Always enjoy mental floss’s stuff— here’s one of their latest videos!
Since this video only talks about China, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, and England, I’m going to add a couple more (though they really pertain more to Jewish genealogy than anything else, I think):
If I’m not mistaken, for the Jews in France and part of Western Europe, they finally had to have last names, under Napoleon I. This is because during his time as Emperor of France and part of Western Europe, he wanted to conduct a census. Before this you were just known by your first name and being a son/daughter of father’s first name.
Catherine the Great was the one who instituted/mandated the idea that Jews in the Russian Empire (modern-day Russia and Eastern Europe) needed last names, which is great. However, this is the same Empress we’re talking about who *created* the Pale of Settlement and forced all the Jews to live in that area. *groans*
So the last names could be (I’m only giving 1-2 examples for each, but there could be a lot more):
Being a descendant of a priestly role: Cohen, Levy/Levine
Color: Schwartz (which comes from the word schvartz which means black), Green/Greene
Flowers: Rosen (which means rose)
A building material: Stein (which means stone)
A building: Haus (pronounced as hoiz, meaning house)
Metal: Gold, Zilber (meaning silver in Yiddish)
Combinations (!): Rosenstein (I made that one up; I don’t even know if that’s an actual surname. I just wanted to give an example.) (It would mean rose stone.)
Russian-sounding: Rubinski/Rubinsky (I made that one up; I don’t even know if that’s an actual surname. I just wanted to give an example.)
Americanized: Taking the last name I made up, we’re going to slightly change it. So let’s say a family comes over and their last name is Rubinsky. Well, after a couple or few years in America, the family might’ve shortened it to Rubin. AND NO, THE LAST NAME WASN’T CHANGED AT ELLIS ISLAND. STOP PERPETUATING THAT MYTH! ALL THE OFFICIALS DID WAS CHECK TO SEE YOU GAVE THEM THE SAME LAST NAME THAT WAS RECORDED AT THE PORK OF EMBARKATION. AND WHY WOULD IMMIGRANTS CHANGE THEIR LAST NAME AT THE PORT OF DEPARTURE? THEY WOULD’VE BEEN INFLUENCED TO CHANGE IT (TO BECOME MORE AMERICAN) AFTER LIVING IN THE U.S. FOR A WHILE.
A famous example of this change/Americanization is:
Israel Ballin —> Irving Berlin