Baker Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Baker Surname Meaning

Baker and Baxter come from the Middle English bakere, meaning “to bake” and is an occupational name. The Baker name has been mainly found in the south of England, the Baxter name mainly in Scotland and to some extent in the north of England.  The German equivalent is Becker, the Dutch Bakker.

Baker Surname Resources on The Internet

Baker Surname Ancestry

  • from England and from Germany (Becker)
  • to America, Canada and Australia

EnglandBaker is predominantly an English surname, the Scottish equivalent being Baxter. 

SE England.  The earliest Baker families were to be found in Kent and East Sussex:

  • the first and oldest were the Bakers of Battle, beginning with John Baker in 1375.
  • then, dating from 1490, were the Bakers of Sissinghurst who prospered in the wool trade at Cranbrook.  Sir John Baker of this family was known as Bloody Baker for his association with Queen Mary.  There were also the Bakers in Mayfield.
  • while the Bakers of Brookland in the Romney Marshes were said to have included John Baker who emigrated to Virginia in the 1620’s.

West Country.  The Baker name also emerged in the west country.  There were Bakers from East Devon who were recorded as MP’s for Lyme Regis in 1369 and 1407. 

James Baker was a talented shipbuilder from Culmstock in Devon who was entrusted by Henry VIII in the early 1500’s to build warships.  His son Matthew Baker became one of the most renowned Tudor shipwrights.  In 1711 this family, then clothiers, purchased the Buckland estate near Taunton.  Bakers meanwhile continued to live in Culmstock.

Later, George Baker, born in 1687, was the vicar at Modbury in Devon.  His son George was physician to King George III and became a baronet.  George’s son Frederick was accidentally killed by the vane of a windmill, but the line did continue. 

Valentine Baker served as a sea captain for Bristol merchants in their sugar trade with Jamaica.  In 1782 he successfully defended his ship against a French frigate in the Bristol Channel and had his moment of fame.  His son Samuel grew rich as a Jamaica merchant and retired to Thorngrove House, his country house in Worcestershire.  Samuel had three remarkable sons:

  • Samuel Baker who was the first European to visit Lake Albert as an explorer of the Nile and the interior of central Africa.  He was also known for his exploits as a big game hunter and for his friendship with the then Prince of Wales.
  • Valentine Baker, nicknamed Baker Pasha, who served with the British army in Central Asia and later, after a scandal in England, enrolled in the Ottoman army and was put in charge of the Egyptian police.
  • and James Baker who emigrated with his family to British Columbia in 1885.  His name lives on in the town of Cranbrook where he was instrumental in developing local coal deposits.

Elsewhere.  The Bakers were landed gentry in Durham from the time that Sir George Baker acquired Crook Hall near Newcastle in 1635.  Six generations of the Baker family lived there or at Elemore Hall.  Henry Baker Baker inherited Elemore in 1931.

Despite this northern presence, the Baker distribution still retained a southern focus.

Wales.  The Baker surname also extended across the border in Wales.  The Bakers of Abergavenny, an old Catholic family, claimed a descent from Sir Roger Vaughan of Herefordshire.  The earliest record of them was in 1590 and they remained prominent in Abergavenny as Bakers or later Baker-Gabbs.

Ireland.  Thomas Baker came to Ireland in 1641 after the Irish Rebellion of that year and settled in Tipperary.  Although he died the next year, his descendants acquired the estate of Lismascue in 1705 and William Baker was High Sheriff of Tipperary in 1726.  Godfrey Baker from this family was Mayor of Cork in 1769.  Limascue House, rebuilt by the Bakers in 1813, now operates as a bed and breakfast.

Some Bakers were originally Beckers and Huguenot refugees who had first arrived in Ireland in the early 1700’s.  They were to be found at Adare in Limerick and Portarlington in Laios.

AmericaThere were many early Bakers to New England, the first probably being Edward Baker who came with Winthrop’s fleet in 1630 and settled in Lynn, Massachusetts.  There followed:

  • Alexander Baker from London and Francis Baker from Hertfordshire, on different ships in 1635. Alexander settled in Boston (later Bakers moved to Fairfield, Connecticut), Francis in Yarmouth on Cape Cod.
  • while Thomas Baker from Kent arrived in 1639 and was one of the founders of Milford, Connecticut. A number of his descendants migrated to Westfield, New Jersey in the early 1700’s.  

