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Origins of island surnames

How islanders got their family names

A name may have buoyancy enough to float upon the sea of time.{b}

The surnames on St Helena are as interesting as the ancestry of its people

Origins of island surnames

If you want to trace people who are or were on St Helena, our page Family And Friends may be helpful.

Commonest names and their origins

The island’s surnames seem to come from several distinct sources:

Based on an empirical survey{2}, the commonest surnames and their probable origins are as follows (in descending order):

⋅ Thomas: ‘Enslaved Name’ ⋅ Henry: ‘Enslaved Name’ ⋅ Yon: Chinese origins ⋅ Williams: ‘Enslaved Name’ ⋅ Benjamin: ‘Enslaved Name’ ⋅ Peters: ‘Enslaved Name’ ⋅ Leo: Probably from Dutch (Leon), i.e. Boer origins ⋅ George: ‘Enslaved Name’ ⋅ Stevens: ‘Enslaved Name’ ⋅ Joshua: ‘Enslaved Name’ ⋅ Fowler: English, from Settlers ⋅ Crowie: Unknown ⋅ Francis: ‘Enslaved Name’ ⋅ Constantine: English, from Settlers ⋅ Lawrence: ‘Enslaved Name’ ⋅ Young: English, from Settlers ⋅ Duncan: ‘Enslaved Name’ ⋅ Clingham: Unknown ⋅ Green: English, from Settlers ⋅ Coleman: English, from Settlers ⋅ Richards: ‘Enslaved Name’ ⋅ Moyce: English, from Settlers ⋅ Phillips: English, from Settlers

It should be noted that many names would have been corrupted over the years. Imagine a Colonial official attempting to record the surname of a baby, and faced with parents with a strong accent and who were barely literate so could not check what he wrote. What the parents said and what was written down may well have been at variance{3}. Even today, allowing for a strong accent, it can be hard for some listeners to tell whether someone is giving their name as ‘Yon’ or ‘Young’.

It also does not follow that two people who share a surname are necessarily related. An owner called, say, Thomas Smith, may have possessed two unrelated enslaved people. Upon emancipation, both would have acquired the surname Thomas.

The names above are pronounced as you would expect from written English, but be aware that if you see the surname ‘Scipio’ it’s pronounced with a silent ‘c’ - sipio not sKipio.

According to past issues of the St Helena Government Gazette, in 1994 one Gavin Henry changed his name to Gavin Lamborghini. As far as we are aware there are no Lamborghinis on the island today, so whether Mr Lamborghini had no subsequent issue, or later changed his name back (or to something else) we don’t know. If you can help, please contact us.

Studying the Census of 1814 we find the following families listed{4}:

Adam; Adams(2); Alampus; Alexander(3); Alexworth; Armstrong(2); Arresto; Bagley(7); Baildon; Balcome; Banks(2); Barker; Barnes; Barret; Bateman; Bayes; Bazett; Beale(2); Beard; Bedwell; Bell; Bennet; Blake; Blenkins; Boorman; Booth; Bouldrick; Boyles; Boys; Brabanon; Bradshaw; Brady; Braid; Broadway(2); Brooke; Bryson; Burnham(2); Burnside; Bush; Butler; Caldwell; Callender; Carr; Carroll(3); Chadwick; Chamberlain; Chaplain; Chentry; Chippendale; Clarke(2); Cocks; Cole; Coles; Connolly; Constantine; Cotton; Coupland; Cranfield; Crawley; Crisp; Cro(u)t; Croft; Cruikshank; Cunningham; Dacey; Delang; DenTassell; Desfountain(4); Dixon(2); Do(21); Dogherty(2); Doveton(2); Dowlain; Dray; Dring; Eager; Ellis; Enley; Everton; Fallan; Fitsormmons; Ford; Fowler(2); Frith; George(2); Giles; Goodison; Goodwin; Gough(2); Green; Greenland; Greentree; Gregg; Griffiths; Gunnell; Gurling; Gutteridge; Hall; Harper; Harquishymer; Harris(2); Harry; Hawes; Hayes(2); Hayssard; Hazlewood; Henry; Higgins; Hill; Hodson(2); Honeyman; Hubbard; Hunter; Isacke(4); Jacks; Jackson; Jennings; Johnson(2); Jones(2); Julios; Kay; Kelly; Kennedys; Killin; Kinnaird; Kirkham; Knipe(4); Lamb; Lambe; Laurence; LeBriton; Leech; Lees; Legg; Lester; Lowden; Mason(2); Matthewson; May; McCail; McDaniel; McDougal; McKenzie; McPike; McRitchie; Mead; Mealy; Merchant; Mills; Mittens; Morre; Moyce; Nettleport; Newton; O’Connor(2); Oliver; Paige; Perkins; Phillips; Pieri; Piploe; Porteous; Pritchard(2); Renton; Rich(2); Richards; Richenbach; Rimmer; Roberts; Robertson; Robinson; Roofe; Rooks; Rourke; Sampson; Sanders; Schendler; Scott(3); Seale(6); Sealer; Seales(2); Seawell; Semolon; Shaw; Shirtler; Shortes; Simpson; Singleton; Slator; Smart; Smith(3); Soloman; Spratt; Stewart(2); Steyne; Stratham; Susan; Suter; Taylor(2); Thomas; Thomson(2); Thorn; Torbett(3); Tracey; Truebody; Turner; Ward; Watson; Weston; Wheatley; Williams; Wills; Wilson; Wrangham; Wright(4); Yon(2); Youde; Young(5)

