Ball Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Ball Surname Meaning

Ball, originally Balle, is an English surname which probably has multiple origins, depending on location.  

Ball most likely developed as a nickname, either for a bald person or for a short fat person.  Then again the name could have been topographical, for someone who lived near a knoll or rounded hill. The old Norse name Balle might have given rise to the surname; while some have even suggested that Ball was a diminutive of the Baldwin name

Ball Surname Resources on The Internet

Ball Surname Ancestry

  • from England
  • to Ireland, America, Caribs (Barbados), South Africa and New Zealand

England. Ball and Balls are English surnames. Henry Guppy, the Victorian studier of surnames, found that the larger number spelt Ball were located on the western side of England and the smaller number spelt Balls on the eastern side. Since that time the Ball numbers have grown; while the Balls number have shrunk, possibly because of the holders’ embarrassment at the name.

“There were 2,900 Balls in the 1881 UK census, but only 1,300 recorded in 2008 – a drop of 55%. Only the Cock, Smellie, and Handcock surnames were more unpopular.”  

Balle first appeared as a surname with Godwin Balle in London in 1137. Robert Balle was imprisoned in Oxford for the death of Ralph Balle of Lamburn in 1272. The Balle name had in fact become quite extensive in England by the late 13th century. John Ball, one of the ringleaders of the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt, left his mark on English popular culture with the lines:

  • “When Adam delved and Eve span, 
  • Who was then the gentleman?

Cheshire and Lancashire.  Many early Balls came from Cheshire. Humphrey Ball of Greenhall on Castle Street was Sheriff of Chester in 1469. Then there were the Balls of Tussingham and Boughton, starting with Thomas Ball at Boughton in the early 1500’s.

These Balls probably spilled over into Lancashire. Some Ball yeoman farmers were to be found from the late 16th century in North Meols; and a Ball family was one of the obstinately Catholic families of north Lancashire during the 17th and 18th centuries. By the 19th century Lancashire had the largest number of Balls in England.

Devon and Cornwall.  A Ball family was first recorded with Nicholas Ball at Chudleigh in the mid-15th century. His great grandson Thomas was said to have been 100 on his death in 1620. The line at Mamhead Park included Sir Peter Ball, Attorney General to Queen Henrietta Maria, and his two astronomer sons. Later Balls of this family were merchants to Ireland, Italy and the Levant, the last of their line being Thomas Ball who died in 1749.

One Ball line in Cornwall began with Christopher and Bridget Ball at St. Ervan in the mid/late 1600’s. Like many other Cornish families, their descendants emigrated in the 19th century – some going to Canada and others to Australia.

Elsewhere.  The Ball name at Hadleigh in Suffolk dates from the 16th century and probably earlier. Ralph Ball was a yeoman farmer at Parham. His line extended to Scottow in Norfolk where the name later became Balls.

Lawrence Ball meanwhile was a grocer in Northampton at this time. One of his sons Lawrence was the mayor of Northampton in 1592. Another son Richard became a clergyman in London.

Ireland. The early spelling was also Balle in Ireland. The name Hugh Balle appeared in Dublin records in 1278.

Robert Ball was sheriff of Drogheda in 1414. He was thought to have been the progenitor of the Ball merchant family in Dublin:

  • their family fortunes were founded by Bartholomew Ball who had come to Dublin as a young man and established himself as one of its leading merchants. He was Mayor of Dublin in 1554.
  • his line continued with Walter Ball, Mayor of Dublin in 1580; Robert Ball, Sheriff of Dublin in 1600; and William Ball who became its MP in 1642.

The family owned land and operated the bridge over the river Dodder after which Ballsbridge in Dublin was named. Their home base was St. Audeon’s parish in Dublin and subsequently at Ballsgrove in Drogheda.

Other notable Balls in Ireland were descendants of latter Ball arrivals from England:

  • the Balls of Enniskillen in Fermanagh began with William Ball in 1608 from the Ball Boughton family in Cheshire. One line extended to Thomas Ball, a well-known Dublin schoolmaster in the 18th century; another line to Thomond Bell, a Dublin woolen merchant who emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1769.
  • the Balls of Youghal in Cork began with Robert Ball in 1674 from the Devon merchant family. In this line was Sir Robert Ball, a distinguished astronomer of the early 1900’s (his Reminiscences, published in 1915, described much of his family background).
  • while John Ball of Dublin claimed an ancestry back to earlier Balls in Wexford. He was a wealthy 18th century silk manufacturer on Eccles Street who converted to Catholicism.

These and other Ball lines in Ireland were covered in the Rev. William Ball Wright’s 1908 book Ball Family Records. One excited reader, on receiving this work, exclaimed to the author as follows: “Your magnificent volume will make every Ball bounce!”  

America. The Ball name in America by country of origin is mainly from England, according to shipping records, but also has an Irish and German presence.

