Question:

I recently found out my grandmother's maiden name is Ishmael. I've been curious as to the origins of this last name and thought back to Ishmaelin the Bible. Could it be possible that I'm a descendant of Ishmael? Or amI way out in left field with this idea? If you have no idea, I understand, just thought I'd give it a try.

Answer:

For many thousands of years, people were known by a single name, or a qualifier was added to distinguish them. The qualifier might be the name of who their father was ("Simon Barjonah," which means "Simon son of Jonah"), what city they were from ("Mary Magdalene," which means "Mary from Magdala"), or what nation they belonged to ("Uzzah the Hittite").

It wasn't until several hundred years ago that western civilization started using fixed last names. Most likely you have an ancestor named Ishmael, but not the Ishmael of the Bible, though he might have been named after that particular character. Ishmael was a popular boy's name among the Puritans and other Protestant religions. Probably in the early usage you will find "son of" before that name for several generations before it was dropped for convenience.