What makes a surname ‘Cornish’?

[The Surnames of Cornwall should be published in December 2018 or January 2019 if things go to plan. For more see here.]

So what exactly comprises a Cornish surname and how is this different from a surname in Cornwall? The old saying tells us that ‘By Tre, Pol and Pen, you shall know the Cornishmen’. Actually, you won’t. At most, you’ll only know about one in 20 Cornishmen (or women) by these criteria. Even in the later 19th century, only around 4-5% of people in Cornwall had surnames beginning with Tre, Pol or Pen. This proportion did however vary, from less than 2% in parts of the east to over 10% in parts of the west.
Proportion of Tre, Pol, Pen surnames 1861
In addition, we could look for those surnames that were most frequent in Cornwall prior to the in-migration that began in the 1960s. In the 1861 census, the following were the 20 most common surnames in Cornwall. The figure in brackets shows their rank in England and Wales, as provided by a parliamentary report from the Registrar-General in 1853 that lists the top 50 surnames at that time.

  1. Williams (3)
  2. Thomas (7)
  3. Richards
  4. Rowe
  5. Harris (26)
  6. Martin (33)
  7. James (35)
  8. Roberts (9)
  9. Pearce
  10. Stephens
  11. Johns
  12. Pascoe
  13. Hicks
  14. Harvey
  15. Bray
  16. Phillips (44)
  17. Rogers
  18. Mitchell
  19. Hocking
  20. Jenkin

As we can see, the names differed in Cornwall although the only relatively unique Cornish language name on the list is Pascoe. Most of our forebears had names that could also be found in England and/or Wales, although they were far less popular east of the Tamar. Nonetheless, as we know, those bearing these names can be as ‘Cornish’ as anyone with a Tre/Pol/Pen type name. As Robert Morton Nance put it in the late 1940s,

‘the most aristocratic of Cornish surnames may record only the loot, by a Norman, of the estate of a Saxon, who dispossessed the heir of a Cornishman, who founded it and gave it his own name with Tre- before it; while the Cornish founder’s heirs may still walk among us bearing perhaps, like so many Celts in Wales, some name such as Williams, Thomas or Richards.’

While we could quibble about Nance’s definition of an ‘aristocratic’ Cornish surname, and while archaeologists and historians have revised the picture of a simple takeover by the English, now preferring a process of cultural change, the point stands. If your parents and a grandparent or two were born in west Cornwall and you possess one of the common names of the 19th century, then there’s a very good chance that your forebears were Cornish-speakers into the 1500s and 1600s.

Moreover, there’s a third possible way of identifying ‘Cornish’ names. We might ask which names were most unique to Cornwall. In 1881 the likelihood of encountering someone of the ten names listed below was around 90 times greater in Cornwall than in England.

  • Beswetherick
  • Daddow
  • Keverne
  • Medlyn
  • Oxnam
  • Penlerick
  • Sturtridge
  • Tellam
  • Tremewan
  • Vellanoweth

Some of these have their origin in Cornish placenames, for example Tremewan, Vellanoweth or Penlerick. Others like Medlyn and Daddow originated in personal names. Meanwhile, Sturtridge and Oxnam come as more of a surprise. These names are presumed to have originated in places in Devon, but had become restricted to Cornwall by the late 19th century.

If we assume that the purpose of identifying ‘Cornish’ surnames is to add to our credentials as Cornish, a people now recognised, however belatedly or reluctantly, by the UK Government as an indigenous national minority, then we must surely draw the boundaries as widely and inclusively as possible. That means including the most common and the most unique names in addition to those that more obviously have their roots in the Cornish language or Cornish placenames. This provides us with a distinct stock of surnames, some exclusively Cornish, some commonly Cornish and some frequently Cornish, but all borne by Cornish people or their descendants.

149 thoughts on “What makes a surname ‘Cornish’?

  1. My name – “Wearne” – is from (much shortened and smoothed out) the pre-Cornish Brythonic language that once was spoken throughout Southwestern Britain in the Dumnonian Kingdom. It refers to a place with alder trees growing near a marsh, and originated at the Easternmost edge of the Dumnonian lands, in what is now Somerset, near the river Parrett. There is a hamlet there called Wearne, in which I like to think my ancestors originated.

  2. I have been trying to find the origin of my surname. Do you think it could be Cornish from chei tes meaning heat house? Have you ever encountered this name in Cornwall or its records?

    • Hi Hamish, Sorry but there’s nothing resembling your surname in any 16th Cornish source that I can find. It’s an unusual name that also doesn’t appear in any of my surname dictionaries. You’re unique! However, it’s unlikely to be chy, as chei was a very late spelling derived from Lhuyd’s orthography in the 18th century. Earlier names with chy would usually be spelt chy- or che- as in Chynoweth/Chenoweth.

  3. I heard there is a cornish surname spelt in English “Fear/Feer” which is similar to my own breton surname “Fur” : both mean “Wiseman”. “Jewell” originated from Breton surname “Juhel” (<*Iud-hael)

  4. While not listed in this article, I believe Crago is a very likely unique Cornish surname. I’d like to know how to produce a map like the one in this article. Can anyone tell me how to get that done?

    • The maps were produced using gimp (free photoshop software) and various templates. And yes, Crago is a Cornish locative name, from either Cragoe in Ruanlanihorne or Creggo in Mylor.

    • It’s one of those puzzles – very common in Cornwall but with supposed derivations (OE personal name or Co for sedgemarsh) that aren’t exactly convincing. The -ken/-kin/-king suffix is typical of patronyms and I would lean in that direction but unsure what the original given name would be.

  5. There was significant migration from Cornwall in the years before the 1861 Census – making it likely that the proportion of ‘Cornish’ surnames would be higher in those of 1851 and 1841 respectively.

    • Not sure this follows, Owen. You’re right that mass emigration began in the 1840s. But if there was no net in-migration, which there wasn’t at that time, it wouldn’t affect the proportions of surnames in the population, just the absolute numbers. Unless people with ‘Cornish’ surnames were more likely to leave that is.

  6. My famly name is Bennetts and most of my forefathers included the name Vivian as a forename, I have traced them to Leylant, St Ives and to Camborne and have noted that it still is a common name. Can you tell me where my name originated please?

    • The surname Bennetts is a patronymic from a popular medieval first name – Benedict, or in the vernacular Bennet. It was originally from the Latin Benedictus (blessed) and was the name of St Benedict who founded the Benedictine order of monks around 500. Bennet was already a common byname/surname across Cornwall in the early 16th century although at that time usually without the -s

    • Yes, there are a couple of places in Cornwall with this name and it could have originated in either. Tre- was more of a hamlet than a manor though, although manor sounds posher.

