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If you read a list of professions from earlier times, it reads like a roster of surnames. That's because people were strongly identified by what they did for a living (as opposed to now, when we pay attention to what's on their iPod). John Smith was a person named John who worked as a blacksmith; Bill Sawyer was one who sawed logs, and so on. In India, in the Parsee community, you'll find people with surnames such as Contractor, Doctor, Engineer, etc.

While the meanings of many surnames, like Smith, Baker, and Butler, are obvious, there are many others whose origins are not as well-known. This week we pick five professions of yesteryears that now exist mostly as last names.

chapman (CHAP-man) noun

A peddler; a merchant.

[From Old English ceapman, from ceap (trade, bargain), from Latin caupo (shopkeeper or innkeeper) + man. The German equivalent is Kaufmann, Dutch koopman.]

See more usage examples of chapman in Vocabulary.com's dictionary.

-Anu Garg (garg AT wordsmith.org)

"Chapmen, for example, circulated around the country on more or less regular routes."
Adrian Johns; The Nature of the Book; University of Chicago Press; 1998.


It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong. -G.K. Chesterton, essayist and novelist (1874-1936)

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