This surname of FONSECA was a Portugese and Spanish topographic name for the dweller at a dry well or dry spring; one who came from FONSECA, the name of places in Spain. Surnames derived from placenames are divided into two broad categories; topographic names and habitation names. Topographic names are derived from general descriptive references to someone who lived near a physical feature such as an oak tree, a hill, a stream or a church. Habitation names are derived from pre-existing names denoting towns, villages and farmsteads. Other classes of local names include those derived from the names of rivers, individual houses with signs on them, regions and whole countries. Portugese surnames share many of the features of Spanish surnames, in particular Arabic and Visigothic influence. A notable feature of Portugese surnames is the class of religious names referring to festivals of the church or attributes of the Virgin Mary. One respect in which Portugese names differ from those of the rest of the Iberian peninsular, is that some were adopted at a comparatively late date and honour saints who did not give rise to surnames in other languages. Portugese names typically have the ending 'eiro'. A notable member of the name was Eleonora Pimental Marchesa di FONSECA (1758-99) the Neapolitan noblewoman. She was lady-in-waiting to Queen Maria Carolina, wife of Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies, until she forfeited her mistress's favour by remarking on her intimacy with Sir John Acton. An active French partisan, on the fall of the Parthenopean republic (1798-99) she was hanged at the queen's instigation. It was not until the 10th century that modern hereditary surnames first developed, and the use of fixed names spread, first to France, and then England, then to Germany and all of Europe. In these parts of Europe, the individual man was becoming more important, commerce was increasing and the exact identification of each man was becoming a necessity. Even today however, the Church does not recognise surnames. Baptisms and marriages are performed through use of the Christian name alone. Thus hereditary names as we know them today developed gradually during the 11th to the 15th century in the various European countries.
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