Honoring Your Family Name



Honoring Your Family Name


By A.P. Maddox


The following isn’t a piece of fiction or about writing in any way. Just an advice piece I wrote a few years back, mostly for my own kids, to help and encourage them to always be ready to do what is good and right.  


Have you ever thought about your surname, the origin of it, what it might mean?


If your last name is Smith, for example, you might be surprised to learn that despite several web sites that may tell you your name was derived from your ancestors being blacksmiths or silversmiths, the name Smith is actually thought to have pre 7th century Anglo-Saxon origins, deriving from the word “smitan” which means to smite—describing one who smote—therefore depicting a soldier rather than a worker of metals. It is very likely; however, these soldiers would have repaired their own armor, perhaps giving rise to the secondary meaning. The 9th century Anglo-Saxon Chronicles used the expression “War-Smith” to describe valiant warriors! And lords of great manors would have had many soldiers to protect their lands; in fact, they may well have employed more soldiers than butchers, bakers, candlestick makers or…blacksmiths combined. This evidence along with the fact that the name Smith is the most popular surname in the English-speaking world leads one to conclude the surname Smith originated from these innumerous “War-Smiths” who protected the lands and families of their lords.


In my own ancestry, I have the surnames: Maddox, Coleman & Perry, to name a few.

Maddox is a variant of Madog from the ancient Welsh which means fortunate or good. Maddox and its spelling variants have over 15 recorded Coats of Arms. One Madog who lived in the mid-12th century and was the son of Owain Gwynedd, King of North Wales, is believed by some to have discovered America! If he did that is both good for him and very fortunate, however apparently not fortunate enough to have been credited with the discovery.

Coleman is of Irish origin and comes from Gaelic terms meaning “white dove.” The first recorded surname of Coleman was Hervicus Coleman in 1166 in Yorkshire; he was listed as being a “builder of churches.”

Perry simply derives from the Olde English word “pirige” meaning pear tree and likely means one who owned Pear orchards.

Every name has an origin and a meaning, some more exciting than others, i.e. the exciting royal Madog, adventurer ancestry and the less exciting pirige owners.

I married into the surname Bonner, (pronounced like Conner or Donner), which some web sites report as meaning, “being of good bearing” and others report as meaning, “a doer of good.” Most sources do seem to agree however the name Bonner comes from the French word bonne which means good.

Am I a “doer of good”? Sometimes I think yes, and other times maybe not so much. Just like anyone else out there I have my good days and bad days. But I think I would like to try to be and certainly I want my children to be “doers of good.”

How do I bring that about? How do I honor the family name and teach my children to do the same?

Maybe it’s done by more simplistic means than discovering far off lands or building great edifices. Maybe it’s done by living simple day to day virtues. Virtues such as:

  • Honesty—having the courage to tell the truth even when it’s easier not to.
  • Civility—we, the varied peoples of the earth, are neither inferior nor superior to each other & it’s each person’s moral obligation to treat one another with respect and dignity.
  • Learning—in this digital age people seem to spend the bulk of their leisure time mesmerized by countless hours of TV, video gaming & other forms of digital entertainment. Disappearing are the days when young minds would thirst after the great literature of the ages. Teach the young to love learning and literature & no matter how old one becomes, never stop acquiring knowledge.
  • Forgiveness—hatred fails & bitterness destroys. Forgive, forget & move on.
  • Gratitude—having courtesy and concern for the rights & properties of others shows genuine appreciation. A lack of these common courtesies and concerns for others shows arrogance & self-centeredness. Gratitude is marked by humility instead of pride and generosity rather than selfishness.
  • Faith—if we have faith that our worthy endeavors will produce good results—the way a farmer has faith a well planted seed will grow into a healthy plant—then there will be no obstacle too great nor challenge too difficult for us to conquer.


Come to think of it, following these worthy virtues can help anyone be a “doer of good” and honor not only their own family names but themselves, their families, their friends and the greater world at large.

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