Robert Baker came to America around 1728 and was a trapper and Indian trader in Path valley, Pennsylvania.  He was also a gunsmith, as were his sons, and they made what was called the PA rifle or the Kentucky rifle in Daniel Boone’s day.

Bakers in the South.  Richard Baker, a Royalist at the time of the English Civil War, had fled first to Barbados with his family and then in 1680 came to South Carolina.  He was the first of the Bakers of Archdale Hall.  The last of the line, Dr. Richard Bohun Baker, survived the Charleston earthquake of 1886 and died at the house in 1901.

A branch of the family had taken up land in Georgia in the 1750’s.  John Baker was a colonel in the Georgia militia during the Revolutionary War, distinguished himself, and, as a result, Baker county in Georgia was named after him.

Humphrey Baker from Worcester came out to Virginia as an indentured servant in 1729.  He and his wife Anna moved to the western frontier of Virginia in 1752.  Their son Robert grew up there.  He later became a well-known Methodist preacher in Missouri.

The Palumkey Bakers were so called because Palumkey Neck in Virginia was where Thomas Baker and Dorothy Davenport were married in 1734.  Their descendants crossed into the mountains of North Carolina and later extended across the South.

Born in North Carolina in 1798, Elijah Baker got a land grant for his plantation in Madison county, Alabama in 1826.  His son James became a lawyer in Texas where he was known as Judge Baker after 1864.  He was in fact the first of four generations of James Addison Baker, all of whom practiced law.  His great grandson was James Baker, the US Secretary of State under President Bush.

German.  Many Bakers in America have been of German origin, the German Becker or Becher becoming Baker.  

The most famous of these Beckers/Bakers was Jacob Baker, a surgeon in George Washington’s army who supposedly left a fortune.  However, these Baker riches turned out to be a hoax.  

Conrad Becker had arrived from Germany in 1739 and settled in York county, Pennsylvania.  His sons were all Beckers.  But the grandsons of his line that moved to Ohio and Indiana became Bakers.

George Baker meanwhile arrived on the Peggy in Philadelphia with his family in 1753.  They settled in the hardly populated Beaver county of Pennsylvania.  George and his son Peter were surveyors and stone masons by trade.

Heading West.  Gideon Baker – a descendant of immigrant Alexander Baker – had moved with his parents from Maine to Indiana in 1816, settled for a while in Idaho, and then embarked on the Oregon Trail west in 1847. 

His son Dorsey Baker developed a number of large-scale business enterprises in the Pacific West, including in Washington state a flour mill, a bank in Walla Walla, and the Walla Walla and Columbia river railroad.  Dorsey lived through three marriages and died in Walla Walla in 1888 at the age of sixty five.

Canada.  William Baker was a Loyalist from Massachusetts who departed for Dunham, Quebec in 1799.  His son George and grandson George were both Canadian MP’s, the latter George being killed on the Western Front in 1916 during the First World War.

Some of the other Baker Loyalists who came to Canada after the Revolutionary War were from Pennsylania and of German extraction – such as Abraham and Ester Baker who made their home in Wentworth county, Ontario.

William and Margaret Baker from Cornwall came with their ten children to St. Thomas in SE Ontario in 1847.  Since 1898 their descendants have been holding annual picnics every summer to commemorate the family.

Australia.   John Baker from Somerset came to Australia in 1838 and took up land in South Australia the following year.  He became a large sheep farmer and got involved in local politics.  His son Richard became Attorney General of South Australia and was knighted for his services.

After family deaths at their home in Somerset, a Baker family decided to emigrate to Australia.  They came in droves to South Australia between 1852 and 1857 – twenty three on three ships in total.  They lived in South Australia for about 20 years until the Wimmera land in Victoria was opened for selection and the Bakers moved in mass again.

