Aunger, Betties and Cattran

Here are three more family names that were largely confined to Cornwall in the 1881 census. These three have their origins in first names.

Aunger is supposedly from a Norman-French first name Aunger or Anger. It was found in Cornwall at an early period, appearing close to the border with Devon in the 1530s and 40s. It had ramified by the mid-1600s and spread as far west as St Minver on the Camel estuary in the north and Fowey in the south, while remaining confined to east Cornwall. That geography makes the expected confusion with the name Angear less likely as the latter was found principally in the west.

Betties. From the 1500s onwards there was a general tendency to add an -s to a personal name to denote ‘son of’, as in Williams or Hicks. The name Betty was found in Cornwall as early as the 1520s. This was either a pet form of Beton or Bett, which would themselves have been short for Beatrice or Bartholomew. Rather oddly, the fashion of adding an -s to Betty didn’t appear in the records until the late 1700s when the name Bettys first crops up in north Cornwall – at Blisland and further east at Trewen. Earlier in the 1600s the preference was for Bettinson.

The early distribution of the name Betty

Cattran. Although an earlier Anne Cattran is found in the baptismal register at Sancreed, this name was specific to nearby Paul parish in Penwith. There, a Thomas Cattern was married in 1694, the spelling reflecting the local pronunciation. Earlier in Paul parish and elsewhere we find the name Catharine and Cattran was no doubt a variant of that name.

From Tripcony to Tripp

The other day a correspondent kindly supplied me with an intriguing hypothesis. The surname Tripp emerged in Cornwall very late, by my reckoning no earlier than the first half of the nineteenth century. Some, perhaps most, of those Tripps had changed their name from Tripcony. That name probably had its origin in the place now called Trekenning, in St Columb Major (and incidentally has nothing to do with rabbits). It moved westwards at an early point however, being present on the Lizard by the 1500s.

My correspondent suggested that the name Tripcony may have ‘fallen into disrepute’ after 1855 when a Constantine Tripcony, a shoemaker, was charged, along with Matilda Gay, of the crime of stealing 10 sovereigns from a dead body at St Keverne. The body in question, that of a woman, had been washed ashore from the wreck of the emigrant ship ‘John’, which went aground on the Manacles rocks. She was one of the 75 washed ashore, while another 121 lives were lost at sea. (A full newspaper report of this disaster can be found here.) The two offenders had apparently torn a hole in the pocket of the dead woman and made off with some money. Tripcony and Gay were identified by witnesses. The two were found guilty and sentenced to three months in prison. Tripcony was however spared hard labour because of his advanced age – 62.

The John went aground on a spring tide but conditions were not especially rough

This grisly episode could indeed have caused some disgust in the neighbourhood. However, unfortunately for the hypothesis, the nefarious activities of Constantine Tripcony did not cause a mass revulsion by Tripconys on the Lizard at their own surname and the subsequent adoption of the name Tripp. Six years later at the 1861 census there were at least 26 households in the St Keverne district headed by Tripconys, with only four Tripps. It looks as if the preference of some for Tripp rather than Tripcony resulted from a more mundane factor – the general tendency to shorten names, especially in the days before mass literacy.

Addicoat, Angear and Beskeen

I had to make a hard decision when collating the entries for my The Surnames of Cornwall. Which names to include, which to leave out? Previous works on the subject had relied on the subjective choice of the author. Partly in order to justify my method to the disappointed, I decided to be more objective. All names with over 100 heads of household in the 1861 census were included. Others with between ten and 100 household heads gained entry on a sliding scale of uniqueness to Cornwall. This gave me 750 surnames and all the more common ones. But inevitably it excluded some obviously ‘Cornish’ names.

An alternative way of determining surnames would be to take names that were restricted largely to Cornwall. Adopting this method, I looked for examples of surnames where at least 40% in the UK 1881 census were living in Cornwall. This provides another 100 surnames.

Here are three of them, all originally from a placename.

Addicoat. This English name had already spread surprisingly widely by the 1520s, when it was found in several places in north Cornwall and as far west as Feock on the Fal. It possibly stemmed from Addiscott (Aeddi’s cottage), near Okehampton in Devon, the spelling changing to Adecot or similar on arrival in Cornwall.

Angear. There were many scattered examples of this surname in the early 1500s, which suggests multiple origins. It’s from the Cornish words for ‘the fort’ or ‘the camp’ and most examples were found in mid and west Cornwall. Rather oddly, numbers had collapsed by 1641 and the name then became quite rare. This suggests that surnames in the 1520s in the Cornish-speaking parts were not yet fixed and this one for some reason was particularly unstable.

The early history of the Angear name

Beskeen. John Boskene was living at Lostwithiel in 1525. Yet those bearing this surname nowadays are more likely to be able to trace their ancestry back to the Roseland peninsula, where we find the splendidly named Lancelot Boskine, baptised at St Just in Roseland in 1558. It’s from a lost Cornish placename Boskeen (house by reeds or rushes).

I’ll be providing more examples of Cornwall’s less common surnames here in future posts.