Some Cornish surnames with single points of origin

My next three less common Cornish surnames all have obvious points of origin although in the case of the first this may be a district rather than a single parish.

Pawlyn is a pet form of Paul, retaining the conservative spelling of Pawl which was usual in the early 1500s. At that time people called Pawl or Pawly were found up and down Cornwall. However, Pawlyns were restricted to a narrow band of parishes close to the Tamar between Week St Mary in the north to Saltash in the south. It’s significant that this district was also home to many Rawlyns and Tomlyns, indicating a local preference for adding ‘lyn’ to a first name. Given that in this area surnames had been hereditary since the late 1300s, it’s difficult to pinpoint a precise point of origin. If there was one it looks likely to have been the South Petherwin/Lezant district south of Launceston. Most Pawlyns stayed in the far east, although a branch established itself in mid-Cornwall at Mevagissey in the 1610s.

Pendray was originally Pendre and means either town’s end or possibly the principal or top settlement. Only one example of this placename survives, Pendrea at St Buryan in West Penwith. However, the presence of the surname in mid-Cornwall at St Blazey and St Ervan in the 1520s suggests at least one other, possibly two, lost placenames in mid-Cornwall. In fact, St Blazey was the place where the surname Pendray emerged. As the name disappeared in the west during the 1500s, transformed into Pender, it became confined solely to mid-Cornwall.

Penfound is the most obvious of these three examples. Thomas and William Penffoun were members of the largest landowning family in Poundstcok in north Cornwall in 1543. Poundstock was the parish containing the place called Penfoun (meaning either hilltop with a beech tree or end of the beech trees) and by 1598 spelt Penfound. Some Penfounds migrated west to St Columb in the early 1600s but by the 1700s that branch had seemingly evaporated and the surname returned to cluster around its original home of Poundstock.

3 thoughts on “Some Cornish surnames with single points of origin

  1. So ‘foun’ means beech? Please confirm.

    Also, I live part of the time in Germany. Pauli is a very common diminutive of Paul – interestingly similar to Pawly!


    1. Just re the -d in Penfound place/surname. Very few place names in Cornwall ending -nd (-nd found in English & French but not generally found in native Cornish language words). A few north Cornwall placenames unexpectedly end -d/-t e.g. Red Post now, Redderise 12C. If from Cornish, and if from penn + fawen (and not e.g. from penn + bownder (lane’s end, as in Penfounder, Pednavounder &c), the -d might be (a) random, (b) to resemble English sounds & words (pound, found &c), (c) in imitation of dialect English suffixing -d (e.g. liar + d > liard; pilcher + d > pilchard &c), (d) in imitation of unassibilated -t/-d/-nt/-nd Brythonic, as still in Welsh & Breton and fossilised in nearby east Cornwall place names e.g. Penquite instead of Pencoys (forest end/top), or (e) some, all or none of the above!


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