Cornish surnames are surnames used by Cornish people and often derived from the Cornish language. Such surnames for the common people emerged in the Middle Ages, although the nobility probably had surnames much earlier on. Not until the later Middle Ages did it become necessary for a common man to have a surname. Most surnames were fully established throughout Cornwall by the end of the 15th century. Today Cornish surnames can be found throughout the world as part of the Cornish diaspora.
Due to the linguistic similarity of Cornish, Welsh and Breton, some surnames can derive from any of the three regions.
The commonest surnames in Cornwall are derived from patronymics, the father’s first name being taken either without alteration, for example 'John', or with the addition of genitive '-s' or, typically Cornish, '-o', e.g. 'Bennetto' or '-y' as in 'Pawley'.
Cornish surnames deriving from the Cornish language
The phrase Tre, Pol and Pen is used to describe people from, or places in, Cornwall, the United Kingdom. Carew has By Tre, Pol and Pen / You shall know the Cornishmen; however, Camden records the rhyme as By Tre, Ros, Pol, Lan, Caer and Pen / You may know the most Cornishmen.
- Tre- a settlement or homestead
- Ros(e)- heath, moor
- Pol- a pond, lake or well
- Lan- a religious enclosure
- Car- either from karn "tor" or ker "hill-fort"
- Pen(n), Pedn- a hill or headland
Many Cornish surnames and place names still retain these words as prefixes, such as the names Trelawny or Trevithick and the towns of Polperro, Polkerris and of course Penzance. "Carbines" derives from karn byghan "little tor".
Caution should be exercised with the derivation of "Car-" surnames as there seems also to be fusion with names containing the word ker "hill-fort", as in "Carvosso" ker fosow "walled hill-fort", a placename found in Ludgvan. There is also karrek "rocky". "Rosdew" is ros du "black moor" and "Ros(e)warne" from ros (g)wern "alder heath" or perhaps "heath by an alder-marsh". "Landry" means lan dre "enclosure of farmhouse or church-house".
Other examples of place-names used as surnames:
- Gwavas" gwavos "winter residence or bothy"- an area near Penzance and also the surname of a well-known Cornish family (William Gwavas)
- Hammett: "summer bothy"; from Old Cornish hav bot (Cornish: havos, Welsh: hafod). In East Cornwall, -m- was the Anglo-Saxon representation of the Cornish nasal -v-. [See Padel, Cornish Place-Name Elements (1985)]. Place-names: Hammett, Hammett Down in the parish of Quethiock; Great Hammett, Little Hammett in the parish of St Neot, Cornwall.
- Tremethyk: tre medhyk "doctor's residence or farm"
- Trenowden: Tre Renowden "Renowden's farm"; Renowden is the Cornish form of Renaud or Reginald
- Trengrouse: Tre an Grows, "farm at the cross"
- Penprase: Penn Pras "head of the meadow or common pasture"
- Nan(s)- surnames- there are many Nan(s)- surnames in Cornwall, "nan(s)" meaning valley- for example Nankervis from "nans" and "kervys", meaning "valley of the deer/stag" and Nankivell/Nancekivell "nans" "Cyfel", "the valley of Cyfel" (Cyfel being a personal name) or perhaps from the Old Welsh/Cornish word "ceffyl" a "horse" . Nanskeval is located on the parish boundaries of St Mawgan in Pydar and St Columb Major.
As in many other parts of Europe, names were used to describe the occupation of the head of the family; "Angove" (Cornish: an Gov "the Smith"), for example, being the equivalent to Breton "Le Goff", "Legoff", "Legoffic", English "Smith", German "Schmidt" and Italian "Ferrero". Other examples of names derived from trades include "Dyer" (Cornish: tior "thatcher") and "Helyer" (Cornish: helghyer "hunter"), both of which can be found in English too, i.e. "Thatcher" and "Hunter" respectively.
- Marrak: Cornish: marghek "horseman, cavalier, knight"
- Gloyn(e): Cornish: glowbrenn "charcoal", perhaps from the ancient profession of a charcoal burner
Some surnames were derived from animals which may indicate that the bearer of some of these surnames may have made a living from hunting, examples include Bligh "wolf" (Cornish: blydh) and Coon "hounds" (Cornish: keun).
At least one known Cornish surname derives from the name of a festival, namely "Pascoe" from "Easter".
Personal characteristics or nicknames
Another category of surnames is derived from personal characteristics or nicknames/hypocoristics . e.g. "Coad" (Cor.coth=old), "Couch" (Cor.cough=red) and "Tallack" (Cor.talek=wide-browed).