A third migrant from Somerset to South Australia was Charles Baker, a blacksmith, who arrived with his family in 1865.  Their son Thomas moved to Melbourne and prospered in business, tying up with the Kodak company to produce the first X-ray film in Australia in 1923.

Baker Surname Miscellany

The Occupation of Baker.  The occupational name of Baker could refer to someone whose special responsibility in the kitchen of a manorial house was the baking of bread.  Alternatively, the baker might refer to the owner of a communal oven used by the village (as peasants generally could not bake their own bread).  Later, in London and other towns, the public baker was a substantial tradesman.

The Bakers of Sissinghurst.  Sissinghurst Manor in the Weald of Kent was purchased by Thomas Baker in 1490.  The Bakers had been a yeoman family based in nearby Cranbrook during the reign of Edward III.

Thomas Baker had come upon impressive wealth to purchase such a large manor.  Cranbrook was then becoming the lead cloth-making center for England, a position which it retained for three hundred years.  Many Flemish weavers settled in Cranbrook. As late as 1620, it was fashionable to be dressed in Cranbrook cloth.  Several other families developed prominence such as the Courthopes of Goddards Green, but Sissinghurst remained the oldest and greatest manor of the Weald.

Strangely, when Thomas Baker died in 1497 or his son Richard Baker died in 1504, there was nothing to indicate they had amassed their fortune in the cloth-making business.  It is known they were devout men, careful with their money, who cared deeply about their families but would not over-indulge them.

Sir John Baker lived at Sissinghurst Castle during the reign of Henry VIII.  As Attorney General, Baker had been pivotal in Henry’s dissolution of monastic and chantry.  The King left him 200 English pounds (a substantial sum at that time) in his will.  Sir John got his nickname Bloody because of his later association with Queen Mary.

Matthew Baker of Culmstock.  Matthew Baker was one of the most famous shipwrights of the Tudor age.  He was the first to lay down the lines of the ship in advance on paper, rather than the traditional way which was at the site of construction.

By 1578 he was well-established as a royal master shipwright at Deptford. He can claim some credit for the defeat of the Spanish Armada ten years later.  He was responsible for constructing or rebuilding many of the ships that fought against the Spanish.  And, from his vantage point at Culmstock in Devon, his beacon served as a communications signal for the advance of the Armada up the Channel.

Strangers on the Train – The Baker Scandal.  In 1875 Colonel Valentine Baker, aged forty-eight, was journeying to London by rail to dine with the Duke of Cambridge, Commander-in-Chief of the British Army.  He had joined the train at Liphook and entered a first-class carriage where a young 22 year-old woman, Miss Rebecca Kate Dickinson, was already seated.

What happened in the thirty minutes while the train was travelling between Woking and Esher was not disputed by Baker.  Miss Dickinson said that he had come to sit next to her. He placed his arm round her waist and gave her an unwanted kiss. Later he kissed her on the lips many times. More disturbingly still, for a Victorian lady, she felt his hand under her dress.

She tried to pull the communication cord, but it was inoperative. With remarkable courage she opened the carriage door and stepped out onto the foot-board until Esher was reached.

At the 1875 Surrey Assizes in Croydon, Colonel Baker was convicted of committing an indecent assault.  Worse still, it seems very clear that he was fortunate to have escaped a charge of attempted rape.  Colonel Baker was disgraced and sent to prison for a year.  However, he had some powerful friends (including, it is thought, the Prince of Wales) and they helped him find a post with the Ottoman army.

Baker Distribution in England.  H.B. Guppy in his 1890 survey Homes of Family Names in Great Britain had the following to say about the Baker name distribution in England:

“Speaking generally, the Baker surname is most numerous in the south of England and diminishes rapidly in frequency as we proceed northward, until we reach the counties bordering Scotland where it meets its extinction within sight of the Cheviot Hills.

Baker is a name which prefers the coast; and the manner in which it abounds in almost all the coastal counties of southern England (excluding Cornwall and Dorset), from Monmouth round to Suffolk, is very remarkable, and not at first sight intelligible. The counties of Monmouth, Somerset, Sussex, and Surrey stand foremost amongst those containing the greatest number of Bakers.”

