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[noun sur-neym; verb sur-neym, sur-neym] /noun ˈsɜrˌneɪm; verb ˈsɜrˌneɪm, sɜrˈneɪm/
the name that a person has in common with other family members, as distinguished from a Christian name or given name; family name.
a name added to a person's name, as one indicating a circumstance of birth or some characteristic or achievement; epithet.
verb (used with object), surnamed, surnaming.
to give a surname to; call by a surname.
Origin of surname
1300-50; Middle English (noun); see sur-1, name; modeled on Old French surnom
Related forms
unsurnamed, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for surnames
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • They had been turned into a list of surnames, a fragment of the rabble.

    H. R. Edwin Lefevre
  • They used no surnames beyond the name of the town in which they lived.

    Earl Hubert's Daughter Emily Sarah Holt
  • On the other hand, many occupative titles which are now obsolete, or practically so, still survive strongly as surnames.

    The Romance of Names Ernest Weekley
  • The incorrectness of this guess is shown by the existence as surnames of Fr.

    The Romance of Names Ernest Weekley
  • Their given names were Frank and their surnames were, we will say, Cady and Carey, respectively.

    The Comstock Club Charles Carroll Goodwin
  • I have forgotten their surnames, but the girls call them Charlie and Graham.

  • surnames formed by the addition of "son" or "sen" are common to both Danes and English, but never appear in Saxon names.

  • Many callings now obsolete have left traces in our surnames.

  • She sat on the edge of the bed and wrote down a list of surnames, which she invariably spelt wrong.

    The Voyage Out Virginia Woolf
British Dictionary definitions for surnames


Also called last name, second name. a family name as opposed to a first or Christian name
(formerly) a descriptive epithet attached to a person's name to denote a personal characteristic, profession, etc; nickname
(transitive) to furnish with or call by a surname
Derived Forms
surnamer, noun
Word Origin
C14: via Anglo-French from Old French surnom. See sur-1, name
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for surnames



early 14c., "name, title, or epithet added to a person's name," from sur "above" (see sur-) + name (n.); modeled on Anglo-French surnoun "surname" (early 14c.), variant of Old French surnom, from sur "over" + nom "name."

An Old English word for this was freonama, literally "free name." Meaning "family name" is first found late 14c. Hereditary surnames existed among Norman nobility in England in early 12c., among common people began to be used 13c., increasingly frequent until near universal by end of 14c. The process was later in the north of England than the south. The verb is attested from 1540s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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