Occupation Names: A Labor Day Salute

With Labor Day upon us, it seems like the perfect moment to focus on the original pre-barbecue meaning of the holiday and celebrate hard-working occupational names.  So we’re looking back to wtoe we wrote on the subject in our book Beyond Ava & Aiden, but here focusing on the less used, fresher sounding examples, and those with less obvious meanings, so no Archer, Shepherd or Baker.

Have you noticed how many of the boys’ names climbing up the ladder end in the letters ‘er’? They sound really new and cool, but in reality a large proportion of them actually originated in medieval England as occupational surnames, when Timothy the Tanner morphed into Timothy Tanner—as if in our day Pete the Programmer became Pete Programmer. And even if a large proportion of these are trades that no longer exist in this Digital Age, and some of their meanings have been lost to time, part of their appeal as a group lies in their throwback reference to basic concepts of honest labor, adding some historical heft to their appeal, and giving them more weight than other fashionable two-syllable names.  They offer the parents of boy babies a comfortable middle ground between the sharper-edged single syllable names (Holt, Colt), and the more ornate longer names (Gregory, Jeremy) of the recent past.  Here are some of the most usable ones, together with their original, sometimes arcane, meanings.

The er-ending names

  • Banner— flag bearer
  • Barker –stripper of bark from trees for tanning
  • Baxter— a baker, usually female
  • Beamer — trumpet player
  • Booker — scribe
  • Boyer — bow maker, cattle herder
  • Brenner — charcoal burner
  • Brewster — brewer of beer
  • Bridger — builder of bridges  
  • Carter — cart maker or driver, transporter of goods
  • Carver — sculptor
  • Chandler — candle maker
  • Chaucer — maker of breeches, boots or leg armor
  • Collier — charcoal seller, coal miner
  • Conner — inspector
  • Cooper — wooden barrel maker
  • Coster — fruit grower or seller
  • Currier — leather finisher
  • Cutler — knife maker
  • Decker — roofer
  • Dexter — dyer
  • Draper — woolen cloth maker or seller
  • Duffer — peddler
  • Farrier— iron worker
  • Fletcher — arrow maker
  • Forester — gamekeeper, forest warden
  • Foster — sheep shearer
  • Fowler — hunter of wild birds
  • Glover — maker or seller of gloves
  • Granger — granary worker
  • Harper —  harp maker or player
  • Hollister — female brothel keeper!!
  • Hooper —  one who makes or fits hoops for barrels
  • Hopper — dancer, acrobat
  • Hunter — huntsman
  • Jagger — a Yorkshire name meaning peddler or carrier
  • Keeler — boatman or barge builder
  • Kiefer — barrel maker or overseer of a wine cellar
  • Lander — launderer
  • Lardner — servant in charge of the larder
  • Lorimer — a spur maker
  • Mercer — merchant, especially in luxury fabrics
  • Miller — grinder of corn
  • Nayler — maker of nails
  • Parker — gamekeeper in a medieval private park
  • Porter — gate keeper, carrier of goods
  • Potter — maker or seller of earthenware pottery
  • Quiller — scribe
  • Ranger — game warden
  • Rider/Ryder — cavalryman, horseman, messenger
  • Sadler– saddle maker
  • Salter — worker in or seller of salter
  • Sayer –several meanings:  assayer of metal, food taster, woodcutter (as in Sawyer)
  • Slater — roofer
  • Sumner — court summoner
  • Thatcher — roofer
  • Tolliver — metal worker (Anglicization of the italian Taliaferro)
  • Turner — turner of wood on a lathe
  • Webster — weaver, originally female
  • Wheeler— wheel maker

 Other occupational names

  • Baird— minstrel or poet  
  • Beaman— beekeeper
  • Chaplin— clergyman
  • Farrar— blacksmith, metalworker
  • Fisk— fisherman
  • Reeve— bailiff, chief magistrate
  • Smith— metal worker, blacksmith
  • Steele— a steel worker
  • Todd— a fox hunter
  • Travis— gate keeper, toll collector
  • Ward— watchman, guard
  • Wright— carpenter, joiner

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18 Responses to “Occupation Names: A Labor Day Salute”

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Kathryn Says:

September 2nd, 2010 at 12:48 am

Any occupational surname that ends in -ster denotes a woman. Hence the origin of the term spinster. Many unmarried women would spin to support themselves.

