Baker Surname Meaning, History & Origin

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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.

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

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.

Bakers from Durham acquired Crook Hall near Newcastle in 1635.  The Baker surname by then had spread across the country.  But the Baker distribution did still retain a southern focus in the 19th century.

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.  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.
  • 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.  

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.

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.

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.


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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.

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 lamdholdings 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.


Select 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.

Select 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)


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