  7. I have able to trace my EDYVEAN family in Cornwall back to the mid 1700’s. And my LAMPSHIRE/LAMPIER family back to mid 1600’s – where do suppose they originated from going by this blog

    • Lampier first appears in the 17th century in St Clement. I can’t find anything resembling this name in the 1500s. In the 1700s it was still restricted to the Truro area but seems to have spawned the name Lamshear, which appears in Gerrans in 1771. By 1861 Lampshire was more common than Lampier. Although I have no idea what it could mean!

  8. I would be interested to discover if my surname is originally Cornish. CHIVERTON. Obviously there is a fair amount of land east of Redruth which bears that name but according to an Uncle [no longer with us I’m afraid] it was previously spelled Chywerton at one point and I have seen an awful lot of Chy-Wer-Tha named houses etc.

    • In fact, there are at least four, possibly five, different places in Cornwall with this placename (which means house on pastureland) at St Buryan/Sancreed, Lelant, Perranuthnoe and Perranzabuloe, which is the one east of Redruth you refer to. All the others were further west and they all tended to be spelt Chywarton in the 14th century. So the surname Chiverton could have come from any of these places and its origins could well be further west. In 1524 we find a Richard Chywarton living at Camborne and a Thomas Chywarton at Paul.

  9. Have you any idea about the derivation of the surname Basher (My paternal ancestors”)? It seems to be almost solely (?) present in the Lizard at least back until the 16th century (spelled Bassher) and later moved up (as work became available in the mines). “Basher’s Harbour” at Rinsey Head also had a Basher’s cottage nearby.

    • Sorry, Dominic, but I’m not able to add much to your research. The name doesn’t appear in the early 16th century subsidies and I can find no example earlier than yours. In the marriage registers from 1730 to 1780 there are just three examples of the name (2 spelt Bashar for what it’s worth) but all in Grade, which reinforces your view that the origin of the name was on the Lizard. As for the meaning, the surname dictionaries make no suggestion. The -er suffix can sometimes mean an occupational name, or perhaps a nickname. Or perhaps, given its location, it’s from a Cornish word. But what word I haven’t a clue!

      • Thanks for checking this. There is a tenuous family tradition that the name came from a shipwrecked Breton or French sailor which might be consistent with it being so localized on the Lizard. If that is true there might be some connection to the old French word Bosch (now spelled Bois) meaning wood. (I found an old document where the name is spelled alternatively Basher and Boscher) Seemingly Boscher meant something like woodsman or lumberjack in old French. I didn’t want to complicate the original query with my random speculations but as it is a name at least associated with Cornwall for some centuries now you may find this of some interest.

        Very good to discover all your work on Cornish surnames!

  10. Fascinating article, my maiden name was Bodilly, and yes I did once go out to the village to see what it was like. The usual narrow Cornish lane eventually got us to Bodilly, one manor house, 16th century, a farmhouse and a small cottage. Plus one farmer, who delightedly entered into the favourite Cornish pastime of working out who I was related to. Having established that es he thought he did know my father, but definately knew his younger brother.

  11. Interesting article. My great grandparents were Cornish. Have heard that the Chellew surname has strong cornish roots. Is it true?

    • Chellew is most definitely a surname with Cornish roots. In 1881 it was 73 times more likely to be found in Cornwall than elsewhere. Originating in the placename Chellew in Ludgvan (which may mean either house of colour – chy+lew or Lew’s house), in the 17th century it was still only found in and around Ludgvan parish. By the 19th century the name had spread but in Cornwall only as far as parishes to the west in West Penwith..

  12. Eustice was my maiden name and my Fathers family from Crowlas, while doing my family history there are numerous variations many without the ‘E’, Ustice etc….In my early years nobody knew how to spell it and even sometimes pronounce it My son-in-laws Gundry family from Portsmouth I have found a few of these in Ludgvan. It is a fascinating subject. Thank you.

  13. My surname is Cocking, I’m 55 Years old and my family has been based in the north east of England since at least the mid-1700s. I have traced it back to that period directly from father to son so far.

    As a child I was taken to Mevagissey, and while walking around I received the most massive, and only, belt of deja vu that I have ever experienced. So powerful that I still picture it over 40 years later.

    It may be that my family migrated north to follow the coal when tin mining declined in Cornwall, though as yet I have no evidence of this.

    I have always felt ‘stateless’, as though something is missing, though by birth nail my colours firmly to the English mast.

    Who knows? Maybe I’ll find a bit of Cornwall running through me someday!

  14. Kellow on my father’s side, Trenhaile on my mother’s and Tregunna on cousin’s side. I know there is a West Kellow near Polruan but I think the family were from Pensilva area. Trenhailes were from King Harry Ferry/Feock area but unsure of that. Tregunnas from Grampound are but unsure again. Any ideas please?

    • Sorry for the delay in replying – moving home! Yes, Kellow is from a placename meaning grove or groves or a small wood, There are places called Kellow near Looe, but also further west at Kea and Cornelly, The placename also gave rise to Kelly, which could also become Gelly, as in Angelly. So it’s possible the surname originated in lots of different places. This seems to be borne out by its early distribution. In the 1520s Kellows were found in the west (Wendron, Helston, Illogan), mid-Cornwall (Luxulyan, Lanhydrock, Bodmin), in north Cornwall at St Teath, and in the south east at St Neot, St Cleer, Warleggan, Lanteglos by Fowey and Lansallos. By 1861 the name was widespread but with a concentration in St Teath.

      Trenhayle is a placename in St Erth (farm on the estuary), although it could have been confused with, or fallen together with Trenhale (meaning farm on the moor) at Newlyn East. In 1523 we find a John Trenhale at Lelant and a James Trenhaylle at Truro, This name never ramified and in 1861 there were only four families called Trenhail or Trenhaile in the Census, 3 at Feock and 1 at Kenwyn, They look to have been descended from James at Truro and my bet is that he had gone to Truro from St Erth, given the spelling in 1523.

      Tregunna comes from the placename Tregonna or Tregenna (farm on the downs, originally spelt something like Tregonyowe). This placename is found in several places (Blisland, St Ewe, St Breock, Breage). At least three of these seem to have given rise to the surname by the early 16th century, when it was quite common, in the west at Phillack, St Ives, Ludgvan and Breage, on the Lizard at Mawgan in Meneage and St Keverne, in mid-Cornwall at Gorran and St Ewe, plus another cluster at Mawgan in Pydar, St Columb Major and Little Petherick. By 1861 there were very few Tregonnas or Tregennas and the surname had given way to Tregunna. However, by this time it was concentrated entirely on the Roseland peninsula, with a particular focus on Veryan. Perhaps the western Tregenna name was not hereditary as early as the 1520s. But your ancestor in Grampound had almost certainly come from the Roseland.

      • Beshiri, Beshere, Bashi, are Albanian family names.

        bwdeacon, just one very important question: do you really tell the purely Cornish surnames and Manx surnames apart ?

      • Interesting. I haven’t seen any examples of Albanian migration to Cornwall in the C16th century but nothing’s impossible. Definitely looks like an imported name.

        As for the Cornish/Manx distinction have you any examples in mind?