Two early Ball lines in Massachusetts were:

  • Francis Ball, first recorded at Dorchester in 1639, who moved to Springfield a year later. He drowned in the Connecticut river in 1648. The main line went through his son Jonathan. He died in Springfield in 1741 at the age of 95. His son Jonathan died at the good age of 85; but grandson Jonathan died of smallpox at just 30.
  • John Ball, first recorded at Watertown in 1650, who died at Concord five years later. He was possibly from Wiltshire.  His son John, a tailor, was killed with his wife and child during an Indian attack on Lancaster in 1676. One son living in Watertown, John, survived. A famous descendant is the actress and comedienne Lucille Ball.

Alling Ball was first recorded at the New Haven colony in Connecticut around the year 1642. Some of his offspring remained in New Haven. Edward Ballmigrated with his family in 1666 to Newark, New Jersey where he was one of the original settlers of the town:

  • Edward’s grandson Timothy built a large house in Maplewood, New Jersey in 1743 which is still standing. He succumbed to the smallpox in 1758, but the house remained with his descendants until 1853. A later Timothy Ball came to Ohio by horseback in 1803, following Indian trails into Knox county where he settled.
  • while a line from Moses Ball of Newark led first to upstate New York and then in 1885 to Muncie, Indiana where five Ball brothers founded a fruit canning business with its well-known Ball jars a few years later.

Colonel William Ball of Millenbeck, a merchant and planter, was the first of the Ball family in Virginia. He came to Lancaster county in 1650.

One son William became a Philadelphia merchant and died a wealthy man in 1740. Another son Joseph died young when his daughter Mary was just three years old. She was raised by a guardian until in 1731, at the age of 23, she married Augustine Washington, a middle-aged widower at a nearby plantation. Their first child George, born the following year, grew up to be President George Washington.

There had been speculation that these various Ball immigrants – those in Massachusetts, New Haven, and even in Virginia – were all from Wiltshire and were related to each other. But recent DNA testing has shown this not to be true.

Irish arrivals. Perhaps the first to come was John Ball, from the Anglo-Irish Devon family, who came in 1686 at Bayside, an early Quaker settlement in Talbot county, Maryland.

Two Balls departed Dublin for America in the 1760’s:

  • Thomond Ball who came with his family to Pennsylvania. His son Blackall was a captain in the Revolutionary War. Their family Bible was handed down to Thomas Hand Ball, Thomond’s great great grandson and a woolen manufacturer in Philadelphia in the early 1900’s.
  • James Ball who settled in Culpepper county, Virginia. He too fought in the Revolutionary War and later died in Kentucky. His descendants moved along the frontier to Indiana and Oklahoma. The family story was recounted in Roy Ball’s 1956 book Conquering The Frontiers.

Caribbean.  The Ball name in Barbados dated back to the 1640’s when Thomas Ball arrived from Newcastle and lived there until his death in 1678.  Guy Ball, a London merchant, came to the Barbados Chrish Church parish around the year 1700 as a planter.  His daughter Frances gave her name to what became the Balls plantation.

Canada.  Jacob Ball was a Loyalist in upstate New York who moved with his family to the Niagara region of Canada in 1783. His sons built a grist mill and sawmill at what was first known as Glen Elgin and is presently Ball’s Falls. The Ball family lived in the area for more than 150 years until Manly Ball sold their land to the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority in 1962.   

South Africa. Herbert S, Ball came out to South Africa from Cambridgeshire in the 1880’s and got a job as a railway superintendent in Cape Town. There he married Amelia Adkins who brought with her a secret recipe for chutney. That chutney is now a household brand in South Africa known as Mrs. Ball’s Chutney.

Australia.  Edwin Ball and his family from St. Columb in Cornwall came on the Royal Standard in 1866 and settled in Linton, Victoria where Edwin worked as a blacksmith. Two of his sons, Barney and Oscar, followed him as blacksmiths.

New Zealand.  Meanwhile Richard Ball from Launceston, also in Cornwall, had arrived in New Zealand a few years earlier. He had joined the army and been sent to Auckland to fight in the Maori wars. He stayed and settled in Blenheim on the north end of South Island, dying there in 1923 at the age of ninety.

Another Ball resident of Blenheim was Staffordshire-born Henry Ball who had come to New Zealand in 1856 and settled in Blenheim (then called Beavertown) a few years later. A maltster by trade, he started the Marlborough brewing company there.

Ball Surname Miscellany

John Ball in Popular Culture.  John Ball was an English Lollard priest who took a prominent part in the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381.  He had been in prison in Maidstone at the time, but released by the Kentish rebels.  He gave an open-air sermon at Blackheath which contained the following words:

  • “When Adam delved and Eve span,
  • Who was then the  gentleman?

From the beginning all men by nature were created alike and our bondage or servitude  came in by the unjust oppression of naughty men.  For if God would have had any bondmen from the beginning, he would have appointed who should be bond, and who free. And therefore I exhort you to consider that now the time is come, appointed to us by God, in which ye may (if ye will) cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty.”

