More Cornish surnames from places: Bosence, Buckthought and Carbines

Here are three more uniquely Cornish surnames that stem from placenames.

In 1545 we find Richard and Thomas Bossens living at Sancreed in west Penwith. They no doubt lived at or were from the hamlet now spelt Bosence. This means house of the holy men which makes perfect sense given that Craig Weatherhill points out that it’s next to the site of a medieval chapel. The surname grew in the parish of Sancreed, although a lone William Besence could be discovered in St Clement parish east of Truro in 1641. During the early 1600s the Bosence surname had also moved to nearby Paul parish and in the later century appeared further east at Redruth, moving out from its single point of origin.

The clasic pattern of a surname derived from a place

Buckthought looks a more unexpected candidate as a Cornish name. Its first appearance was in the parish register of St Wenn in mid-Cornwall, when Richard Buckthought was buried in 1670. In the same year an Agnes Buckthought was baptised at nearby St Columb Major. However, the clue to the origin of the name lies in the entry of a Richard Buckthorpe among the list of men protesting their loyalty to the Crown in 1641 in St Wenn. This was very likely to be the same man whose death was registered in 1670. The baptism of Christian Buckthorpe at St Columb in 1668 also shows the simultaneous presence of the two names. The conclusion is clear – Buckthought was a local spelling variation of the unfamiliar Buckthorpe, which name derives from a Norse placename in East Yorkshire meaning Buggi’s farm. How and why some people from there migrated all the way to mid-Cornwall before 1640 is an interesting but unanswered question.

Carbines is a little more straightforward. The Cornish word Carbons means a paved road or causeway and there are at least five examples. Two of those are in mid-Cornwall, at Roche and St Austell, and the other three in the west at St Hilary, Lelant and Stithians. It seems that the two most western places, where the word had already lost its /n/ by 1400 and become Carbows, gave rise to its use as a surname, as we find people named Carbows and Carbons at St Hilary and St Erth in 1524. The more usual change was for this name to become Carbis, as in the placenames. But in the 1600s examples of Carbins emerged in west Penwith and Carbens on the Lizard, fossilising the original placename and providing another unique Cornish surname.

2 thoughts on “More Cornish surnames from places: Bosence, Buckthought and Carbines

  1. Hi. Enjoy your work. I derive from Watts (not Watt) from Copperhouse (1800), Lelant (1735), Feock (1695), Cambourne (1665), Redruth (1656), and St. Erne (1642). Watts I assume isn’t Cornish, possibly derives from the North. Do you know aught else about Watts in Cornwall?

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    1. Hi Rick, Watts emerged in Cornwall as well as other places and we don’t need to look north for its origins. The name Watts would have evolved from an original Watt. Watt was a short form of Walter and was quite common in Cornwall in the late medieval period. In the tax returns of the early 1500s there were 32 men called Watt and six named Watts in Cornwall. The name seems to have been most common then in the area between Truro and Bodmin. Interestingly, five of the six Watts were found in English-speaking south-east Cornwall. Between that point and 1641 most families named Watt gained an -s, as there were 44 Watts in 1641 and only two Watt (both in Feock to the west). At that point 16 of the Watts were living east of Bodmin, 25 in mid-Cornwall between Truro and Bodmin and only three west of Truro at Wendron. So your western ancestors in the Camborne-Redruth district probably would have moved west at some point before 1650 (or been from Feock).

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