By Tre, Pol and Pen. But mainly Tre

My series of notes on the rarer Cornish surnames has reached the Tre- names and these will occupy the next few weeks. It’s not the number of families with a Tre- name that is so impressive – Willamses, Thomases and Richardses far outnumber them. It’s the frequency and variety of Tre- names themselves. Tre– is the most common placename element in Cornwall, originally referring to an agricultural settlement but later extended to any settlement. Moreover, there are around 1,300 places with names that contain this element.

Not all of those gave rise to a surname, although many did. Fortunately, explaining the origin of Tre surnames is usually a lot easier than other names, the main question being whether a name has a single point of origin or arose in multiple places. The first three below each had single points of origin, although their 1861 distributions might well mask these.

Tregoweth arose at a place of that name in Mylor parish near Penryn. The meaning is a little unclear. Middle Cornish coweth (friend or companion) has been suggested as the second element. But many Tre- placenames involved a personal name and the earliest spelling of Tregewyd could hint at an unidentified name of that type. The family name moved away from the Penryn district in the late seventeenth century, at first towards Truro and then further east to the St Austell district.

Tremellan means mill farm and occurs as a placename at St Erth. It’s an earlier spelling of Tremelling, which has an entry in The Surnames of Cornwall. The pattern of its dispersal, first across west Cornwall and then in the nineteenth century to the St Austell district, might suggest involvement in the mining industry.

Tremethick is not connected with Trevithick but is a name in its own right. Originally it must have been Tre’n methak, meaning farm of the doctor. The <an> prevented the normal lenition (or mutation) of the second element following the feminine noun tre. The surname first appeared in the Madron parish registers as Tremethack in the 1570s and this is where we find the place of the same name. Unlike Tremellans, Tremethicks largely stayed put, suggesting an involvement in fishing rather than mining.

2 thoughts on “By Tre, Pol and Pen. But mainly Tre

  1. An interesting account in all ways – the meaning of the names, and also some thinking around why the names may have dispersed as they did.

    I did a lot of research into one part of my family tree, namely my grandmother’s ancestors. She was the sister of the “They think it’s all over” Kenneth Wolstenholme. The Wolstenholmes came from Kearsley near Manchester, where for generations (I was able to trace them back to 1904) they worked in mines and mills. The other side of the family, my gran’s mother’s (Effie), were Redgraves and they also entered the mines (and mills) of Lancashire. Effie’s father was from deeply rural Norfolk as was his wife, and in his youth he tended horses there for large farmers. For a while he had a tiny stable but it was not long before he worked “Below” for many decades until the end of his life. There is a lot more to say but this is about Cornish names not Lancashire ones. I just make this contribution to show that some people stay truly put for a hundred years or more even in the same street, but some “marry out” to total newcomers.

    It would be really interesting to trace such a process in Cornwall. I suppose many have,

    Looking forward to an account about Ralph de Tremur!


  2. At St Buryan & St Columb are Tregadgwith, Tregaswith – both involving ‘Tre-‘ and Cadgwith ‘thicket,coppice‘. Not found per se in Cornish texts but in Breton is ‘kewez‘ and in Welsh is ‘caewydd‘ ‘undergrowth,underbrush,hedge-trees‘, also as toponyms in southern Wales. In Cornish this would be ke+gwydh *kewydh – perhaps matching (c/o JEB Gover place names) Tregewyd in 1327 and Tregewyth in 1371 for Tregoweth now.

    (As alternative, a personal name matching Tregoweth is not easy to find in lists (e.g. here), although Lanwithen (Lankewoythian in 1302) nr Lostwithiel is suggested (cf C Weatherhill’s books) to involve the name Cywoethgen.)


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