If one wanted to show where they came from, for example:
first name: David
Last name: of the white mountains
Would there be a prefix/suffix? (like the "Mc" in McDonalds)

closed as unclear what you're asking by FumbleFingers, Kristina Lopez, Edwin Ashworth, choster, tchrist Dec 28 '17 at 18:36

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    the Gaelic word mac ... means son of. There are many such affixes (prefixes/suffixes) used in Anglophone societies as per this Wikipedia page,. But where would you draw the line between an affix where of = from refers to a "parental" origin and a "geographical" one? Actually, I suspect most Anglophones don't know that Mc/Mac originally meant "son of", but many will interpret it as meaning "from Scotland". – FumbleFingers Dec 28 '17 at 16:23
  • @FumbleFingers I doubt that most know what the Fitz prefix means either. – tchrist Dec 28 '17 at 16:48
  • You can stick in an 'of' if you're writing period drama. Robin of Loxley. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 28 '17 at 16:51
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    @tchrist♦: It's easier in Wales (Jones the Meat and Jones the Bread being the butcher and baker). Dunno if it's still "productive" though - anyone know of a Welsh village where Jones the Code and Jones the Uber are used to distinguish the programmer and the cab driver? – FumbleFingers Dec 28 '17 at 16:59
  • @FF Jones the Sarnau and Jones the Croeseceiliog? – Edwin Ashworth Dec 28 '17 at 17:18

In all English-speaking communities, surnames are inherited, and have been for centuries, so you can't really show where you're from in your name. People will assume you're named David Whitehill because your father is Mr. Whitehill, not because you used to live near a white hill.

That said, a lot of English surnames are locative in origin. A locative name is based on a place associated with the original bearer: where he lived, where he came from, or where he owned property. Back when such names were used literally (that is, when they weren't simply inherited), in English they used various prepositions: most often "of", but also sometimes "at (the)" and other variations. (Names were often written down in Latin, in which case "of" became "de".) Over time, most placenames used as surnames lost the preposition, so that English locative-origin surnames are usually identical to English placenames (Cunningham, Bradley, Middleton), or to generic place identifiers (Green, Wood, Hill). There are a few surnames that retain the original preposition (Attwood, Bywater, Darcy), but these are much rarer than the unmarked type.

Thus, in modern English, you can indicate where you're from by adding a preposition, but the resulting locative phrase will not be interpreted as a surname. In fact, you could say that "of X" works as a locative in modern English exactly because it isn't a surname.

  • To explicitly answer the OP's question, there's no affix needed nowadays. You just say 'Michael York', the Michael that comes from York. – Mitch Dec 28 '17 at 19:11
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    @Mitch Michael York comes from Fulmer. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 29 '17 at 12:25

In Irish Gaelic, the prefix Ó-, anglicised to O'-, seen in names like "O'Brian" etc, means "son or daughter of". However, the word Ó simply means "from", and could therefore be used to say "from a place" instead of "from a person".

So, you could stick with the Irish Gaelic and say "ó na sléibhte bána" (from the white mountains, according to Google Translate at least), which, if you wanted to turn it into a surname could perhaps be "Ó Sléibhtebána".

  • -1 for 'Peter O'Wigan', 'Hank O'Washington' and 'Bruce O'Alice'. And a million other unacceptable examples. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 28 '17 at 16:53
  • @EdwinAshworth I didn't say it was a good idea! I just suggested a method of doing it, which is what the question asked for. – Max Williams Dec 28 '17 at 17:06
  • It's not a productive feature of English. OP asks 'If one wanted to show ...'; this must default to a present-day practice that may be used and is reasonably commonly used, as no earlier time is specified. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 28 '17 at 17:13
  • @EdwinAshworth perhaps, but the OP also said "Like the Mc in McDonalds", which is as much a "present-day practice" as O'. I don't think there is a present-day practice, and the best one could do might be to fall back to something else, which is what I suggested. It might not be an answer to your liking, but I think it is a valid answer, whether marked correct or up (or down) voted. – Max Williams Dec 28 '17 at 21:44

In the modern English speaking world, surnames are generally passed down from parent(s) to child and husband to wife. I've never heard of anyone deriving a surname from a place in this day and age.

However, this was not always the case, and some names are topographic in origin. Most of the present day surnames of English origin derived from locations that I've found have not included any prefix or suffix. For example see this list or these lists from Wikipedia:

  • Habitation (place) names e.g., Burton, Hamilton, London, Leighton, Murray, Sutton, Flint, Laughton
  • Estate names For those descended from land-owners, the name of their holdings, castle, manor or estate, e.g. Ernle, Windsor, Staunton
  • Topographic names (geographical features) e.g., Bridge, Camp, Hill, Bush, Lake, Lee, Wood, Grove, Holmes, Forest, Underwood, Hall, Brooks, Fields, Stone, Morley, Moore, Perry

There are some rare exceptions (I'm not sure if "de Trafford" counts as it seems to be somewhat of a misunderstanding, but it's worth mentioning).

Also note that a significant amount of English-speaking people, however, have names of non-English origin. Some of these surnames do have a prefix or suffix indicating origin. For example, Romano and Debussy.

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