      • And also do you distinguish the Welsh surnames so well in order to correctly define Cornish ones ?

      • I’m not sure what you mean by ‘distinguish’ here. Patronymics such as Williams, Thomas etc would have arisen independently in both Wales and Cornwall. Locatives will be peculiar to each country, nicknames and occupational names will usually be different. The only way to know whether a particular family called Williams or Thomas, or Prowse come to that, had Welsh or Cornish (or English) origins would be through detailed genealogical research.

    • If any other Bashers see this we now have a small Facebook group called “Basher family of Cornwall”. Anyone with, or descended from, that name and with definite Cornish roots is welcome to join.

  15. Hi my fiancee’s name in Trembath, and we have traced it to Madron ,just outside PZ , meaning ( we believe?) Farmstad by the pool / pond

  16. Yes, Trembath is a farm in Madron. But it was spelt Trenbagh before the 16th century and is usually read as meaning farmstead of the nook or corner (Tre an bagh), possibly relating to its position at the edge of the parish.

  17. I’m wondering if there might be any connection between the Cornish hamlet Downinney and my surname, Downing. It would be easy to transform one into the other – even unintentionally via unclear handwriting. I am in the U.S., by the way. My great-grandfather Richard Downing and 4 brothers left Cornwall for North America in the early 20th century. They came from a tiny little place called Cutmere, in St. German’s parish.

  18. My grandfather’s name was Wearne Ivey.He was born in St.Erth Parish in the 1860’s but arrived in Swansea at the age of nine.His family is traceable in Cornwall until at least as early as Elizabethan times. He was my maternal grandfather,the other three grandparents were Welsh.

  19. Bernard, you’ve replied to so many people about their surnames I hesitate to add mine but here goes: I’m researching the name Leane, sometimes spelt Lean but when the family emigrated to Australia the ‘e’ was still there. I can trace the family to Sheviock, Looe and Quethiock as far back as the 1600s. Family oral history claims the Leanes were Huguenots, the name originally something like D’Leane or Delaenus but I haven’t been able to find any evidence for that. Various stories also link them to the Treloys in the north west and the Trelawnys of Menheniot. Leane doesn’t seem to be a common name these days in Cornwall but I am hoping you know something about it.
    Thanks, Wendy, Australia

    • Hi Wendy. I’m afraid the origins may be a little more mundane. The name is definitely NOT a Huguenot name as it was well established by the 1520s, a century and a half before the Huguenot migration. The obvious origin of the surname Lean is as a nickname for a thin or lean person. Indeed, we find this is the explanation given in the surname dictionaries, which state that the name is particularly common in Devon. In fact it was equally common in Cornwall. In 1881 you’d have been 44 times more likely to find someone called Lean here than elsewhere in the UK.

      In Cornwall there may also be a different origin for the name. Pawley White suggested the surname originated in the placename Lean, which was originally lyn or leyn, and meant a stitch of land. It appears in several field names but also at hamlets in Liskeard and St Martin in Meneage parishes. Sure enough, in the earliest records (1520s) we find a Robert Lene at St Martin and a John Lene at Liskeard. The name was also spelt Leyne (which could have led to confusion with Lane), Len and Lenne. At Tregony William Lene’s surname was spelt Lene, Lenne and Len in three differing records.

      In the early sixteenth century Leans were found mainly in south east Cornwall, with a couple around Launceston and a handful in mid-Cornwall at Probus and St Issey. By the 1640s, the name had ramified and become fairly common. There were 72 examples, usually spelt Leane or Lene, in the 1642 Protestation returns. These were spread over mid and east Cornwall, but there was a concentration around Liskeard, suggesting that at least some Lean families had their origin in the placename there rather than as a general nickname. Meanwhile, the mid-Cornwall Leans were focused on Lanlivery while those in the far west on the Lizard had largely vanished. As surnames were more prone to change in the Cornish-speaking west into the 1500s, this may explain the disappearance of the family name in that area.

  20. Hi Bernard, I have an ancestor (early 17th century) whose byname surname was ‘Williams als Cornish’. I have been reading about bynames (and this is how I found your informative blog – thank you for your efforts, here) and understand the various possible reasons people had bynames. Two things: I have heard my family has Norman ancestry, and have read the name Cornish is Norman, but the byname (with ‘Williams’, it being Welsh) stumps me. Both names’ commonality is challenging – Williams being common and ‘Cornish’ being the name of our ethnicity. Any light you may shed on this would be appreciated. Thank you, Michele USA

    • Hi Michele,
      Aliases were common in the 16th/17th centuries and your ancestor is a good example. Williams is not especially Welsh, but is common in Wales because of late hereditary surname formation. For the same reason, it’s almost as common in Cornwall and arose seperately at the same time. A patronymic based on the first name William actually makes it the Norman bit! Cornish is an ethnic or regional name, presumably originally applied to someone from Cornwall. As such we’d be more likely to find it outside Cornwall. That was indeed the case in 1881 when it was twice as frequent in Devon than Cornwall. Within Cornwall it was more likely to be found in the east, which makes sense. However, there were quite a few in the west, notably at Gwennap, which makes me wonder whether at some point it was a nickname for someone who had particularly ‘Cornish’ characteristics, or was a Cornish-speaker when those around were switching to English.

      • Bernard, Thank you so much. You have me thinking and I’m going to investigate further. I am grateful! Michele

    • Hunkin/Hunking or similar was recorded in Cornwall in the 1200s. I’m away from home for a while, or I could give you a little more info….

    • Cornish surname dictionaries assert that the Cornish Grose has no connection with the nickname Gros (for a big man). But little evidence is offered. The explanation usually given is a derivation from a placename Crows, which would be An grows or An grouse after the definite article, as it’s feminine. The earliest 16th century distribution of the name is in three districts. The most westerly is around Newlyn East and St Columb, the second is to the west and north of Bodmin Moor, from Braddock to St Teath, and the third is along the Tamar, from Warbstow and Launceston in the north to Antony in the south. Some at least of these may come from a now lost eastern placename with the element crous. This distribution seems to lend itself to multiple origins, but these could be nicknames, or they could be placenames.

  21. Hello, It is 14th April 2017 & I am just Googeling Sturtridge Cornwall.
    My maiden name is Sturtridge. My father was William Alfred Sturtridge. His grandfather was Elijah Sturtridge who came to Australia & was a tin miner in
    Emmaville NSW Australia. Love to hear from any of my relatives in Cornwall.
    I live in Sydney Australia. My email is oldtrout@optusnet.com.au Cheers Margaret Dyer (née Sturtridge)

    • Sorry if it disappoints you, Eileen, but the answer is no. The name is usually spelt Trist in Cornwall but doesn’t seem to appear until 1774 at Rame. By 1861 there were still only four Trist families in the Census, all on the margins of Cornwall, at Rame, Launceston and Veryan, which suggests to me they had arrived from elsewhere.

