Hosking: a bit of a Cornish mystery

Hosking and its variants (Hoskin, Hosken, Hoskings etc.) is one of the more common Cornish surnames, ranking in the top 15 in the 1950s. The name was at that time found across Cornwall although there was a preponderance in the west. Hayle, Penzance, St Buryan, Redruth and Truro in that order housed the greatest number of Hoskings. Yet there was also a considerable cluster of Hoskings at Saltash, well away to the east.

There are broadly two theories attempting to explain the origin of this name, one of them Cornish and the other English. One suggests that it was derived from the Cornish placename element heschen (sedge, or an area of boggy ground). This could be a general topographical name, from someone living in the vicinity of this landscape feature. Thus, Richard Blewett in the 1950s proposed it was the Cornish equivalent of the English surname Sedgeman. Or it could be a locative name. There is one place in Cornwall called Heskyn – in St Germans parish, while the same element appears in the names Penhesken in Ruanlanihorne and Poliskin at St Erme. In these it was normally spelt hesken, although we can find a Penhoskon spelling in 1249 and Heskyn in St Germans was spelt Hoskyn in 1314.

On the other hand, English surname dictionaries tell us the name was a patronymic. The -kin was added to Os- to make a short form of first names like Osgood, Osborn and similar. The Oxford Names Companion specifically cites the name as the Middle English Osekin, a diminutive of names beginning Os-, and asserts that it is found mainly in Devon. However, this is not the case. In the late 19th century, Hosken was 70 times more likely to be encountered in Cornwall than in England, Hosking 58 times and Hoskin 33 times. Only the Hoskin variant was anywhere near as frequent in Devon.

Incidentally, the spelling variants indicate nothing more than changing fashions. The universal spelling in the 16th century was Hoskyn. A preference for Hoskin in the 17th and 18th centuries then gradually gave way to Hosking by the mid-19th century.

Proportions of Hosking spellings

16th century 1641 18th century 1861 1950s
Hosken 1% 12% 21% 9% 16%
Hoskyn 99% 16% 13% * *
Hoskin 55% 41% 27% 29%
Hosking 17% 24% 63% 55%

Does the distribution pattern of the name shed any light on the explanations for its origin?

In the 19th century the surname was concentrated in the western, mining parishes, from Gwennap to St Just. But there were also concentrations of Hoskings in south east Cornwall and to the north of Bodmin Moor, with an interesting gap in between, where relatively few Hosking households could be found.

Hosking 1861

If we express the number of Hosking households as a proportion of the total we get the following map. This more clearly shows there were two blocks of Hosking names, one in the west and one in the east.

hosking 1861 by SD

This pattern repeats fairly closely that for the 18th century, although the western focus was then more narrowly restricted to the parishes between Sancreed and Lelant. Migration outwards to St Just and Camborne seems to have been a feature of the century from the mid-1700s onwards.

Hosking C18

In 1641 the distribution was more even. There’s still a hint of three foci – in west Penwith, the south east and on the coast north of the Camel, while Hoskings were relatively thin on the ground in parts of mid-Cornwall and the far east. This latter does not therefore support the notion that the name had spilt over the Tamar from Devon.

Hosking 1641

The earliest map reinforces this. The name in the early 16th century was found in the far west and into the Lizard, as well as along the coast between the Fal and St Austell Bay. Meanwhile, in east Cornwall it was less frequent generally but there were two concentrations of the surname – at Tintagel in the north and St Ive in the south east.

Hosking C16

The number of families with the name Hoskyn in the early 16th century would strongly suggest multiple early origins. It was particularly frequent in Cornish-speaking west and mid-Cornwall, where surnames at this time were still liable to be unstable and not always hereditary. Given the relative rarity of sedge marsh in Cornwall, the name looks too common to be topographical in origin. However, the usual explanation of its origin in a Middle English Osekin, a diminutive of names beginning Os-, also seems unlikely in view of its location in the Cornish language zone. Moreover, it’s always spelt with an H, never without. So why had all the Oskyns gained an H, whereas none of the Osborns had?

