definitely work as names in the modern world. Could the next Mason or Hunter be on this list? You decide!
You could thank a cordovan for making you a luxurious leather purse … or maybe a leather codpiece? (This was in medieval times, after all.)
Originally a female occupation, a brewster (interchangeably, you could also use “brewer”) brewed ale.
A newer occupation, a quiller would have operated yarn-winding machines in the textile industry.
This would have been a status surname, indicating a well-born aristocrat or landowner.
Laird is basically the Scottish equivalent of “gentry.” And also, these days, the name of famous surfer Laird Hamilton.
This name may be derived from “kellere,” a person who made hats. But it also may be rooted in the German “kellaere,” which indicated a cellar: so either a winemaker, or a person responsible for the storage of provisions in a castle or monastery.
Don’t get this one confused with Dominic at first glance — this name is the Scottish term for an educator.
A dexter would have been a person who dyed cloth. (Perhaps using the plant renowned for its dye that has now become a popular name: Indigo!)
It sounds park ranger-ish, but a forester was actually a medieval patroller of woods on an aristocrat’s property.
You might think Hayward had something to do with hay, but you’d be mistaken — a hayward was a repairer of fences, walls, and hedges
And speaking of hedges, we’ve got this name. Pretty much exactly what it sounds like, a hedger tended to — you guessed it — hedges. (Kind of like another occupational name, Gardner.)
Did you know that this occupation may be where the term “sheriff” comes from? A reeve supervised lands for nobility, making sure that the Lord wasn’t cheated by the serfs. Eventually, this evolved into policing crime, and “sheriff” is thought to be derived from “shire reeve.”
A granger was a farm bailiff, a person who oversaw collection of taxes and rent from a farmer’s storehouses.
Mick may immediately come to mind, but in this case if you’ve got “moves like Jagger,” you’d have been great at … transporting goods via horse-drawn vehicle.
Our hardworking predecessors probably never dreamed that their occupations would someday be used as a person’s given name, but here we are, taking our inspiration from the workforce of yesteryear.
Will the graduating classes of the future have Phlebotomist Jones or Cashier Hutchins in the mix? Like career goals, anything is possible.
From last names turned first name, to the last first name you’ll ever need, find tons of baby name inspiration at the Scary Mommy baby name database!
This article was originally published on