Old Time Occupations


Can You Guess The Profession?

by Evelyn J. Mocbeichel


Evelyn J. Mocbeichel

Over the last few years we have become entrenched watching many of the British televisions series offered on the public broadcasting stations. (PBS) Most of these programs are light mysteries or romantic series that take place decades or centuries earlier than ours. Besides learning the history and culture of previous periods, it is easy to understand British terminology for professionals featured in the storyline. What is astounding about these words is that many of them are still in use to this day. Others are simply interesting to know what these archaic words mean in describing a person’s trade or profession. Even watching the British series often a character’s profession will be mentioned and it is quite easy to know what it entails. For instance an anchor smith, made anchors and an anvil smith made anvils, which were used to make horse shoes and other metal objects by a black smith. As any Downtown Abby fan knows a chambermaid was a female servant that cleaned the bedrooms and a footman did many of the household errands and greeted horse and carriages that arrived at the estate. From the list below, see how many professions you know from these old fashioned words.


1. Mason       2. Apothecary       3. Glazier       4. Bard       5. Haberdasher       6. Bluestocking       7. Bobby   8. Cobbler       9. Gaffer       10. Confectioner


1. Stonecutter          2. Prepared and sold medicines (pharmacist)         3. Glass Cutter or window man    4. poet         5. Seller of men’s clothing         6. Female writer         7. Policeman         8. Shoemaker             9. Foreman of a work crew (If you read the credits at the end of any film, you will notice the title of “gaffer” is still used to this day.         10. Candy maker

Profession by name:

With all the recent interest in DNA searches and family history, it is fact that many family surnames were derived because of one’s job or profession in the earlier days. Probably what happened is that townspeople began calling the man by what he did when referencing him or giving his name to a neighbor. Then the man’s son or daughter simply became the son of, followed by the way the man earned a living.  Here are some names that are still popular today and where they originated perhaps centuries before.   Carter – one that transported things in his cart. Becker was a baker, while clark was the name of a clerk, usually one that could write. If someone was a granger, he was a farmer and a forester was a game warden. A person that inspected or was a tester was called a conner while a cartwright was a maker of carts and wagons. (Could that be how the family in the 1960’s TV series Bonanza made their ample fortune? I wonder.) Easy to decipher, we know a miller worked either at a corn mill, cloth mill or saw mill, while a potter made pottery or just sold it. To have your clothing repaired one would go to a tailor, but to have your wagon repaired or built you would seek out a wainwright. Again most often described in English series a chamberlain was a steward to either royalty or a nobleman and head of the household.  To make a request for entertainment one would seek the harper, to perform on the harp. Haven’t seen one of those advertised lately, have you?