What’s in a Surname?

Have you ever wondered about the origin of your name? Wondered about the meaning of it and if that meaning accurately describes you? Sure, for most of us, we had no control over what our parents decided to name us after we were born or whether they even took the time to learn the actual meaning of the particular word you will now be known as for the rest of your life. After being quite satisfied with the meanings of my first and middle name (Daniel Alexander), I moved on to my surname, Jackson. As I typed the seven letter word into the search engine, I thought about what the name might mean. Maybe it would have been spiritual like “Daniel” (God is my Judge), or perhaps brave and noble like “Alexander” (Protector of all mankind), but what I found was starkly different from what I had imagined. As the webpage finished loading and the answer to my query was on the LED display in front of me, I looked on in astonishment as I learned the origin of my surname.

“Son of Jack”, That’s all it said on the computer. Nothing else, just “The Son of Jack”. Upon reading this, I immediately had two complaints. The first, how uncreative is that? Was that all they could think of when creating a surname? I can imagine how the Jackson lineage came to be created back in the Middle Ages (or whenever humans concocted this ingenious idea):

Guy #1: Hey dude, here’s that kid I was telling you about the other day.

Guy #2: Umm who is this again?

Guy #1: You know, its Steve. From down the street.

Guy #2: Never heard of him —

Guy #1: Come on, I know you know Steve! He’s Jack’s son!

Guy #2: Ohhh Jack’s son! Yeah I know him!

Poor Steve had to live the rest of his life introducing himself as “Steve, Jack’s son” and it stuck. Soon, his kids, his kid’s kids, and his kid’s kids kids were all stuck with this lazy excuse for a last name. After a while, whether out of stupidity, or sheer laziness, people just started calling everybody “Jack’s son.” Looked a little like Steve? “Oh that must be another one of Jack’s sons” Was the daughter of Jack? “Oh that’s Jack’s son’s sister.” Friends with one of Jack’s sons? “Oh he’s a part of that clan with Jack’s sons. He must be one too.” Soon, people became so lazy that they just began to blend the two words together to create ‘Jackson’ and hundreds of years later, it continues.

You know what else irks me about this? WHO IS JACK?! Sure, Steve knew who Jack was, but after a couple of generations, Jack faded into obscurity (death does that to you). That leaves all of us current Jackson’s representing this man we know NOTHING about. Jack could’ve been a pony molester for all we know and we’re over here proudly proclaiming that we are the offspring of him. You wanna know the worst part? Being an African-American, I am probably not even related to Jack!

For some people, their last name truly defines who they are. For many more, it does a good enough job. But for me, ‘Jackson’ misses it by a mile. Jack is not my father. Jack is not my grandfather. Jack isn’t even my Great-GrandFather. From now on, I will not be described as the offspring of some random dude from hundreds of years ago. No, from now on, since nobody knows the identity of the Jack in question anyway, I’m Jack, and no one can tell me otherwise.