This coastal preference comes out in the 1891 census.  There were two concentrations of the name at that time, one in the southeast from Essex along the coast to Hampshire and another in the southwest taking in Somerset and Devon.

The Bakers of Archdale Hall.  Richard Baker had come via Barbados to the Carolinas with his family sometime around 1680.  He was first granted land along the Ashley river in South Carolina.  There he built his home of Archdale Hall.   He died in 1698.

His wife Elizabeth, however, survived him for another thirty six years.   According to the South Carolina Gazette:

“On Tuesday the 13th August 1734 died near the Ashley river in the 104th year of her age Mrs. Elizabeth Baker.  Her maiden name was Elizabeth Wilson and she was born in Wiltshire in a town called Shraton on the 18th August 1630.  She lived in England for 27 years, in Barbados for 23 years, and in Carolina for 54 years. She had 12 children, two of them being alive yet, 25 grandchildren, and 43 great grandchildren. On the same day she died one of her great granddaughters was delivered of a child.”

Richard’s son William had taken over Archdale Hall and during his lifetime expanded the family’s land holdings so that they were close to 1,000 acres.  He also built a brick home in the Georgian style to replace the house his father had initially built.

However, it was probably the next Baker, Richard Baker, who elevated his family into the level of wealthy rice planters.   He operated a large rice warehouse on his property and a schooner whereby he could ship his and others’ rice along the Ashley river to Charleston.  He, however, died in 1752 as a result of a duel.

The family prosperity continued until the time of the Civil War.  After the war, Dr. Richard Bohun Baker, the sixth of that name, inherited Archdale Hall.  He was a widower with no children and lived there alone with a handful of ex-slaves who stayed on the plantation as laborers.  He survived the Charleston earthquake of 1886 which, however, left Archdale Hall in ruins.

Conrad Becker in Pennsylvania and the Baker Line.  Conrad Becker arrived in Philadelphia from the German Palatine with two brothers on the Snow Betsie in 1739.  He was next recorded in 1753 marrying Catharina Lambart in York county, Pennsylvania.  He fought in the Revolutionary War and died in 1795.  The Becker name became Baker shortly afterward.

Conrad and his wife raised no fewer than seventeen children at their home in Manchester township.  The twelfth child, named Conrad and born in 1777, was the father of Conrad Baker, a Presbyterian minister, and the grandfather of Conrad Baker, the Governor of Indiana in 1867 and 1868.

Dorsey Baker’s Tragedies in His Private Life 1868.  Just a few years after they had moved to their new home in Washington state at Walla Walla, his wife Caroline died at the age of twenty-nine. She was survived by four children, but three other children had died in infancy.

In 1865 Dorsey married Mary Legier from Illinois.  Mary, however, became ill and died in Walla Walla just a few weeks later. In 1867 he then married Lizzie McCullough. They had eight children, all daughters, four of whom died during a diphtheria epidemic.


Baker Names

  • Sir John Baker of Sissinghurst in Kent served as Chancellor of the Exchequer under Henry VIII.  Later he was known as Bloody Baker for his service to Bloody Queen Mary.
  • Jim Baker of Scots-Irish roots was one of the colorful frontiersman of the Old West.
  • Benjamin Baker was an eminent Victorian civil engineer, most known for his design and building of the Forth Bridge in Scotland.
  • Sir Samuel Baker was a Victorian big game hunter and explorer of the Nile and  the interior of central Africa.
  • Josephine Baker, an African American singer and dancer, made her name in Paris in the 1920’s and 1930’s.
  • James Baker from Houston in Texas was Chief of Staff for both President Reagan and Bush.

Baker Numbers Today

  • 105,000 in the UK (most numerous in Merseyside)
  • 160,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 82,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Baker and Like Surnames   

The various medieval trades and occupations were a source of surnames as John the baker would over time would become known as John Baker.  Some skilled craftsmen – such as chandlers, fletchers and turners – were able to form guilds, protective organizations, and style themselves Worshipful Companies.  These are some of the occupational surnames that you can check out.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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