Two enquiries recently received offer the opportunity to show the contrasting history of Cornish surnames. Although one of these surnames flourished and the other did not, they are similar in that both originated in a Cornish placename.
Penvoze, spelt Penfos before the early 1500s, existed in five separate locations from the Roseland peninsula as far east as St Tudy, between Wadebridge and Camelford. The meaning is the end of the wall or bank. The distribution of the surname in the 1600s and 1700s mirrors these placenames and the presence of the name in a wide swathe of countryside from Truro to Bodmin hints at multiple origins from most, if not all, of the placenames.
There was little direction to the fairly random shifts of the surname Penvose in these centuries, although a slight concentration on St Agnes can be detected from parish registers in the 1700s. Yet by 1861 there were only two households left in Cornwall headed by someone named Penvose. Both were in Callington, well to the east, presumably a result of mining-related migration in the quarter century from 1830 to the 1850s. Although there was no connection, it might be possible that some Penvozes changed their name to the more common Penrose.
Although the surname Penvoze is rare, which is why it wasn’t included in my The Surnames of Cornwall, our second surname was more numerous and is included in the book.
The spelling Trezona first appeared with the baptism of Henry Trezona at Camborne in 1739. The late appearance of a surname suggests it either developed from a similar name or was introduced from outside Cornwall. The latter can obviously be ruled out for a Tre- name.
There is nowhere in Cornwall called Trezona, but there is a place called Tresawna, found at St Enoder in mid-Cornwall. In 1525 William Tresawnowe was living a few miles to the south at Probus and John Tresawno at nearby Tregony. The name then ramified at Probus, and by the 1700s it was spreading beyond that parish to others, particularly to the growing town of Truro.
From there someone named Tresawna made the move west to the parish of Camborne in the early 1700s. Benefitting from the copper mining boom in and around that parish, the family name Trezona then flourished and multiplied at Camborne during the 1700s and 1800s. Meanwhile, back at Probus, the number of Tresawnas shrank, with just one household of that name still present in the 1861 census.
Although Trezona is spelt with a z and Tresawna with an s, the sound in English is the same – [z]. Say it and see for yourself. It may of course have been [s] in the Cornish language. We have no way of knowing because written medieval Cornish did not distinguish between [s] and [z], both being spelt s.
While the history of Trezona is clear, although the identity of the missing link from Probus (or Truro) to Camborne would be interesting to find, the meaning of the original placename is not. Tresawna at St Enoder, spelt Tresaghnou or Tresathnow in the 1300s, is ignored in the main books on Cornish placenames. Morton Nance suggested it might have been related to an otherwise unknown word sagh, meaning stagnant. On the other hand, it’s more likely to be a personal name, as the second elements of Tre- names often were.