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.

11 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. 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.


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