- Teague te(k)g- from Cornish "fair" or "beautiful"
- Gwyn(n)- from Cornish "gwy(d)n" "white"
The surname Cornish
The surname "Cornish" with variants "Cornysshe", "Cornyshe", "Cornysh", "Cornishe", "Cornisshe" and "Cornis"- standardised as "Cornish"- is to be found throughout Great Britain and Ireland. The name seems to originate from a time when ordinary people were still not using surnames in the modern way. A native Cornishman who had left Cornwall for another part of Britain or Ireland was given the name "Cornish", i.e. the Cornishman. In "A Dictionary of British Surnames", P.H. Reaney (1976), the following entries and dates are to be found:
- Cornish, Cornes, Badekoc Korneys (1296)
- John Corneys (1327)
- Henry Cornysh (1375)
The first recorded instance is in the National Dictionary in 1547. It is likely that the Adam Corneys recorded in 1300 is identical to Adam Le Cornwalais recorded in 1275. Other related names to Cornish that designate a Cornish origin include "Cornwall", "Cornwell", "Curnow", "Cornu", "Kernew", "Kernow" etc. In previous centuries these names may have alternated along with "Cornwallis" and "Le Cornwalais".
Especially in West Cornwall, many names typically associated with Welsh are also found. In the Cornish language, ultimately a language linked to Welsh and Breton, the prefix 'map' may have been used, as in Welsh, to indicate the relationship of father to son, this later becoming "ap" (as in NW Breton area, Leon dialect, Breton WP) and then finally the "p" alone being prefixed to the name, e.g. (m)ap Richard becoming "Pri(t)chard". Another feature of these patronymics was the diminutive suffix "-kin" being added the father’s first name e.g. "Tonkin", which may derive from either Anthony or Thomas.
- Prowse/Prouse from "ma(b)p" "ros" meaning "son of the heath"
- Prynne "ma(b)p" "Ryn", "son of Rynne"
Surnames found at high frequencies in both Wales and Cornwall include:
Anglicised names and folk etymology
Owing to the gradual language shift in Cornwall from the native Cornish language to English, approximately until the mid-18th century, some Cornish language surnames underwent change through folk etymology. The Cornish meaning of the name was no longer understood and so it was changed into a similar-sounding English word, not necessarily anything to do with the original meaning in Cornish. The same process has been noted in Cornish placenames too. One example of this process regarding surnames is the surname "Kneebone" which actually derives from the Cornish "Carn Ebwen" or the "tomb", "carn" of "Ebwen". The change must have occurred at a point when the original "k" at the beginning of the English word was still pronounced and thus suggests an early period in which it was anglicised.
Non-Cornish language surnames typically associated with Cornwall
There are also many names typically found in Cornwall that may have a completely non-Cornish language origin, excluding those names taken from English, yet a strong association with the area. These names reflect the historical connections between Cornwall and Brittany and also the Norman occupation of Cornwall. The Normans themselves employed Bretons in the administration of Cornwall and thus "imported" Breton names in Cornwall are not unusual.
- Vingoe – possibly of Norman origin from French "vin-gout" "wine taster"
- Arundell – the name of an aristocratic family in Cornwall.
- Arscott – possibly from Breton "harscoet" meaning "iron shield"
- Briton, Brittan etc. – from "Breton", a name given to a Breton resident in Cornwall
- Ferris – Of Scots origin, commonly found in the Restormel and Carrick areas.
- Rowe – of Norman origin, the name became popular in the region following large-scale Norman settlement. Remains a common surname in Cornwall to this day.
- Tangye – of Breton origin.
Famous persons with Cornish surnames
Not all people who consider themselves Cornish have a necessarily Cornish surname nor do all Cornish surname bearers necessarily identify themselves as Cornish in nationality.
- English surnames
- Nankivell (surname)
- Welsh surnames
- "About Cornish Surnames". Cornishsurnames.com. Retrieved 2013-10-24.
- "Carew's survey of Cornwall - Baron Francis Basset Basset of Stratton". Retrieved 10 February 2012.
- Tre, Pol and Pen - The Cornish Family by Bernard Deacon
- Cornish surnames - By Tre, Pol and Pen shall ye know all Cornishmen
- Ceffyl (Welsh)
- "The Society of Cornishes". Cornishsurname.matthewcornish.info. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
- Hanks, Patricia; Hodges, Flavia (1996). A Dictionary of Surnames (corrected ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 524.
- "Top of the Pops Annual 1976 - It's Tough Being A Pan's Person". Panspeople.freeserve.co.uk. Retrieved 25 July 2012.
- Gover, J. E. B., The Place Names of Cornwall (1948)
- Jackson, Kenneth, Language and History in Early Britain, Cambridge: Harvard University Press (1953)
- Padel, O. J., Cornish Place-Name Elements, Nottingham: English Place-name Society (1985)
- Reaney, P. H., A Dictionary of British Surnames, (2nd ed. 1976), Routledge.
- White, George Pawley, A Handbook of Cornish Surnames, Camborne: Chy'nelyn, Tregenna La., (1972)
- The meaning behind Welsh names
- General History of surnames, including Welsh
- Collection of Welsh Surnames (along with Male and Female first names)
- Welsh patronymic naming system
- Late Sixteenth Century Welsh Names
- What's in a name?
- Article on the relevance of surnames in genealogy (PDF File)
- Welsh-Border Surnames from 'ab Edmond'