I had to make a hard decision when collating the entries for my The Surnames of Cornwall. Which names to include, which to leave out? Previous works on the subject had relied on the subjective choice of the author. Partly in order to justify my method to the disappointed, I decided to be more objective. All names with over 100 heads of household in the 1861 census were included. Others with between ten and 100 household heads gained entry on a sliding scale of uniqueness to Cornwall. This gave me 750 surnames and all the more common ones. But inevitably it excluded some obviously ‘Cornish’ names.
An alternative way of determining surnames would be to take names that were restricted largely to Cornwall. Adopting this method, I looked for examples of surnames where at least 40% in the UK 1881 census were living in Cornwall. This provides another 100 surnames.
Here are three of them, all originally from a placename.
Addicoat. This English name had already spread surprisingly widely by the 1520s, when it was found in several places in north Cornwall and as far west as Feock on the Fal. It possibly stemmed from Addiscott (Aeddi’s cottage), near Okehampton in Devon, the spelling changing to Adecot or similar on arrival in Cornwall.
Angear. There were many scattered examples of this surname in the early 1500s, which suggests multiple origins. It’s from the Cornish words for ‘the fort’ or ‘the camp’ and most examples were found in mid and west Cornwall. Rather oddly, numbers had collapsed by 1641 and the name then became quite rare. This suggests that surnames in the 1520s in the Cornish-speaking parts were not yet fixed and this one for some reason was particularly unstable.
Beskeen. John Boskene was living at Lostwithiel in 1525. Yet those bearing this surname nowadays are more likely to be able to trace their ancestry back to the Roseland peninsula, where we find the splendidly named Lancelot Boskine, baptised at St Just in Roseland in 1558. It’s from a lost Cornish placename Boskeen (house by reeds or rushes).
I’ll be providing more examples of Cornwall’s less common surnames here in future posts.