      • Of course I wasted money on a surname sight that insisted the name Triste was Cornish. Thanks so much for the information. I am now checking on French or Spanish roots!

  22. Hi Bernard. Hope your well Mate. So Champion as I have been told is a name from North Cornwall. I have seen it called a Celtic/Cornish name on a few websites. Love to have your input on it…… Thanks

    • Hi Mike. Champion could be classified as a Cornish name as you’d have been 10 times more likely to meet someone with the name in 19th century Cornwall than in other places in the UK. I’m not sure why it was relatively more common in Cornwall though, as it’s supposed to derive from someone who acted as a champion for others.The name is known in various places in southern England in the C12/13th centuries and the first example I’ve found in Cornwall was James Chaumpeon, a servant of the Rector of Creed in mid-Cornwall in 1448. It’s not particularly associated with north Cornwall. By the 1520s it was found in various places scatrtered across Cornwall from PZ to Warbstow, but was most common at Madron and around Crantock and Newlyn East. By the 19th centuiry there’s a marked concentration south of Camborne, especially at Breage.

    • The surname dictionaries tell us Odgers is derived from the Old English personal name Edgar. I find this difficult to believe given its geography though. It was definitely most common in the 19th century in Cornwall, but also in Denbigh in north Wales, which seems strange for an Old English name. The first examples of Odger, spelt Ogger,Oger or Oyger in Cornwall, appear in the mid-16th century and it becomes Odgers, with the -s, during the 1700s. I wonder whether there’s a connection with Rogers, which was frequent in the same areas and also gave rise to the name Hodge.

  23. This is fascinating 🙂 I’d love to hear your thoughts about my name, Hunkin, before it arrived in Mevagissey?

    • In 1544 there was only one person with that name in the tax returns – John Hunkyn at North Hill. By 1641, when the name is found in Mevagissey, it’s heavily concentrated in the far south east of Cornwall around Saltash. But by the middle of the 18th century the Mavagissey branch has become the most numerous.

    • Yes, in 1881 Paull was 31 times more likely to have been encountered in Cornwall than elsewhere in Britain, though it was also relatively more frequent in Somerset and Dorset.

  24. Hi Bernard, my Olds ancestors left St Just just before the end of the 19th century, moving to Durham to work in the mines there, before eventually my grandfather and his brother moved to the Hunter Valley in NSW in the 1920s to work in the mines (we would still have relatives upcountry as there were three other siblings who stayed. I would think we’d also have relatives still in Penzance although it doesn’t appear that the family kept in touch to my knowledge, apart from one old family photo Dad had of a relative in Mousehole).

    In his book A Glossary of Cornish Surnames on p.103, Bannister records the name as being of Cornish origin: “Olds, n.f,’\ = als, a cliff” (https://archive.org/stream/glossaryofcornis00bann/glossaryofcornis00bann_djvu.txt). Public Profiler records the name as being Cornish/Celtic, but most anglocentric sources simply record it as ‘English’ coming from the word ‘old’. Americans in particular tend to interchange Old/Olde/Olds without any differentiation between the names.

    Do you have any further information on the name and its prevalence or otherwise in the St Just/Penzance region, and its origins?

    • I wouldn’t put too much credence in the derivations given in Bannister, which like those in Pawley White’s book on surnames tend to look for any similarities with Cornish words and stop there. It’s more likely that Old/Olds derives originally from the English ‘old’, in the sense of ‘senior’ rather than aged. Moreover, it’s unlikely to have a Cornish language derivation, as the first examples in Cornwall were found in the English-speaking east, In the far north east Robert Olda and Thomas Yolda (also spelt Old) were found in 1525 at Launcells and North Tamerton. And in 1549 a Richard Olde and family owned land at St Columb Minor in mid-Corrnwall. But the name ramified rapidly in Cornwalland became a lot more common here than in England. It was still mainly spelt Old in the 1700s with a scattering of Olds and Ould. By the 19th century half the spellings were Old, a quarter Olds, and a quarter Ould. It was widely spread – the association with St Just and Sancreed doesn’t appear until the mid-1800s, presumably having drawn migrants to the mines there from further east from the 18th century onwards. But it was equally common in the Constantine district and mid-Cornwall at Padstow.

  25. My Cornish surnames are Ellery from Mawgan-in-Pydar and Jacka from Perranzabuloe. Do you have any information about these surnames?

    • Ellery comes from the name Hillary, a saint’s name. It was found in the 16th century around the Camel estuary and Bodmin Moor in east Cornwall and was later most common in the Newquay area.

      Jacka was a pet form of John, the additional -a being quite common in Cornwall (cf Rodda, Tomma, Mata) and particularly in the Cornish-speaking areas. It was confined to Cornwall west of Perranporth and Truro in the early 16th century which bears out its link with the language.

  26. Hi Bernard, what a great site. I know you must be fed up with all the surname questions by now, but what about Gilbert? I have heard it is also Gilbart or even Jelbert. I have managed to trace my ancestors back to Phillack near Hayle continuously until the 1650’s. There are definitely other Gilberts in the surrounding villages before that but not my line. Any ideas where they could have come from and why they would have ended up in Phillack for over 400 years? Thanks for your time.

    Also, to add to the mystery, the Gilbert that I cannot find his birthplace married a ‘Verchell’ in Pjillack. I cannot find that name anywhere. I have found one or two Verchills in Jacobstow ( a long way away), and suspect it might be linked to Berchell, or Berchill or Burchell/Burchill. Any clues to that?

  27. My Cornish relatives were the Watts family as far back as 1650 in Hayle and western Cornwall, the Cock/Cox/Cocks family of Penzance, and Simmons/Symons/Simmonds also of western Cornwall. I’ve always taken Watts to be ultimately Scottish, but with no evidence to date specific to my family. Is there a Cornish Watts? And are there known derivations for Cock and Simmons?

    • Both Watt (later Watts) and Simmons are patronymics. Watt was a short form of Walter, Simmon being more obvious. Cock was a nickname and seems to have been a generic term for youth in the medieval period, also added to other names (e.g. Hancock, Sincock). All three were found widely across Cornwall in the early 16th century. Watt was more favoured in the east, while Watty was the preferred form in the Cornish-speaking west. By 1861 the Wattys had declined and converged with the Watts.

      • Interesting site – thank you!

        I am descended from Cocks in Truro, but having got back as far as a William b.c.1750-65ish, it starts getting almost impossible to guess which William Cock he is, as there is none recorded as baptised in Truro, as all of his children were. (His wife was born in Egloshayle 1767, and the nearest William Cock was born in 1752 in St Minver, but I haven’t found any evidence to connect them so might have to call a halt there for now.)

        Going back further just to find the earliest Cock records I could find on OPC in the Truro area just out of interest, there are some children born 1602-7, giving father’s name as Humphredi, but further back no record of a Humphrey type name.

        I did come across the Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in England and Ireland (2016) entry for Cock (via Google Books) which says that there are only 575 Cocks left in Britain.

