Cornish surnames are surnames used by Cornish people and often derived from the Cornish language such as Jago, Trelawney or Enys. Others have strong roots in the region and many in the UK with names such as Eddy, Stark or Rowe are likely to have Cornish origins. 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.[1] 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 most common 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'.[1]

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.[2][3][4]

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:

Nanskeval house at St Mawgan in Pydar, Cornwall. A possible location whence the surname originated


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 the Irish Gowan, Scottish Gow, Breton "Le Goff", "Legoff", "Legoffic", English "Smith", German "Schmidt" Polish "Kowalski" 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, while Dyer itself is also English for someone who dyes clothing.[1]

Other examples:


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).

Gwinnel: possibly from Cornish: gwennel "swallow"; it also refers to a weaver's shuttle


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).[1]

Other examples:

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. This 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:[7]

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", "Cornick", "Curnow", "Cornu", "Kernew", "Kernow" etc. (although Cornick may have other origins as well). In previous centuries these names may have alternated along with "Cornwallis" and "Le Cornwalais".

"Welsh" names

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.

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.

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.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "About Cornish Surnames". Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  2. ^ Carew, Richard; Tonkin, Thomas (1811). Carew's survey of Cornwall – Baron Francis Basset Basset of Stratton.
  3. ^ Tre, Pol and Pen - The Cornish Family by Bernard Deacon
  4. ^ Cornish surnames - By Tre, Pol and Pen shall ye know all Cornishmen
  5. ^ Padel, Oliver (1985). Cornish Place-Name Elements. English Place-Name Society. ISBN 9780904889116.
  6. ^ Ceffyl (in Welsh)
  7. ^ "The Society of Cornishes". Retrieved 10 February 2012.
  8. ^ Hanks, Patricia; Hodges, Flavia (1996). A Dictionary of Surnames (corrected ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 524.
  9. ^ "Top of the Pops Annual 1976 – It's Tough Being A Pan's Person". Archived from the original on 29 August 2012. Retrieved 25 July 2012.

Specialist bibliography