Cornish surname conundrums and questions

What’s the origin of these three rare Cornish surnames?

The first Drowns were recorded close to the Tamar at Stoke Climsland and Lezant in 1544. Then a smattering of people with this surname popped up at various places across Cornwall in the later 1500s and 1600s in no particular pattern. Either the first Drowns were especially prone to migration or this was a fashionable nickname from the English word drone (as in bee), applied to an idle person and appearing simultaneously in separate places.

The name Fradd was originally Frodd. A William Frodde was living at St Kew in 1525 and a Thomas Frod was found in the same parish in 1543. By the middle of the 1600s Frodd had become Fradd. The family name had not strayed far however, as most Fradds were still living in mid-Cornwall in the district between St Minver on the north coast and Lostwithiel. Was there some connection to the placename Fraddon, some miles west at St Enoder? This placename, meaning place of the stream, was spelt Frodan in 1356. Did Frodd emerge as a short version of Frodan?

Goninans were relatively late arrivals on the surname scene. The first record I have found was Wilmot Goninnin who was buried at Breage in 1639. All Goninins before 1650 were found in the parish of Breage, where the surname had clearly originated. Was this family name linked to the place Tregonning, a farm that gave its name to the nearby hill, known as Conyn or Conin in 1540? Had the old Celtic personal name Conan or Conyn survived into this period in the Cornish language?

2 thoughts on “Cornish surname conundrums and questions

  1. PS If the name Goninin is not straight from Tregonning hill, then, seeing as in 1504, at Crowan about 3 miles from Breage, the play Bewnans Meriasek was written down, in the very first lines of which is Meriasek’s dad, the character “kyng conany”, maybe that personal name was used with a ‘-yn’ suffix (as presumably in Hawken, Jenkin, To(m)nkin, et al).

    If so, pity no surname survived.

    This is getting addictive. I must stop. You carry on please.


    1. Apologies x3. Vague/messed-up points, I should clarify:

      1)That should have been:

      … in the very first lines of which is [mentioned by] Meriasek’s dad, the character “kyng conany”.

      Conany/Conanus is mentioned first on line 5. He is called “Conany” twice in the text, both times at the end of the line to rhyme with another word ending ‘-y’ (the stage directions have him as “Conanus”, with Latin ‘-us’). However, once, in the middle of BM line 84 is the name “duk conan” that is duke and “Conan” without ‘-y’ on the end. The context is historic – lines 4 & 5 are “nessa zen myterne vhell, kyng conany” / “nearest to the high king, King Conany” – and the setting is supposed to be Brittany a long time previous. If I may plug, a good text & translation of BM was recently published as a book in 2018

      2) BM actually might have been written at Crowan (or might well not). The date 1504 and the abbreviated name Rad Ton on the manuscript tally with a R Ton incumbent at Crowan in 1537.

      3) A quick geek in the Cornish phone book would’ve shown me that there are indeed still people with the name Goninan here in Cornwall; also plenty in Australia/Tasmania. Good for them.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.