  28. What an amazing site! I’ve recently discovered many of my Cornish ancestors on my Mother’s Paternal Grandmother’s side. I was born in Swansea South Wales but always had a feeling of affinity and peace whenever I went to Cornwall. My ancestors migrated during the height of the copper trade. Surnames that are most popular in my family are Seymour, Hoskin, Hocking, Lathon which became Busvargus due to the inheritance of a village and right back to 1400 with my 13th GGF Simon Sparrnon. Marriages have included Godolphin, Besanco, and Tressulyan. Besanco sounds Spanish to me so I was wondering if it had anything to do with The Armada?

    • Sorry but the Spanish Armada link is a stubborn myth but one with no basis in fact as the name Bosanko is found in Cornwall in the 1540s, a generation before the Armada! It’s from a Cornish placename bos+anko (house of death) or possibly bos+cos (house in the wood). There was a John Bossancow living in Truro in 1543 which looks like the first, and a Willam Bossancott in Mousehole, which seems more like the second. (These could have two different derivations of course). By 1608 Bosancoes are found in Wendron as well as Truro and the name then ramified in Crowan and Wendron, although also spreading into east Cornwall. The mystery is that no actual placename of Bosanko has been found.

      • Thank You so much for your reply. Your knowledge astounds me! It has however encouraged me to do more research. My Besanco is Anne b,abt 1760 and married in 1784 in Illogan to James Hoskin. They are my 5th GGP. I am still trying to find her birth certificate. I have verified the marriage. Thanks once again!

  29. Hello, I’m not looking for any specific information but was interested to see that my maiden name, Rowe, is #4 on the list of common Cornish names. I know my father’s family came from Cornwall though not precisely when. I have a 1996 letter to my father (Willis Rowe) signed “George (cousin) from Cornwall” but don’t know if the cousin’s surname was also Rowe. My grandfather was George Oscar Rowe, born sometime in the 1880s; I’m not sure if he was born in Cornwall or the US.
    What I also find interesting on your blog are the articles about Methodism in Cornwall. Though now a Methodist myself, I never knew of any family connection to Methodism.
    While I’m not asking for any particular information, any thoughts relating to my father’s family or to the “Methodist connection” would be appreciated.
    Martha (Maryland, USA)

  30. My surname is Behenna.I have seen it spelt with an ” h” on the end but I believe it is of Cornish origin. Am I correct?

    • It is indeed. It turns up in the early 16th century as Behennow. There’s no consensus as
      to the meaning but the -ow ending suggests a patronymic like Clemow, Sandow. Maybe son of Bennet, which was a not uncommon first name in Cornwall at the time?

      • Thinking further about this, the suggestion it was a patronymic from Benet can’t be right, as that gave Benetto. So it was either an unidentified first name or a name from a placename with the meaning obscure. Given that all the early examples are found fairly close together on the Roseland peninsula I’d suggest it was from a placename in that area.

  31. My grandmother’s maiden name was Varcoe supposedly an old Cornish name. Family lived in and around Roche and St. Dennis. Is
    Varcoe a common Cornish name? Thank you

    • Varcoe (and its spelling variant Vercoe) is most certainly Cornish. It was found in St Ewe and St Dennis as early as the 1520s and has remained heavily concentrated in mid-Cornwall and the clay country ever since. It’s a Cornish language patronymic, meaning son of Mark (Markow was also a surname in the 16th century). For some reason the m became permanently lenited to v (which was not uncommon – a similar process occurred for bean/vean in placenames). As for ‘common’, it depends on how you define it. It’s fairly common in mid-Cornwall but not very common elsewhere. In 1861 there were 144 families in Cornwall headed by a Varcoe/Vercoe. Compare that with the over 1,600 Williamses (the most common surname) or even the 400 or so Hicks.

  32. My mothe’s maiden name is Verrent. (Verran, Verrant). The line originally came from Bodmin Moor. It was supposed to be French, but don’t see any evidence for that. Then again, perhaps it’s related to the original Cornish meaning of Veryan, as in Veryan Bay.
    So suspect it comes from a Cornish word. Any ideas?

    • An interesting one (aren’t they all). Over the centuries Verran and Verrant spellings have interchanged confusingly and erratically. From the 16th to 19th centuries they were around half and half. However, by the 1861 census almost all spellings had become Verran or variants without a while the two households of Verrants were found in the far west. But that distribution is a very misleading guide to earlier ones. In fact, in the 1540s there were 13 men in the subsidy lists called Verant or Verent and six named Varyn, Veryn, Varryan, Varhen or Varion. ALL of the Verrants were found in east Cornwall, five in a north-south line from Lansallos to St Neot with an outlier at Treneglos to the north. ALL the Varyns etc were in mid and west Cornwall, Helston, Crowan and Redruth in the west and St Issey and St Stephen in Brannel in mid Cornwall. That distribution suggests to me that maybe there were two separate original names. The ones in the west could be from the Cornish given name Meryon or Meryn (permanently lenited to Very(o)n). It’s unlikely to be from the parish of Veryan as that was known as Severian into the C16th and anyway the distribution doesn’t immediately suggest an epicentre on the Roseland. As for Verrant, I have no idea! The usual surname dictionaries offer no help. More early and medieval examples are needed to shed more light.

    • I think I have a possible answer to the Verrant riddle, assuming this was originally a different name from Verran. There was a Middle English name – Ferrant – in the 12th/13th centuries which is supposed to have given rise to surnames such as Farrant and Farrand. In the Devonian (and east Cornish) dialect the sound often became . (For example the name Facy became Vacy.) The early geography of Verrant would fit this theory, suggesting it was a local variant of Farrant/Farrand etc.

  33. Can you tell me about Rescorla? That is the name of an 18th century ancestor of mine. My middle name is Binnie (spelled Binney on old records) and my maiden name is Endean. My great grandparents Phillips were from Chacewater near Truro. Can you tell me about these names?

    • Rescorla and Endean are names from the Cornish language. Rescorla is from the placename Rescorla. This is found in two places, at St Austell and neighbouring St Ewe in mid-Cornwall. They may however originally be different names as the St Ewe Rescorla was spelt Roscorlan in the 14th century, while the St Austell Rescorla was Roscorle. The family name Roscorlan appears at St Ewe as early as 1385 but it didn’t spread far beyond those two parishes 9within Cornwall at least). Endean means ‘the man’ (maybe a nickname equivalent to the English family name Man(n)). The name Endean emerged quite late – during the 16th century – as a surname in mid-Cornwall and was found in the 1800s in the district between Truro and St Austell.

      Meanwhile Binney is probably a spelling variant of Benny, which was a short from of Benedict. There were only two Bynnys in the early 16th century lists (in St Keverne and St Just in Roseland) but several Bennys in the same areas. Phillips is a patronymic from the saint’s name Philip, popular in medieval times.