Similarly, it’s possible some of the Hoskyns in south east Cornwall may have had their origin in the Heskyn settlement in St Germans. But this single placename is very unlikely to have given rise to such a strikingly scattered distribution across the west this early. On the basis of this, and without trying to find earlier examples, the precise origin of the name must for now remain shrouded in some obscurity.

30 thoughts on “Hosking: a bit of a Cornish mystery

    1. I would suggest the widespread early distribution, especially in the west, suggests a family name. No reason this could not have been Irish. Yet the ramification of the name by the early 16th century looks too early (surnames were only just becoming hereditary in the west) to have an Irish origin. We might expect the latter, in the absence of any recorded major immigration flows from Ireland (as opposed to Brittany), to be at first more geographically restricted. Incidentally, the earliest reference to the surname I have is John Hoskyn at Lanivet in 1464. Has anyone found an earlier one?


      1. How about the translation of heskyn as saw? For example in Breton ‘heskenner’ would be the equivalent of sawyer. Straying a little from Cornish again, in Breton we also find heskiñ ( tarir = dry up / peter out), heskin (persécution) and hoskiñ (to notch). It’s not very academic at all but, in my time here in Brittany, I’ve not come across any Breton family names that resemble Hoskyn or any of its variants. Do you know of any here or in Wales?


  1. Thanks for all your work. I had learned from an archivist that the Hosking name was derived from “Os’s Kin.” Maybe Saxon, or Anglo Saxon tribal groupings under the tribes of Os. I’m guessing this is mostly speculative. Thanks.


  2. My great grandfather died in 1888, was buried as in Sardis, Ohio, as Archibald Hoskinson. My grandfather was 10 at the time. But, 31st some time he became Charles Hoskins. In tracing genealogy the name was found in immigrants from Lancashire, England as Hodgkinson. Any one have thoughts if the name is Cornish or English.


  3. My genealogy research indicates the family buried in Eastern Ohio were originally
    “Hoskinson” , changed about 1880 to Hoskins. Tracing backward the English Hodgkinson, of Lancashire, England, is found to be the immigrant to US. Do you have any thoughts as the name relates to Corwall and the Cornish study so well described. Robert Hoskins.


    1. Hi Robert. Perhaps it doesn’t. Names with -son as a suffix are common in Lancashire and the north of England but rare in Cornwall. For some reason your ancestor preferred Hoskins to Hodgkinson, perhaps because it was shorter and less easily misspelt.


  4. My gt gt gt grandmother was elizabeth hosking, there are varit ions of it in my family tree. Heskin, hoskin and hosking. They were from Paul, nr newlynn, cornwall.


      1. Have noticed that Marie sadly died in 1604 and William then married Cresten Cock in 1605, so complicated.


      2. Very interesting!!! My wife ancestor was a William I will check the information in the genealogy of my wife and I will post more information.


  5. Hi, my great nan was a hosking from penzance area but I think she might of also lived in Devon. She had a few brothers and I think sister. Would be great to see where exactly she lived. She died in 1986 in New Jersey.


  6. I’d be inclined to believe that the name originates from the Dutch name for a maker or seller of hose (garments for the legs) – there is a baptism recorded at St. Columb for ‘Johane, daughter of Harrie Eosagan on the 5th of November 1552’ – as a family of some note in St. Columb, I do believe they left Cubert and headed Eastward sometime later in the scheme of things?

    Were there not a good many immigrants from the Lowlands in the aftermath of the violent storms which hit the Northern Coast of Europe?

    Hosekin and Eosagan ………

    King Henry had hoped these refugees/immigrants might benefit the country, by their woollen manufacture expertise; but being somewhat frustrated, by their rather unsettling effect on the populous of London – he duly sent them over to the areas of Rhos and Daugleddau near Pembroke. This caused many native Welsh to lose land, and equally caused a good many to question as to whether their established culture could weather this sudden invasion.
    I do wonder as to how many made their way here to Cornwall?


  7. Searching for Hoskings … my birth name was Katie Jane Hosking ( born 4th March) registered in Dudley 1966.. I’m adopted but looking for information on my blood family ..


  8. I’ve found a few examples, mainly 18thC, of Hoskin and variants being interchanged with Hockin. I’ve tended to assume they are errors. Do you have a view on that?


