How Benedict Got Cumberbatched: A History of Surnames

Why is it "Bart Simpson," and not just "Bart"? A brief—and ancient—origin story.

Imagine a world without surnames. I would be Megan, just Megan—one among many, many thousands of other Megans—instead of Megan Garber, one among a handful. Together, we would be unable to delight ourselves with jokes about Cumberbund Bandersnatch Moribund Pumpkin Patch Benedict Cumberbatch. Bart Simpson wouldn't be able to make crank calls asking for I.P. Freely and Ivana Party; there would, in fact, be no Bart Simpson at all. Only Bart.

But we do not live in a Simpsons-less world, because somewhere along the way some innovative person or persons decided that we should have surnames.

In the video above, part of Mental Floss's Big Questions series, the outlet explores the origin of surnames—from ancient China (around, according to legend, 3000 BCE) to relatively contemporary England. The place that would eventually witness the birth not of yet another Benedict, but of the one and only... Benedict Cumberbatch.