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By: Erinn, Age 12, St. Anne's Elementary School, Peterborough, ON

Do you know what your first name means? Or where your last name comes from?

Everyone needs to have a name. Without them, our whole world would be full of chaos! We have given names, and family names, both which have a meaning. Fashions with names come and go. The choice of a name given to a baby at birth is important for everyone.

Given names, or first names, as most people call them, are names that distinguish a person from the rest of their family. Unlike last names, given names have been with us since the beginning of language. Members of primitive tribes had to invent names to separate their people. The names involved their births, characteristics, or qualities that they hoped to have. In these tribes, the names of members could also be the gods they believed in, strong animals, or objects like stars and other things from nature. Some names were passed down, but others were dropped. During wars, first names were traded and picked up by other cultures.

Family names are not as old as first names, because they seemed less important in primitive times. These family names were first taken by nobles, being made mostly from where the family lived. When the Romans came into power they developed hereditary titles which were titles that were passed down for generations. This is when last names, or surnames, for the commoners began. The names were supposed to be a town, colour, art or science, or job. Some family names grew out of nicknames based on a personal characteristic. For example, the colour of their hair. Also, the sounds -Fitz and Mac at the start of a surname mean "son of", and the letter 'O', which is also at the beginning of a name, like O'Brien, indicates descent.

When parents choose a name for a baby, a lot of thinking is usually involved. Many name ideas are taken from favourite relatives, as people name their children names that they like. If an association is made with a name and a person that is liked, the name will also be liked. Many names are chosen because of culture, or the country where they are from. Names of saints and martyrs are popular with certain religious families. Some parents choose popular names for their children, while others prefer names that are more uncommon.

Some styles in names stay the same for a long time, while others are forgotten as soon as a new one comes out. For example, in 1999, the five most popular girls' name were: Emily, Sarah, Brianna, Samantha and Hailey. About 100 years ago, some common names for girls were Blanche, Josephine, and Mabel. The top five names for boys born in 1999 were Jacob, Michael, Matthew, Nicholas and Christopher, while 100 years ago some common boys' names were Edward, Julian and Patrick. Names for girls seem to have changed more in 100 years than boys' names.

Although all names will change, the importance of having one will stay the same. All names are different, but everyone should be proud to have their own.

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