      • From the research my brother and I did starting in the year 2000, Roscorla, Rescorla, Rescorle and Rescorl are Cornish surnames born out of locality. As far as we can tell, in the old Cornish language it means ‘enclosure (Korlann) by the ford (Res)’. We can trace the Rescorle/Rescorl family back to the mid 1750s but cannot go further due to a missing link. We have not found any family link between those with the Res prefix and the Ros prefix and indeed no link with those ending in ‘a’. There is a small Hamlet in Brittany called Rescorles but its origins and the meaning of the name are open to challenge. Our research found thriving Rescorla/Rescorle families in America, Canada and Australia with families emigrating in the late 1880s through to the 1920s.

      • There were already people called Rescorla and similar living in Kenwyn, Veryan, Gerrans and St Austell in the early 1500s, as well as St Ewe, so the name must have been hereditary fairly early.

  34. Hi, my surname is Dusting. I have traced it back to early 1700s in Cornwall around St Michael’s Mount (they were fishermen for many generations). It may have originally been spelt as Dustan or Dunstone. Do you have any information as regarding this surname? Thanks.

    • The etymologists tell us Dunstone is supposed to have come from either the place called Dunstone on the south-east edge of Dartmoor in Devon, or from the given name Dunstan. If the former, then they migrated very early to Cornwall, as we find people called Dunstan/Donston in St Mawgan and St Eval in mid-Cornwall as early as 1480. In the 1520s the name is still clustered in that part of Pydar hundred, which makes me think it originated there and be from Dunstan not Devon. John Dunstan at St Mawgan in 1524 is spelt Duston in 1543 which could give rise to Dusting later.

      On the other hand Reaney suggests that Dusting has a separate origin in the name Thurstan. Not that there is anyone with the surname Thurstan (or Dustan or anything close) in Cornwall in 1641.

  35. My name is kerry, I live in Australia and desperatly traking my gr gr grandfather and where he is from. His name is John Henry Treloyn and states his father is william treloyn and his mother is ann reid. he married in scotland then left in the 1860s to come here. My feeling is he has changed his name i know he has to be cornish it has been spelt treloyne on some certs and treloyn on others he stated on some certificates he from cornwall then he states on others he from scotland only treloyns i can find is in australia and we are all related and go back to john henry treloyn, any help on variations to this name would be greatly appreciated

    • Sorry, Kerry but there’s no surname in the 1861 Cornish census resembling Treloyn. I wonder if it might have originally been Tregloyn, as there are people in both 1861 and in the 18th century called Tregloyne, Tregloyn, Tregloin and similar.

  36. I have a book called Cornish Family Names.On my mother’s side there’s Fidock and it’s variant include fiddick The name actually has a celtic meaning Budhek= Victorious in the same way as Biddick which is Budek same meaning. If there’s any fidock’s,fiddock’s fiddick’s out there we are all related to one another. The name Fidock did come from Newlyn East near Newquay. My family came to South Australia in 1839. John Fidock and his wife Mary Catherine Fidock nee Casey.

    • Hello Louis, my Dad was William Fidock born at Marazion Cornwall. I can remember in the late 1960s a relative from Australia visiting us when we lived at Camborne but I was too young to remember who they were.

      • Greetings from DownUnder cousin Sharron by the way l can trace another two surnames that are of Trenerry and Arthur my great great great father was a John Wills from Cornwall came to settle in Australia after 1830s.

      • What was your relative’s full name that came to visit you “cobba” cornish for mate l know 😉”oggie oggie coi coi coi” “dhys da cobba” l been looking up my mother’s side Fidock family tree for a while thinking that it was either German or Scottish because the name isnt a common one and were alot of german settlers in South Australia.

      • By the way there is also a Tredinnick in my family also so my family on both sides have roots in Cornwall so that being said l’m Cornish- Australian😉I have to try a proper cornish pasty and what is Scrumpy?

    • Yes, it’s from the placename Polglaze, originally spelt Polglas, which means blue/green/grey pool or stream. So someone living at Polglas. But which one as there were at least 11 examples of this placename in late medieval times – at Altarnun, Creed, Crowan, Cuby, Fowey, Mylor, Philleigh, St Austell, St Erme, St Mabyn and St Veep?

      • I am an American Polglaze from Immigrant ancestors who came here in the mid 1800’s. I have been to Cornwall to see the homeland of the patriarchical family, and noted many Polglaze scattered both east and west and otherwise. It would seem to me that if this is a place defined name, that there might be many lines of Polglaze maybe slightly related back long ago, but also long ago they might not be traceable to one ancestor. Is this a likely scenario, or are most of us somehow likely to have shared genetics? Ancestry dna shows a large percentage of SW English, Irish, Welsh in half my heritage. the other half is largely SW eorope, where my mothers ancestors came from a family traceable back to the late 1400’s at least in Belgium.

      • You’re right. As there are at least 12 places in Cornwall called Polglase or Polglaze, it’s likely the family name had multiple origins. There are quite a few Polglases listed in the early 16th century subsidy rolls, so that also suggests several of the places had given rise to unrelated lines.

  37. My ancestors and my maiden name is Huthnance. I have records for Cornwall going back to the 1600’s in Breage, Truro, Redruth areas. I have heard rumour that there are church records showing the original person was a viking with the name Huth in the 700’s but I’m dubious about that as i havent seen any records myself. I live in Australia. Any insight greatly appreciated

    • The rumours about Huth the Viking are just that – rumours – as hereditary family names in west Cornwall date from the 1400s or 1500s. Your name is a locative one, from the place Huthnance in Breage. This was spelt Huthenans in the 15th century and there was a Thomas Huthnans living in Breage parish, undoubtedly at Huthnans, in 1524. He’s probably your distant ancestor.

  38. My surname is Toy and I can take my direct line back to the Lizard pre 1613. Also mentioned is a Robert Toy in Helston 1549 answering the Muster roll. From what I can determine most Toys at the time of the census were Cornish those that weren’t tended to be in and around Birmingham which may suggest a mining back ground as most of my line we’re tin or copper miners.
    Darryl Toy

    • I’ve got a family bible which was started by a Richard Toy of Wendron, born 1839. Around 1900 the family moved to Troon in Camborne so I got the mining idea too. Supposedly my grandad always said something about how someone in the family left the E off the end of the name, from what I gathered its an Irish name.

      • My maternal granddad was Wm. John Toy, from Camborne. I was informed years ago that the E was indeed dropped from the Toy name, not sure when, and it was originally Breton/French. Any thoughts on this?

      • The -e doesn’t mean it was French. It was the normal English spelling to denote a preceding long vowel in the 16th century but tends to get dropped in the 17th. The name Toy/e doesn’t turn up in Cornwall until the end of the 1500s in the Constantine/Wendron area but then expands quite rapidly over the following 200 years.

    • My Mother’s maiden name was Toy. Her father Wm. John Toy, was originally from Camborne,Poole. Later in St. Austell area. His father was Robert Toy and served with Queen Victoria’s forces in India. Are we related?

