Two surnames in Cornwall: a study in contrasts

The next two requests for information on the history of surnames in Cornwall bring together a starkly contrasting pair. One is fairly common; the other relatively rare. One was present early in east Cornwall before dispersing more widely; the other arrived late and remained mainly restricted to a small district. One has its origin in a first name; the other in a placename (maybe).

The first name is Elliott, with all its numerous spelling variants. This is usually supposed to have evolved from a pet form of the Old French name Elias, perhaps incorporating some Old English first names on its way. It was a name in the main confined to east Cornwall in the 1500s.

However, numbers gradually expanded and by 1861 Elliotts were present in most parts of Cornwall, although still favouring south east Cornwall between Liskeard and Saltash.

In contrast, Cadwell was not recorded in Cornwall until 1737 when a John Cadwell was buried at Redruth. It then ramified in the Camborne-Redruth district, where most Cadwells were still located in 1861. The surname dictionaries suggest it may have an origin in Coldwell, a name for a landscape feature. Yet, in Cornwall, the spelling Caldwell doesn’t appear until later, the first a burial at Mylor in 1798. Caldwell looks more likely to have been a spelling offshoot of Cadwell rather than the reverse. According to Reaney’s Dictionary of English Surnames there is a place in Devon called Cadwell. This may be the origin of our Cadwells, although the initial occurrences in the west might imply an origin from anywhere and not just Devon, as people were attracted to this precociously early industrial region. Or did this name spring from Cardell, found to the north and east of Redruth from the 1500s?

If you have a surname you’re interested in that hasn’t been covered in my book or in previous blogs do suggest it. For those that have been suggested but have been covered before I’ll be posting some hitherto unpublished maps – and all free of charge!