Charlotte Vera Says:

September 2nd, 2010 at 1:17 am

Fascinating list! I find it interesting that William Cowper’s name was spelt with an “ow” but pronounced Cooper. I’m assuming that they’re the same name/meaning with the same history.

lemon Says:

September 2nd, 2010 at 2:22 am

Okay, Banner, Barker, Fowler, and Lardner are not usable in my opinion. Cool? Sure. But a kid named Lardner? Lardy? Lard? Oh, the joking possibilities are endless. And, Barker sounds like a real joy to be around.

Hollister cracked me up. Wonder if that meaning had any implication in naming the store…

I think I like Harper, Hopper, Parker, Quiller, and Thatcher best.

Elisabeth@YCCII Says:

September 2nd, 2010 at 7:44 am

One of my favorite entries in the book. So happy to see it online! Have a great weekend everyone.

strawberry Says:

September 2nd, 2010 at 8:34 am

Wow! So interesting. Thanks for the great read. Says:

September 2nd, 2010 at 8:35 am

The only ones I kind of like are Harper and Piper. As a whole, I really dislike occupational names.

belly Says:

September 2nd, 2010 at 9:29 am

Pretty great association of the meaning of Hollister with the store which caters to adolescent girls with the same name….

Becca Says:

September 2nd, 2010 at 10:32 am

The ones I like are Brenner, Bridger, Cooper, Fletcher and Reeve!
I also like Piper ( for a girl though ) but I didn’t see it on there!

It was an interesting read!

smismar Says:

September 2nd, 2010 at 6:03 pm

I’m mostly “meh” on these kind of names, but you omitted a couple I thought were pretty obvious: Tyler and Taylor.

smismar Says:

September 2nd, 2010 at 6:05 pm

D’oh – nm, I skipped to the list and forgot to read the paragraph above. That explains it.

L. Says:

September 2nd, 2010 at 7:02 pm

Archer is my favorite one by far. How is that any more obvious than Hunter or Forester?

Linelei Says:

September 2nd, 2010 at 10:02 pm

I think these names can be neat if you have a family history with them, but I don’t think I’d ever name my child something that means “barrel maker”.

However, my favorite occupation name, which isn’t on here, I would totally use: Luthier. It means someone who makes or repairs stringed instruments. My grandfather was a luthier, and I’ve considered using it to honor him.

kelly Says:

September 4th, 2010 at 1:26 am

My sons name is Sawyer Gage. Although we call him by his middle name. His nickname is sawgage.

CassieCake Says:

September 4th, 2010 at 10:51 pm

I love Occupational names. They have such deep roots in our/European culture.

Rita Says:

September 6th, 2010 at 10:32 am

I dislike surnames as given names by principle, but I don’t really mind occupational surnames as long as they convey a pleasant image and meaning: Archer, Rider, Harper, Fletcher. Otherwise they strike me as quite silly (Baker, Parker, Miller, Shepherd) or plain cruel (Hunter).

The other reason I don’t really care for these names is that I associate them with the people who made the surnames famous to my non English-speaking ears. Tatcher reminds me of Margaret, Jagger of Mick, and Dexter of the serial killer :p

Joy Says:

January 14th, 2011 at 12:14 pm

I have great-great-grandparents who had the last name Miller, so I’ve had that name on a short list. It’s the only occupation name I’d ever consider.

Another occupational surname not listed in this post is Prentiss (apprentice).

Lucky*Clover Says:

April 19th, 2011 at 6:39 pm

My favorite occupational name is Sawyer and I kind of like Bridger too. I would say Connor, Hunter and Cooper are the names I hear most where I live. I know a little boy named Porter and I always thought of it as a “stuffy” old fashioned name, but it looks like he’ll fit right in with all the others.

dresdendoll Says:

November 24th, 2012 at 6:15 pm

What about Springer?

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