  39. My grandmother is from south / central Cornwall around the St Austell area, her maiden name was Whetter is that a Cornish name?

    • Yes, there were Whetters in St Austell (and also further east in Duloe) as early as the 1520s. By the nineteenth century you’d have been 70 times more likely to bump into someone called Whetter in Cornwall than you’d have been if you were anywhere else in the UK.

  40. hey I wondered where some of those ‘strange’ names came from.
    my recently found fathers side back to 1750 so far has family names in bodmin and lewwanick,
    like collins, harris, harrison, and mullis.
    any of those cornish? and if so, does that make me cornish?

    • Depends on how you define ‘being Cornish’. Names like Collins and Harris were certainly found from the earliest days of hereditary surnames in Cornwall in the 15th century.

  41. My grandparent were Hoopers, from Calstock. I looked up the mean and found that Hooper meant “water sprite “ in ancient Cornish.

    • News to me. The alternative explanation for the family name is that its origin lay in the English occupational name meaning someone who made or fitted hoops, another name for a cooper.

  42. do you have any ideas about the name gribble? our family came from the redruth/camborne area. there are other spelling variations – an early one, i believe, was grybell.

    • Yes,the name ramified in the Camborne-Redruth area (in fact I have a great-grandparent called Gribble who lived in IIlogan). But its origins are a bit of a mystery. There’s nothing similar in the early 16th century, by which time bynames had become or were becoming hereditary in the west. The only Gribbles in 1641 were found to the west in Sancreed. Did those early Gribbles migrate east to the central mining district? Or was there a separate origin? the name was spelt Gribble and Gribbell in 1641and I haven’t come acoss any with the spelling Grybell. If you have a source for that do let me know.

      • Hi Bernard, thanks for your information, very fascinating. Thanks Gretta for your question. My maternal grandfather was a ‘Gribble’, according to shipping records they came to Australia in the 1840’s pre-goldrush boom to Ballarat and we were told they were a prominent families in these areas including until WW1 in mining districts throughout Victoria, Australia. Particularly in Bendigo with the last Gribble in our family line working at a pyrite works there until his mid 40s when he left to join the fight with his his sons in WW1. All thankfully returned.
        They are noted as being members of Cornish associations with huge family roots in Australia and celebrating Cornish traditions, recorded on numerous occasions in local papers. So their Cornish roots ran deep. They might have indeed moved over from west Cornwall to the tin mines and brought their mining skills in turn over to Australia, where they are listed as miners on many a record. What we are finding difficult is tracing the family in Cornwall with a high level of accuracy! A folk story in our family is that the grybell spelling is German/ Prussian in origin and meant ‘helmet’ and they migrated to Cornwall through the ports?

  43. My grandad was cornish and I have often wanted to Research our family name of Henwood is there a go to trust worthy site to go to

  44. I am from an Essex/Suffolk family called Growse – the earliest trace was a John Growse knocking around in the 1430s. I have often wondered where the name is from, but now suspect it might be Cornish. Could I be rig

    • I can see where you’re coming from, Nick. Crows is Cornish for Cross and becomes Grows after the definite aricle ‘an’. Unfortunately however, I can find no examples of the byname or surname Grows/e (or Crows/e) in Cornwall in the 16th or 17th centuries. And if you’ve found a Growse in East Anglia as early as the 1430s I’d be pretty confident the name originated there. (That early bynames had often still not become hereditary in mid and west Cornwall anyway.)

      • Many thanks for your quick and interesting reply. The reason why I suspected a Cornish origin is that I found mention of Growse among the tenants of the Arundel family in Carminow in the 14th century as well as the mention of a Gurlyn de Growse in the early 16th (also in Carminow). I noticed that in the later 16th century and afterwards there is no mention of Growse in the area but several people called Grose or Grosse who hadn’t been mentioned in earlier records. I am not at all sure of myself – I am just rummaging about on the internet – but if there were people called Growse in 14th century Carminow it would be the earliest mention anywhere … There is no trace of Growse in Suffolk before the 1430s. Did Cornish people ever sail down the coast? In the early 16th there was a Growse family in Bradwell on Sea, including one renting a tidal mill there …

      • Thanks, Nick. I was once attracted to the theory that perhaps Grose had come from Crows but hadn’t found the examples to prove it. But your find suggests there may be something to it. (Do you have a reference?) And yes, there would have coastal shipping movement, although more usually along the Channel coast as far as London.

  45. Many thanks again for your reply, I am glad you find the subject interesting! It seems possible that the name Growse – a place-name given to people who lived near the old crosses such as the one at Carminow, became Grose or Grosse during the 16th century inconveniently just before parish records began! Maybe those who emigrated early enough, such as my own family, kept the original version of the name? As for references, luckily I copied the relevant bits off the site. I am not too sure what you need so here they are wholesale cut and paste with a bit of editing:

    1.(I thought these were 14th century records, but am no longer sure)
    • 21 – Cornwall Record Office
    • AR – Arundell of Lanherne and Trerice
    • Arundell Rentals
    • AR/2/1336 – 1391 – Cornwall
    • AR/2/1338/1 – (ff.1-4) Rental or Survey Bodbrane; Carmynow; Pengwenna; Prespynnek; [Repery] 22 folios and membranes.

    Carmynow (tenants named): Redalen, Huthnans, Caryohall, Treveor, Redewer, Kellygowe, Treveglyse, Treve…, Tregenn…, Tregedell, Growse [?], Vosmeder [?], Polgrene [?], Helstone borough.

    Rental or Survey Cornwall estate (Jan 14 Hen VII) Extent [of the manors of Sir…
    Arundell of Lanherne and Trerice. MANORIAL RECORDS. COMPOSITE RECORDS. Arundell Rentals. Cornwall. the same as Trevemed’], Tregynryth, Tregedill, Gurlyn, Trevillian, Growse, Rosmodr’, Polgren, Helstonburgh; (conventionary tenants) Lannargh, Bronywik Wartha, Bronywik Wolas, Chynythen, Hendre

    Held by: Cornwall Record Office
    Date: 1499
    Reference: AR/2/1340

    Court roll Carmynow 1513, Friday 7th Oct = cl 1514, 12th Feb = c2 1514,…
    Arundell of Lanherne and Trerice. MANORIAL RECORDS. SINGLE MANORS. Cornwall. Carminow Manor. tithingman and John Godolhan as reeve; civil plea. c2. Court; heriot from Chywarlo. c3. Law court; John Kelwey held from heirs of Gurlyn ‘de Growse in Habebreyowe’ [scribal error for Hale-?] 1 furlong, namely 3s 6d, died; relief 3s 6d; transfer of tenements at Chywarloo, and of lord’s mill at Carmynowe; toll of tin found at Chywarlo below the shoreline (apud Chywarlo sub litus maris), 8s; 6 oaks there sold to Ralph Willis, chaplain for 6s.

