From rarer Cornish surnames to surnames on demand

The origin of Whitehair would seem to be obvious – a nickname for someone with white or grey hair. Not so. According to the guru of English surnames, P.H.Reaney, this is a version of the original Whityer, an occupational name for a white leather dresser. His theory would appear to be backed up by the spelling of the surname in Cornwall. It first cropped up in the border parish of North Tamerton in the 1620s as Whithear. It was only in the 1700s on moving into mid-Cornwall that the family name began to be spelt Whitehair. It then ramified in the St Austell district in the 1800s.

Wroath came from the medieval name Worth, a nickname for an angry person (or perhaps used ironically for someone who was exceptionally meek). It was present in the 1500s over a wide zone of east Cornwall. The spelling Wroath only began to make an appearance in the early 1600s, first in the Camelford district. At the same time some Wroth family names began mutating to Worth, which in the 1800s became the most common variant (see The Surnames of Cornwall). In 1861 a few Wroaths could still be found in north Cornwall but a branch had also migrated west to the Truro district.

With these two names I’ve now reached the end of my list of rarer surnames that were more common in, or unique, to Cornwall. This has added another 100 surnames to the 750 or so in my book on Cornish surnames. We are now left with the very rare Cornish surnames that have only ever been counted on the fingers of one hand or surnames, such as Taylor or Brown, that appear in numbers in Cornwall but were even more numerous elsewhere. However, even these names also have their Cornish geography and many of them have been well-established in Cornwall since the early days of surnames.

Here’s an offer you can’t refuse. If your name or a name of one of your ancestors hasn’t been covered in any of these blogs or the book why not get in contact. I’ll then include it in a blog covering its origins, meaning and local geography. You can use the comments below to suggest names or get in touch by email.

27 thoughts on “From rarer Cornish surnames to surnames on demand

  1. It is perhaps worth considering that the bird called Wheatear was literally called white-arse till someone decided to dignify things a little. This is really true, and it is perhaps possible that Whitehair was once a jokey name too along these lines.

    Regarding Wroath (wrath) to Worth – surely worth is a very common English placename, as in my own name Farnworth (place where the ferns grow/place with ferns). Do you mean that people just decided Worth sounded nicer and plumped for this spelling (with no clear idea as to its meaning)?

    Finally I have requested this before but can you kindly find out more about de Tremur? I have found out quite a lot about Ralph de Tremur (1300s, vicar of Warleggan and an incredible rebel) which I would be happy to share but would love to know more about the origins of this name.


  2. This has been a fascinating series of articles. My interest is in the Greenaway family (with spelling variants.) which, I have ascertained, have lived continuously in Kilkhampton, North Cornwall, since at least the 1500s. Family members can now be found in Australia, Canada and South Africa. I would be grateful if you could research this further to find out the origins. Many thanks, Martyn


  3. My paternal grandmother’s family name is Varcoe. The family was from Roche. (Robert Varcoe)
    Can you provide any history about that name?
    Thank you


  4. Enjoy your posts! Would you please research Tyzzer and/or Toy? These names are from my maternal grandparents.Thank you!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Bernard – Thanks for all your work on this. I’ve enjoyed reading the surname posts. Is Guy in the book? How about Elliott, Rowe, Worden, and Callaway? Thank you very much.


  6. Hello from South Africa, by way of Staines then Camberley in 1969. My mother’s family are the UNIQUE surname HALLAMORE, from Penryn / Falmouth to the 20th century (I have traced them world wide since 1966). Their first Cornwall mention is in the 1569 muster with John Hallamore (some of the page is missing), ca. 1520 – ca. 1580 – the surviving Penryn register only commencing from 1599. Their coat of arms alleges they came into England with the Conqueror and settled in Cornwall, however this seems to be refuted by the 1524/5 and 1543 great Lay Subsidies which taxed down to 1 sterling / annum – no Hallamore mention – they appear in Lay subsidies from 1571/2 and there is a 1572 deed which mentions Henry Hallamore of Penryn. The family was very friendly for many years with the ENYS family of Penryn – a very old Cornwall family and John’s son Walter, (ca. 1545 – 1614), mentions 2 sisters not in the 1620 Visitation of Cornwall, Margaret ENYS and Jane EVA. This fits with Margaret marrying an Enys doubtless outside Cornwall in the 1560’s, her father following her down to Cornwall from wherever and son Walter joining up by 1571/2 Lay Subsidy. Of further interest is the Cornwall smuggling connection (!), due to the UNIQUENESS of the surname, and the legend of pirates (plural), in the family, the blessed internet secured for me a 1683 piracy trial in New York city in which John Hallamore (ca. 1660 – after 1695), of “Nevis” (a convenience residence for trial purposes), clearly my 6 greats grandfather as otherwise the Hallamore surname would be extinct, as one of the accused! It’s a fascinating document and anyone who wants to have sight thereof, can e mail me on – as there was an UNCONDITIONAL pirates amnesty in 1717/8 (resulting in an estimated halving of the pirates then and return to more respectable occupations / return to England), and the return via the parish registers of the Hallamore to Cornwall in 1718 onwards (!), this would be conclusive proof of the validity of the 300 + year old piracy legend in the family. Kind regards, Neil + them fur angel BEASTS.


