What is the origin of the last name Foster?

The last name Foster derives from the Middle English word "foster," meaning "to nourish" or "to foster." It originated as an occupational surname for someone who was entrusted with the care and upbringing of children. The name was commonly given to a foster parent or a person who worked as a fosterer, highlighting the significant role they played in nurturing and raising children. Over time, this surname became hereditary, passing down through generations, and is now found worldwide.

Countries of origin for the last name Foster

The last name Foster has a rich history and holds several interesting meanings. Here, we will explore the etymology, genealogy, and cultural significance associated with the surname Foster.

The name Foster can be traced back to the Old English word ‘foster,’ which means ‘food’ or ‘supply.’ This suggests that the name originally referred to someone who was in charge of providing food or provisions. It was commonly used as an occupational name and could have been given to a foster parent, an innkeeper, or someone who worked as a shepherd or a farmer.

The surname Foster has been documented as early as the 12th century in England. It was initially more prevalent in the northern parts of the country, particularly in Yorkshire and Lancashire. Over time, the name spread to other regions of England and eventually made its way to other English-speaking countries, including the United States.

In terms of genealogy, the surname Foster has various branches and family lines. Several notable families bearing the name have left their mark in history. For instance, the Foster family of Ainsty in Yorkshire held a prominent position and owned large estates. Another notable family, the Foster Baronets of Glyde Court in Ireland, had significant influence and political power.

The Foster surname has also gained recognition through individuals who bear or have borne the name. One prominent figure is Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864), an American composer known for his timeless songs like “Oh! Susanna,” “Camptown Races,” and “Beautiful Dreamer.” His musical contributions have secured a lasting legacy for the Foster name.

Additionally, the surname Foster holds cultural significance in the literary world. In literature, foster characters often play distinguished roles, representing resilience, compassion, and the ability to nurture others. One notable example is Pip (Philip Pirrip) in Charles Dickens’ classic novel “Great Expectations.” Pip is taken in and “fostered” by his brother-in-law, Joe Gargery, who provides him with love and support.

In conclusion, the last name Foster has a rich and diverse history. Its etymology suggests a connection to providing food or supplies, while its genealogical roots reveal notable families and individuals associated with the name. Furthermore, the cultural significance of the surname is evident in both the realm of music and literature. The name Foster encompasses a tapestry of meanings, reflecting the complex and multifaceted nature of human history.

Interesting facts about the last name Foster

  • The surname Foster is of English origin and was derived from the Old English word “fostre,” meaning “foster parent” or “to nourish.” It was originally an occupational name for someone who looked after or nurtured a child.
  • The surname has its roots in medieval England and can be traced back to the 12th century.
  • Foster is a fairly common surname in English-speaking countries, particularly in the United States, where it ranks among the top 200 surnames.
  • Notable individuals with the surname Foster include Jodie Foster, an American actress and filmmaker, and Stephen Foster, an American songwriter known as the “father of American music.”
  • In Scotland, the name Foster can also be an Anglicized version of the Gaelic surname “MacFhionnaird” or variations such as “MacFhionghuin” or “MacFhionnlaidh.”
  • The Foster surname has various spelling variations, including Forster, Forester, and Forester.
  • The Foster family has historical ties to Northumberland and Yorkshire counties in England, where they were associated with landownership and the management of forests or game reserves.
  • The coat of arms associated with the Foster surname depicts a red shield with three gold crosses, symbolizing faith and Christian heritage.
  • The name Foster is often used in place names, such as Foster City in California and Foster Lake in Oregon.
  • The fictional character Hannibal Lecter, created by Thomas Harris in the novel “The Silence of the Lambs,” has the birth name “Hannibal Lecter” but is later known as “Hannibal Lecter, AKA Dr. Hannibal Lecter, AKA Hannibal the Cannibal.” He takes the surname “Lecter” from his Lithuanian grandmother’s maiden name and his first name from his given name, Hannibal, which his parents chose because of their fascination with Carthaginian history.

Name Rank


There are around 227764 people with the last name Foster in the US

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