Family names Reading Ielts Answers and Questions

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IELTS reading passage – Family names

Family names

Any specialized study of words and language, including the study of people’s names, nearly always has an esoteric name. This science is termed anthroponomastics (Anthropos is the word for man, and onoma is the word for name), but this word will not be useful to you in any way. Nonetheless, everyone has a name, and many have several. If one explores the origins of an odd family name back far enough, one will always find a formative logic that deserves attention. In the end, this is the name that people will carry throughout their lives (name changes excluded) and pass on to their offspring.

In early Britain, individuals lived in small agricultural hamlets, where they stayed for the whole of their lives, and had only one name. Being the only person in the hamlet with the name “John” enabled that single title to distinguish that individual from all others. If some other John existed, one might simply add some description to his name, such as ‘John the carpenter’ or ‘John near the hill,’ or ‘John, Peter’s son.’ Such modifications were usually transient and not passed to descendants. Of course, life was not meant to be so straightforward.

As the population of townships grows, as people become more mobile, and as invading armies flow in both directions, issues arise. In England, the adoption of family names (or surnames or second names) did not occur at once, although 1379 is a suitable place to start. This was only when the government formed a poll tax, the management of which needed a list of all adult citizens of the kingdom. Suddenly, there was an overwhelming amount of Johns to handle. To address this issue, the subsequent Additions Statute (1413) required that all names be accompanied by the holder’s profession and residence location. Eventually, fixed and heritable family names would be required as a result of this increasing bureaucracy.

There were numerous procedures used to determine these names. The most obvious option was to utilize the place of residence, even though people, for example, Wickham, could not all adopt the surname “Wickham” without generating obvious misunderstanding. This, however, did not stop Leonardo da Vinci (from Vinci) from becoming the town’s most known export. In England, family names may also be based on personal beliefs (such as Mope, Christian, and Godley) or physical characteristics, such as Armstrong, Short, and Brown. These names are frequently masked by their Gaelic origin. Kennedy means “ugly head” whereas Guilfoyle means “follower of (Saint) Paul.”

Names such as Smith, Butcher, and Carpenter were frequently taken from the profession or occupation of the bearers. Many of these refer to obsolete professions, including Fletcher (arrow maker), Cooper (barrel maker), and Heyward (fence maintainer). Sometimes, a person’s name was derived from geographical elements around his or her place of residence. Similarly, there are Hill, Bush, Underwood (meaning “under the wood”), Eastlake, and Bridges, among others. Eventually, names frequently reflected family links, as the son of Peter became ‘Peter’s son’ and then ‘Peterson’. There are also Johnson, Harrison, and Robertson. Mac was utilized in Scots, resulting in MacDonald, MacPherson, and others.

Due to the mixing of populations from other nations (particularly in the United States), the original foreign names sometimes suffered. Names such as Pfoersching became Pershing as a result of mispronunciation or deliberate modifications to match English pronunciation and spelling. Consequently, Krankheit became Cronkite, while Wistinghausen became Westinghouse. Nevertheless, most English surnames often have undergone substantial spelling and pronunciation variations before settling into their ultimate form. Old English spellings, for instance, were frequently abandoned in favour of phonetic intelligibility, making it impossible to determine exact meaning.

All of the research on family names could lead one to conclude their use is universal. On the contrary, the technical term for a single name is a mononym. Numerous indigenous or aboriginal groups, as well as regions of Africa, India, Central Asia, and Indonesia, utilize only singular names. Such names are typically reserved for celebrities, artists, singers, and actors in the developed world. Mana, Ayaka, and Ichiro are prominent figures in the Japanese entertainment business, while Korea, China, and Hong Kong have followed suit. Moving to the West, some individuals invent names (Bono, Sting, Prince), utilize family names (Liberace, Morrissey), or use their given names (Shakira, Cher). In contrast, the musician Bjork adopts a mononym consistent with her culture. As is the case with all Icelanders, she has no surname.

In European and Western cultures, the family name is typically given after the given name (both in speech and in writing) — hence the words “first” and “last” name. In Asian cultures, however, it is the opposite way around, putting a stronger focus on family relationships. Because many of these civilizations use vertical writing, what is a “last name” in the West is an “upper name” in the East.

Family names reading questions

Question 1– 4

Answer the following questions. Each answer should contain NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS from the passage.

1. What aspect of family names should we consider more closely?

2. Traditionally, what was required to differentiate two identical first names?

3. What legislation initiated the use of family names?

4. Why did family names become necessary over time?

Question 5– 9

Write the appropriate letter, A – F, next to each question.

What strategy was applied to create the following names?

A  Personal belief

B  Place of residence

C  Mistake

D  Mononym

E  Profession

F  Geographic feature

5. Guilfoyle

6. Heyward

7. Pershing

8. da Vinci

9. Bono

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Question 10– 13

Complete the sentences below. Choose NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS AND/OR A NUMBER from the passage for each answer. Mac’s meaning in Scottish is (10)…………… To make them easier to write, foreign names frequently underwent (11)…………………… The (12)……………….. of a name may be overshadowed by spelling different variants. The term ‘upper name’ is used due to (13)…………………. in Asia. 

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Family names reading answers

1.Formative logic 

2.(some) description

3.Poll tax

4.Increasing Bureaucracy






10.son (of)

11.Deliberate modifications 

12.Exact meaning

13.Vertical writing


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