    1. Possibly relevant to the Hallamoor family name: a place called Halvere Moor in St Gluvias parish (nr Penryn) c1690. C/o JEB Gover’s place names list, and mentioned with Enys in . May no longer be used as place name (i can’t see on OS 25k map). Meaning in Cornish: “great moor” – the ‘vere’ being ‘great’ and ‘Hal’ being ‘moor/barrens’. As seen in other place names like Halvere, for example, in both Penhalveor, and Penhalvean a few miles to the north.

      As a Cornish pirate, no doubt in good company – cf Richard Keigwin , and indeed his more peacable kinsman John Keigwin.


  7. Actually ‘ea’ when written in English in the 1600s often stood for the sound /e/ like ‘ay‘ in modern “pay“. This can be seen in the spelling & sound of some west Cornwall place names e.g. Brea, Pednandrea, Heamoor. Cf I Wmffre’s “Evolution of Welsh and Cornish-English phonology in the early modern period” (2003) pp245-246. This d’mean that ‘Whithear’ in 1620 probably indeed sounded like ‘Whitehair’ now, and then – and not like ‘Whityer’.

    The E Cornwall incidence of this name may perhaps be considered in comparison with ‘Ergudyn’ further west at about the same time, and maybe even with the proximity of that of ‘Scirlocc’ near Liskeard five hundred years before (hit google for these).


  8. Hi Bernard, I am studying Family History at the University of Tasmania and don’t know why I haven’t come across this site before now! My family surname is French, my paternal descendants came from St Winnow and Pelynt and emigrated to Tasmania in 1831 (making me a 5th generation Tasmanian). I’m keen to know of the surname French.
    and, if the Cornish ‘French’ surname is from Ireland (before France)? Regards, Pip


    1. I’m not sure why you think it came from Ireland, Pip. There were several people called French in Cornwall in the early 1500s, but all at Bodmin or to its east. It’s generally thought that the distant ancestors of people with this surname had arrived from France at some point before surnames became hereditary – in east Cornwall during the 1300s. Although I wonder if if it could have been given as a nickname sometimes. Migration continued as there were two men named Frenchman living in mid-Cornwall, both classed as ‘aliens’, in the 1520s.


  9. OLD/OULD from around St. Merryn migrating to Truro/Redruth/Cambourne in early 19th C. as far as I can tell. Is this a Cornish or English name? Interesting blog — thanks.


    1. Thanks for input Peter, most appreciated, COVID etc has kept me from updating replies speedily but as you see, I get to it eventually! Kind regards and best for 2021, Neil + just Shaggy left now, South Africa.


    2. Hi, EVA, yes, my Eva family from 3 greats aunt Philippa, (1782, Budock by Penryn – 1869, Falmouth), who married Sam Hallamore, junior of Falmouth, (1775 – 1852)! E mail is – kind regards, Neil, South Africa + Shaggy.


  10. Greetings from Florida! My surname is Fort and we have records showing our ancestor in Lezant around the year 1500. It’s been suggested that we may be descended from French Huguenots. I’ve been unable to shed any light on anything past this point. I believe this is too early for the Huguenot influx? Have you ever encountered this surname before?

    Exceptional site! I’m thrilled to have stumbled across this. Thank you!


    1. Hi Lewis, Amazing how many Huguenots there were! But as you say 1500 is far too early. There was indeed a Robert Forte at Lezant in 1544 and several Fortes found in that parish down to the 1660s. They then disappear and the surname becomes extremely rare in Cornwall. The theory in the surname dictionaries is that it was from the French ‘fort’, and a nickname for a strong person. It could also more prosaically have been given to someone who lived near a fort.


  11. Hi Bernard, we met about 20 years ago when I was making a programme with Alan Kent about links between Wales and Cornwall. At the time I interviewed you, in a building overlooking Truro, you commented on my surname ‘Kneebone’ saying that you were using the name to trace Cornish emigration patterns. I wonder if anything came of your studies and indeed if you have further insights into where the name comes from? Hope you are well. chris
    PS> Great site by the way:-)


    1. Hi Chris,
      You’ve reminded me how long the gestation of some projects are! Embarrasingly so. That throwaway remark led in two directions – one to the surname research that eventually produced my book on Cornish surnames (your name is in there incidentally) and the other a more academic research project that traced a sample (one in two) of all children born in Cornwall in 1850 (around 4,500 in number). The initial results of the latter appeared in one or two obscure academic publications but retirement intervened and I never got around to publishing the full results, or properly pursuing the lost members of the cohort overseas. Maybe, maybe.


  12. Great info on this site. Would love to know more on the name hosking and its origin ic possible. Cheers to all..jen hosking


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