The other day a correspondent kindly supplied me with an intriguing hypothesis. The surname Tripp emerged in Cornwall very late, by my reckoning no earlier than the first half of the nineteenth century. Some, perhaps most, of those Tripps had changed their name from Tripcony. That name probably had its origin in the place now called Trekenning, in St Columb Major (and incidentally has nothing to do with rabbits). It moved westwards at an early point however, being present on the Lizard by the 1500s.
My correspondent suggested that the name Tripcony may have ‘fallen into disrepute’ after 1855 when a Constantine Tripcony, a shoemaker, was charged, along with Matilda Gay, of the crime of stealing 10 sovereigns from a dead body at St Keverne. The body in question, that of a woman, had been washed ashore from the wreck of the emigrant ship ‘John’, which went aground on the Manacles rocks. She was one of the 75 washed ashore, while another 121 lives were lost at sea. (A full newspaper report of this disaster can be found here.) The two offenders had apparently torn a hole in the pocket of the dead woman and made off with some money. Tripcony and Gay were identified by witnesses. The two were found guilty and sentenced to three months in prison. Tripcony was however spared hard labour because of his advanced age – 62.
This grisly episode could indeed have caused some disgust in the neighbourhood. However, unfortunately for the hypothesis, the nefarious activities of Constantine Tripcony did not cause a mass revulsion by Tripconys on the Lizard at their own surname and the subsequent adoption of the name Tripp. Six years later at the 1861 census there were at least 26 households in the St Keverne district headed by Tripconys, with only four Tripps. It looks as if the preference of some for Tripp rather than Tripcony resulted from a more mundane factor – the general tendency to shorten names, especially in the days before mass literacy.