Three tricky Cornish surnames

Explanations for my next three rarer Cornish surnames are by no means clear-cut.

Reep is a name found in Cornwall from at least the 1540s, with John Reep at Antony and Thomas Ryppe at St Germans, echoing the presence of the same name just across the Tamar in Devon. It’s claimed to be occupational, from Old English repan, from which we get reaper or from hripe, for a pannier, applied possibly to a carrier. Whatever its meaning, the geography of the name in Cornwall is clear enough. It was confined to south-east Cornwall until the 1620s, by which time a branch had moved west to St Winnow, next to Lostwithiel. Despite a general drift to the Liskeard district in the eighteenth century, Reeps were back in south east Cornwall by 1861, at Calstock and St Dominick.

It’s been suggested that Repper was another version of Reep. Alternatively, it could be from the name for a fish seller or maybe a shortened version of the French placename Barripper or Bareppa, found at Camborne and Mawnan. Its early geography was very different from Reep, implying that in Cornwall at least there was no connection with that name. An origin at Barripper near Camborne isn’t impossible as the surname appears to have first arisen at Breage, only a few miles south. Also found on the Lizard in the 1600s, the spelling then usually became Ripper at Breage. With population growth there, the name – as Repper or Ripper – then dispersed quite widely across the west by the mid-1700s.

Rillstone is more of a puzzle. There is a place in Linkinhorne – Rillaton – that was once known as Risleton. However, the geography of the surname doesn’t suggest an origin in east Cornwall but in mid-Cornwall, around Wadebridge and St Columb Minor. This coastal location may imply it was imported from elsewhere. In the 1600s the name Risdon or Risden was also found in the same area. (There is a place called Risdon in north Devon). Just to confuse matters further the only example in the 1543 tax lists was found much further west – Roger Ryssdon at Cury on the Lizard. Rillstone and Risdon look to have been interchangeable. Both versions had scattered widely across Cornwall by 1861, leaving few clues to its origin or its earlier geography.

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