Surnames from first names

Many surnames originally stemmed form first names. In Cornwall Bennet or Benet was a frequent male name in the medieval period. It came orginally from the saint’s name Benedict, shortened to Benoit by the French and introduced to the British Isles by the Normans. The name was widely found as a surname in Cornwall by the 1500s, with the exception of an area north of Bodmin Moor. The -s had still to be added. Strangely enough, the Cornish language equivalent of Bennets – Benetto – had already appeared in the far west.

Bastian was another first name (from Sebastian) which was adopted as a second name, but present only in the Cornish-speaking areas of Cornwall in the 1500s.

6 thoughts on “Surnames from first names

  1. I have clear examples of individuals and families adjusting from BASTARD to BASTIAN. This is, I presume, almost certainly a result of not wanting to be called BASTARD and taking a different but similar surname. Evidently the names have no relation to each other otherwise.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My name is Geoff Simmons from Northern Ireland. I am increasingly intrigued by a potential Cornish connection from my surname and where it appears in Northern Ireland. The Simmons surname is restricted in terms of origin to a specific area around Dungannon in east County Tyrone, indeed this is where my father and grandfather as well as great grandfather Simmons came from. This area was the main coal mining area on the island of Ireland. It developed from the 18th Century and alongside the coal field development was the development of the first summit level canal in the UK, the Newry Canal built around 1741 to transport coal from the Dungannon coalfields to Dublin, then the second city of the British Empire.

    I believe Simmons has roots in west Cornwall. What I hope to research is a potential link between the surname and its very specific occurance in Ireland in the Dungannon coalfield area of east Tyrone. In fact a town at the heart of the area where the Simmons surname is prevalent in Ireland was a new town called Coalisland!

    Crudely, at this stage, putting two and two together, my hypothesis is that my forebears may have been Cornish miners with the expertise needed during the 18th Century to help develop the Dunngannon coalfields in Ireland.

    Any thoughts and advice on my next steps would be greatly appreciated.

    Professor Geoff Simmons
    County Down
    Northern Ireland


    1. Looks a very likely hypothesis. I have evidence of a mine agent in the 1870s who was employed in northern Ireland but nothing to hand for an earlier period. How far back can you trace your ancestors in Ireland? It may be possible to then link them back to Cornwall at the point the line disappears in Ireland.


  3. Thanks Bernard,

    An American relative, Bob Simmons, did a lot of work to trace the surname back in the Dungannon area. I believe he reached back to first decade of the 1800’s but was sure it went back to further to the 18th Century (which lends support to my hypothesis of an 18th century mining connection). He passed a while back and I am hoping to get Bob’s work sent to me by his son.

    The issue he faced, as all local history researchers in Ireland face, is a lack of records due to the infamous fire at the Dublin Four Courts during the civil war in 1922, which destroyed many irreplaceable genealogical records in the Public Records Office located in the building. Bob, like most researchers, was reliant primarily on church records.

    My aim is to reach back from his last point in early 1800 and as you say try to find a Cornish link – tall order but will give it a shot.

    I believe Simmons is quite a common name around Falmouth and Redruth? A quick search on google throws up many Simmons business people in that area! Just to add, my Grandfather Simmons married a Tilly Allen from the same area, my grandmother Simmons maiden name. Allen it seems is another surname with Cornish roots – my father may have a lot of Cornish blood in his veins!

    I will keep you updated as new information comes to hand. Hopefully, providing evidence for the first time of a Cornish mining migration to the Dungannon coalfields.



  4. Possible but my evidence of population exchange between Ireland and Cornwall is small, at least until the 1860s, We do have a couple of clear Irish lines in Cornwall, from the late Middle Ages, and we have a Vivian in Ireland whom we have accepted is of Cornish origin. If you have done a sufficiently accurate YNA test we may be able to assist. We dont have any SYMONDS/SIMMONDS in the can, but we have identified a number of specifically Cornish DNA clusters

    Dr Joe Flood, Cornwall DNA projects, FTDNA


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