Old Sussex surnames

18th June 2011 | Daily Life, Musings | 4 comments

After I had finished my rehearsal in Rye Church in East Sussex the other day, I was standing outside the church waiting for the rain to stop, and my eye fell on the War Memorial commemorating local men who had given their lives in the World Wars of 1914-19 and 1939-45.

What evocative surnames some of them had! Bagot, Bone, Breeds, Butchers, Care, Curd, Deeprose, Dunk, Gladwish, Golden, Hatter, Luck, Stocks, Twort, Welfare. It was like a glimpse of mediaeval England. And yet these were not names on some ancient monument. Nor were they names from a remote region of England – these were men from a thriving town on the south coast. Indeed, because it was once a port you might expect the names to be influenced by foreign languages, but there was no sign of that; as Sir Arthur Sullivan might have said, ‘But in spite of all temptations/To belong to other nations/He remains an Englishman!’  Except possibly for Twort, whose name might be an inspired shaving from the German word ‘Antwort’, meaning answer. I loved the names Curd and Luck, Care and Gladwish and Welfare. I liked imagining what their ancestors had done to be known by those names.


  1. Mary

    I number amongst my acquaintances families called ‘Dunk’ and ‘Stocks’ and have often wondered about the origins of these names. As an inveterate reader of War Memorials, I have noticed that there is often a considerable difference in the types of names of officers and ‘other ranks’. On holiday, I am often tempted into churches and cathedrals, where I enjoy looking out for obviously local names on memorials and gravestones. In these days of global travel, it is surprising how often clusters of unusual and specific local names still occur, but I wonder how long this will last in country villages and small towns where the younger generations inevitable have to leave to find work and affordable housing…

    • Susan Tomes

      That’s so interesting about the different sorts of names! Presumably the officers were more likely to be called things like Turret, Steed, or Croquet-Mallet…

  2. Clifford Coppen

    Im told the Coppen name resides among those who once inhabited Sussex. Is there evidence of that ?

  3. Susan Tomes

    Clifford, I’m afraid I can’t answer that as I’m not a historian – I just wrote about what I saw as a visitor.


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