    Held by: Cornwall Record Office
    Date: 1513 – 1514
    Reference: AR/2/221

    There is a mention of a early 16th century John Growse in a lease document of a tidal mill in Tollesbury, on the Essex coast:

    Lease by Elizabeth Grene, abbess of the monastery of Barking, Essex, to Robert Roos of…
    Court of Wards and Liveries: Deeds and Evidences. 60 years after the current 17 year lease expires (granted on 10 January 1515 by the abbess to John Growse), for the sum of £20 and for 53s 4d annual rent, paid quarterly. Seal of the abbess of

    Held by: The National Archives – Court of Wards and Liveries
    Date: 26 November 1520
    Reference: WARD 2/57A/205/27
    Subjects: Manors | Religions

    5. I don’t have the references but there was a Grose/Grosse family in the early 16th century on the Suffolk coast around Theberton/Kelsale, apparently with links to Cornwall, including a Laurence Grosse, son of John Grosse. Some years later in mid-16th century, just down the road, there is a parson of Fordley called Laurence Cruse, cited in a will, and a Rector of Middleton-cum-Fordley called Lawrence Growse, all probably the same? Did Lawrence, an educated man, end up deliberately using the archaic spelling of his name? He might be the missing link, proving the Grose/Grosse/Cross/Crows/Cruse/Growse connection!

    Sorry to clutter up your site with all these references! I look forward to your comments.


      • Incidentally, Lawrence Growse is named as rector of Middleton-cum-Fordley in 1530 in The Histories and Antiquities of the County of Suffolk Vol 2 by Alfred Suckling page 316 (it is online). And in a will as Laurence Cruse, parson of Fordley in an abstract of wills of the Payne family in 1548 (again on line if you need it). I think the mention of Laurence Grosse or Gros is only at the Suffolk records office.

        Good luck and tell me if you find anything interesting or draw any conclusions.


  46. I would be interested to know if you have any information on the origins of the surname Bennetto – which was my mother’s maiden name. I have traced our family records going back to the early 18th century (when my ancestors were living in the Parish of St Stephen in Brannel) and although the spelling of the surname varies from one Parish Register to another (Bennata, Benneto, Bennetto) our background appears to be solidly Cornish. I am aware of the possible derivations from St Benedict but I am curious to know if t any research exists to help pinpoint when the name entered common usage ?

    Thanks in advance for any advice that you may be able to offer.

    Gerald (Lewis)

  47. Bennetto was a Cornish language diminutive (or possibly patronymic) of Bennett. It appears well before the 18th century. In the early 1500s however it was restricted entirely to west Penwith and usually spelt Bennettow. By the mid-17th century it was still confined to three parishes there – St Just, St Buryan and Paul. But maybe one bearer of the name at least had moved east, as there is a Stephen Bennetto in St Enoder in 1641. (The situation is a bit complicated by the presence of a few Bennetts in St Enoder, so it’s just possible that the name arose separately in mid-Cornwall.) The name then ramifies in that area but strangely disappears from Penwith by the 1700s.

  48. Thanks Bernard, that is very interesting and helpful. The earliest Bennetto ancestor that I have been able to verify was John Bennetaw from St Just – who died in 1596 – but from their west Cornwall origins, subsequent generations of my family moved very slowly east over the course of the next two centuries. The Stephen Bennetto that you refer to in St Enoder in 1641 is, I think, probably my Great Grandfather x 8 (his name is spelt Benetta on some documents that I have seen) and his son Edward (my Gt Gdfr x 7) moved to St Stephen in Brannel a few years after his marriage in 1671. My branch of the Bennetto family then seems to have remained in and around St Stephen for most of the next century before a second wave of movement sent them first to Fowey (where my GT Gdfr x5, James Bennetto, was Vicar from 1784 until 1818) and then on to almost all points of the compass during the 19th Century. The use of Bennetto as a consistent form of spelling for the family name seems to have occurred sometime around 1800.
    Thanks again for your help.
    Kind regards,

    • Many thanks for that. It’s good to know that my data based on aggregate occurrences of the name is confirmed so well (and enriched) by your family research. If you don’t mind, I may use some of your examples in my forthcoming book on Surnames in Cornwall, properly accredited of course.

      • Hi Bernard. If any of my Bennetto family research is of interest, you would be very welcome to reference it. The earliest Bennettos / Benettaws that I have been able to trace (three males – who may have been brother or cousins – called, Richard, Benat (or possibly Benedict) and John) seem to originate from St Just in Penwith in the mid 1500s but their marriages, and the baptisms of their children, all occurred in Sancreed Parish. Over the next 200 years my family line seems to have travelled from Sancreed (late 1500s) to St Enedor (mid 1600s), then St Stephen in Brannel (late 1600s) and eventually Fowey (late 1700s). I can chart the C18th family history with a good degree of confidence – we have been able to trace a few family wills and papers in the Cornwall County archives – but the earlier names and dates are based on a combination of Cornwall OPC database searches, Phillimore and some individual Parish Transcripts – so my pre-1700 research is almost certain to contain a few gaps and errors of detail.

        Post 1800, the Bennettos started to explore the wider world – with the adventurous ones travelling to Australia and North America whilst the more timorous tiptoed across the Tamar into Devon (which is where my Grandfather, my Mother and I were all born).

        Happy to correspond further if you think that I may have information that would be of use to you.

        Kind regards,


    • Yes, for instance in Cornwall the -s begins to be added in numbers to Mill around the 1620s/30s. In 1641 only 7% were Mills, the rest still Mill. By 1861 the proportions were 54-46 in favour of Mills.

  49. Hi, Malcom. Martyn was the original spelling of Martin. It’s from the personal name, which was also a saint’s name and one of the most popular bynames and surnames across Cornwall in the early 1500s.This spelling lingered longer in Cornwall than elsewhere, making it 40 times more common in Cornwall in 1881 than the UK as a whole (Martin was three times more common incidentally).

  50. Anything on the name ‘Treverton’? It’s an old family surname that I’ve carried. I moved to Cornwall last year as a student and then started seeing names like ‘Trevenson’ appear mostly in Pool, Camborne and Redruth.

    • Treverton is a spelling variant of Trevarthen, which comes form a place at St Columb. There’ll be a map of the distribution of Trevertons in 1861 on this site sometime soon and it appears in my forthcoming book.

  51. Hi Bernard, Interesting piece you have here that I have found fascinating, thank you. I have been researching my THOMAS family that goes all the way back on my peternal line to Richard Thomas of St Key (my Great Grand father x 13) in 1520 his father, also Richard, would have been born around 1500.
    What is interesting is that over the period from 1500 – this day all the names that my Thomas’s have married into and been married to are all represented in your collection of Cornish names. Together with information I gleaned from Professor Charles Thomas prior to his death and others have given me much insite into Cornwall, although I was born across the border in Devon.

    Thank you

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