The first English settlers

{c}Two ships, the European and the John & Alexander, set sail from England in December 1673, bound for St Helena with the aim of settling the island.

All the old Planters formerly settled on the said Island, & now bound thither, shall be repossest of their severall houses & plantations w’ch formerly they enjoyed, in the condicon they shall be found at the arrival of these shipps, and that all new Planters, shall upon their arrivall have twenty Acres of Land rough & plaine, sett out unto them, by the Gov’ & Councell for each family to build and plant upon it, and that all the plantaicons, both to the old, and new Planters, be conveyed to them, their heirs, and assignes for ever. That besides the said porcon of land, each family shall have two Cowes.

The full list of settlers aboard these two ships is as follows:

It should be noted that only the names Greentree, Young and Fuller can still be found on St Helena, with only Young being common.

Saints Around the world

Naturally, not all Saints have remained on St Helena. There are sizeable populations in the Falkland Islands and Ascension Island, though these tend to be temporary workers who do not settle. More permanent populations exist in the UK and in Cape Town, South Africa. This article relates to this latter group:

Joshua Day poster

Joshua Connect Day brings family together at the Cape

By Simon Pipe, posted on St Helena Online 23rd April 2015{6}

If you meet a Joshua in Cape Town, you can be pretty sure that somewhere in their family line, there’s a Saint. Now they all have their own special day: Monday, 27th April 2015 is Joshua Connect Day. Organiser JOLENE JOSHUA tells the story:

I started researching my own branch of the Joshua family about eight years ago, as I knew very little about my dad’s side of the family.

A few years down the line, my research has turned into somewhat of an international project as I’ve been able to connect with Joshua descendants across the globe and even managed to find connections between branches.

The Joshua Connect Day is a response to a number of requests from descendants to get together. I decided to arrange something in Cape Town but the event is open to any and every Joshua that is able to attend.

In a nutshell, the purpose of the day is to connect the various branches so we will share info on the various Joshua branches which we are aware of. We will also be sharing a bit on St Helena (past and present) as the Joshua’s in Cape Town can all be traced back to the island. And then of course we will give people a chance to interact and make their own connections.

The big gathering takes place in the Recreation Hall at Tokai Correctional Centre, from 10am to 2pm.

Read More

Below: Surname Count, 2019 telephone directoryArticle: A Rich Ancestry on St Helena

Surname Count, 2019 telephone directory

Article: A Rich Ancestry on St Helena

There’s an article about ancestry in the Solomon family on our page Important People.


{a} St Helena Photos & Videos (group){b} William Gladstone, Eton Miscellany, November 1827{c} Source: The St Helena Institute, Retrieved 3rd December 2015{6}


{1} You may be able to purchase one in the island’s souvenir shops.{2} Done by counting the number with each name in the 2019 phone book. You can see the main results.{3} This may also explain how we got some of our Place Names.{4} Numbers in brackets indicate separate families with the same surname.{5} Who were clearly so unimportant their names were not recorded.{6} @@RepDis@@