This lesson is quite popular with my students;they inevitably tell me that they would never have asked if it had been left to them.
After reading an introduction to the middle ages and discussing the DOMESDAY BOOK and thus the need for acquiring last names, I whet student appetite by presenting on an overhead pseudonyms and corresponding given names of famous personalities. I then have students do the following:
1. On a sheet of paper divided horizontally into thirds, write everything you know about your three names, i.e., why given the names, famous people with the names, relatives with the name, meaning of the names, Biblical or mythological references in the names, etc. Students who say they don't have a middle name are directed to write why they have no middle name. Also, I ask students to write a name they wish they had. I then collect the papers for safekeeping overnight.
2. Students are assigned to go home and ask any relative that might know why they were given that particular name and why that particular spelling.
3. Students return the next day with the information, I return the brainstorming they did the day before, and they add the new information to the paper.
4. We go to the library to investigate the geneology of the names in books and on the computer.
5. Students write an essay discussing the history and familial importance of their names.
6. Students are given the option of reading the essays to the class.