The main feature of this website is a listing of surnames and their meanings. Entries are displayed in the following manner:
Not all names have usages, other scripts or pronunciations. The meaning and history is a sentence or short paragraph describing the etymology and source language of the surname. It also sometimes gives details about the name's etymological elements, its historical usage, and some of its notable bearers.
In many cases a name is a form of another name. For example: Smythe is a variant of Smith. In these cases the meaning will be listed at the other name, so follow the link provided to go to that other name.
"cognate" - Two words (or names) are cognates if they are from different languages but derived from the same root.
"diminutive" - This describes a name that is a short and/or affectionate form of a more formal name.
"usage" - A name's usage describes who uses it. It can be a language, a nationality, a culture, or something else. It is NOT necessarily the language of origin.
"variant transcription" - This indicates an alternate spelling in the Latin alphabet (the A-Z) for a name which is written in another alphabet (e.g. Arabic). For example, the Russian name Юрий may be written Yuriy or Yuri in Latin characters, so they are variant transcriptions of one another.
ə - In pronunciations, this indicates a reduced vowel, like the sound of the a in about. In English, vowels in unstressed syllables often take this sound. The symbol is called "schwa".
Ð / ð and Þ / þ - These characters (called "eth" and "thorn") appear in Old English, Old Norse and modern Icelandic names. They represent the fricative th sound heard in English.
You can initiate a search from the search page. The top of this page has links to pre-constructed searches. The bottom has an advanced search form, which will allow you to search by a number of different criteria. Once you search, you can further refine your search by clicking the "more options..." button on the results page.
For those interested, someone has created an OpenSearch plugin for surnames.behindthename.com - supported by Firefox 2+, Internet Explorer 7+, etc.
Besides the main name database, there are several other features on this website.
Also, Behind the Name is a sister site, dealing with given names instead of surnames.