    1. Yes, I’ve noted a few examples of this. I’ve always assumed it was was just a written, clerical matter as clergymen misheard the names. It would be interesting to know if there are any examples of families switching between the two surnames however.


      1. Yes, my relatives were spelled differently in various censuses. I assumed it was because they were illiterate and the census taker was guessing going by their pronunciation. It was usually spelled Hosking when they lived near St Keverne, but by the time they emigrated to New Zealand in 1879 it was Hoskin, and so it has remained.


  9. 28th of April 1437
    John Pancok of Golonnanta, co. Cornwall, * laborer,* for not appearing
    before Eichard Norton and his fellows, justices of the Bench
    of Henry V, when sued with Eichard Hoskyn of Padestowe,
    ‘ CO. Cornwall, * husbondman,* and John Byan of Crukmur,
    CO. Cornwall, * husbondman,’ to answer Thomas Doun touching
    a trespass. Cornwall.


  10. My family name of the last few generations is from Penzance and over to St, Ives (also over to the New World countries with every other miner). Unsurprisingly there are quite a few Hocking and Hosking in and around St. Ives. I moved back to Cornwall recently (Mullion) and was happy to find that the owner of the local garage is a Hosking and the best pasties on the planet are made at Gear Farm in St Martin and they are also a Hosking family. Sadly no discount, but honestly those pasties are to die for!!


    1. We live in mexico to be more precise in Hidalgo. Pachuca the city was build with traditions from Cornwall and its very know the city for the best pastes same type like in the old world (maybe Cornwall). My wife has the last name Hosking and for the genealogy her ancestros came from Cornwall around of the year 1834.


      1. Hi I’m from Cornwall my last name is Hosking, my family migrated all over the world. Would love to plan a trip to Mexico.


  11. Hello, I am looking for a connection between the family names Hosken, Hoskin or Hosking and the Gold mines in Brazil (Congo Soco, Cata Branca). I appreciate any help. Many thanks


  12. We are looking for families Hosking with families emigrated to Mexico to work on the mines of Pachuca Hidalgo. The Hosking were experienced people in mines.


  13. I am jenice hosking of new Zealand. My grandfathers wasGeorge whyte hosking of Penzance Cornwall. Died on 15th oct 1926 aged 39yrs. Killed in mining of coal in kaitangata new Zealand. I have census forms dated back to 1841 with all the names of his family


    1. Hello, I am Michelle Hosking of New Zealand, My great Grandfather was Robert James Hosking, he was born in Waimate. His father emigrated to New Zealand from St Just in Penzance Cornwall.


      1. Hi Michelle. There are many boys in my family with the name of James. If you have names and dates of your hosking men folk you could easily connect up I would think. The census are a great start in this. Best wishes jenice hosking


    2. Hi Jenice, My grandmother was Edith May Hosking from Marizon, just a couple of miles east of Penzance. She was born in 1899 and her father was James Frederick Hosking and her mother was Edith Mary Reynolds. They were agricultural supply merchants and were staunch Methodists and liberals politically. Other family names were Treglown and Curry. – My grandmother immigrated to Vancourver, BC, Canada in 1919 where her sister Doreen had earlier immigrated and where she met my American grandfather (Frank Stovall) and my mother Edith Mary Stovall (Whitlock) was born. After my mother´s birth they moved to Oregon (USA) where my grandfather was from. – I´d love to connect with anyone who may have information or personal connections to this line of the Hosking family. I visited Cornwall and Marizon in 1994 and met my grandmother´s first cousin Francis who was in his 80s. He was wonderful! Hope I can go back to visit again. – Thanks! – Louise Whitlock (San Franciso)


  14. Hi Louise. Thank u for your reply. My census info ends at 1901 in Penzance. My grandfather George whyte was in that with several brothers. There are many James in our family my father being one. I don’t see an edith recorded as a sister at the time. So perhaps a sibling of William the father of George. I shall look a little more though. Best wishes jenice


  15. My grandfather Wilfred Christy James Hosking was born in Cornwall circa 1921 and ended up an orphan. Anyone know of his family?


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