Ball seemed to have possessed the gift of rhyme.  He voiced the feelings of a section of the discontented lower orders of society at that time who chafed at villeinage and the lords’ rights of unpaid labor.  He met a horrible death after the revolt was crushed.  But he has remained a popular figure in English culture.

He appeared as a character in the play Jack Straw of 1593 which dealt with the events of the Peasants’ Revolt.  The writer William Morris and songwriter Sydney Carter commemorated him in prose and song.  And a tower chapel at the parish church of Thaxted in Essex was dedicated to John Ball in the 1930’s by its Anglo-Catholic socialist vicar Father Conrad Noel.

Early Ball Wills in Cheshire and Lancashire  

Date Name Place County
1575 Henry Ball Burton Lancashire
1584 Thomas Ball  (husbandman) Great Boughton Cheshire
1594 George Ball Woodchurch Lancashire (Wirral)
1597 Thomas Ball  (shoemaker) Chester Cheshire
1598 William Ball Chester Cheshire
1602 Richard Ball North Meols Lancashire
1603 Peter Ball Simonswood Lancashire
1605 Thomas Ball Great Boughton Cheshire

Mamhead Park in Devon.  The Mamhead estate in Devon was purchased by Giles Ball of Chudleigh in 1557.  His son Sir Peter Ball was Attorney General to King Charles I’s Queen Henrietta Maria.  Sir Peter began to build a country house there, replacing the older building.

His grandson Thomas Ball, a merchant, planted many exotic trees brought back from his travels. Between 1742 and 1745, he built an obelisk on the hill above the house “out of a regard to the safety of such as might use to sail out of the port of Exon or any others who might be driven on the coast.” The obelisk had a height of one hundred feet.

However, Thomas died in 1749 and the estate was later sold.

A Ball Family in Dublin Divided by Catholicism.  The Ball family of merchants in Dublin were originally Catholic, but came under pressure to convert to the ruling Anglican faith during the latter part of Queen Elizabeth’s reign.

Walter Ball conformed to the Anglican religion in order to progress politically.  This led him to become Commissioner for Ecclesiastical Causes in 1577 in charge of implementing the Reformation in Dublin.  He also showed at that time great interest in the founding of the Anglican Trinity College.

His mother Margaret, the widow of Bartholomew Ball, had remained a pious Catholic after her husband’s death in 1573.  She would celebrate the Catholic Mass and hide Catholic priests in her home at a time when they were being persecuted.

Walter in his zeal committed her to prison not just once but twice. The second time occurred in 1580 while he was Mayor of Dublin.   There she remained with crippling arthritis in the cold dank dungeon of Dublin castle until she died in 1584.  She is now the Blessed Margaret Ball for having been martyred for her faith.

Her son Nicholas was also a Catholic but not overtly so.  Like his Anglican brother he was able to serve as Lord Mayor of Dublin.

Balls in America by Country of Origin

Origin Numbers Percent
England   1,000    62
Germany     268    25
Ireland     167    11
Elsewhere      31     2
Total   1,466   100

Reader Feedback – Antecedents of John Ball of Watertown.  I wonder if the name Ball could have been originally derived from the descendants of the priests of the Baal religion.

We male descendants of John Ball of Watertown have a G2 ydna, which is very rare, and have been said to have come from Wiltshire in England. They have said that the builders of Stonehenge, which is located in Wiltshire, have the same neolithic G2 dna origins. I understand that most of those in the British Isles with G2 dna still live in or have come from SW England or Wales.  Could it be that Stonehenge would have been the place of my Ball ancestor’s origins?

Regards, Henry C. Ball  (

Edward Ball of Newark, New Jersey.  Edward Ball, a co-founder of the town of Newark, was born at Branford in the New Haven colony around the year 1642, the son of Alling and Susan Ball.  Edward married Abigail Blatchley there about 1664.

In 1666 a group of people from Branford signed an agreement to move to a new colony in New Jersey and form a town that was to be called Newark.  The English had just acquired the area surrounding New York from the Dutch and were very anxious to establish new English communities as fast as possible. Edward Ball and his father-in-law Thomas Blatchley both signed the agreement, but it seems that the Blatchleys did not actually go.

The following year the Ball family moved to Newark. Everyone was assigned a six acre house lot in the new town.  Edward Ball’s lot was number 70. His land lay between Broad and Washington Streets, on the site of Park Street in Newark today. Also among the founders of Newark was Stephen Davis, whose granddaughter Sarah married Edward Ball’s son Thomas.

Edward was prominent in local government and was appointed High Sheriff of Essex county in 1693.  The last record of him was in 1724 when he was in his early eighties. 

Reader Feedback – Ball in Coldwater, Michigan.  My great grandfather Elijah Ball was from Devon in England. He immigrated in 1861 to Coldwater, Michigan, started a planing mill with his two brothers, and had four sons.

Thomas Ball (

Reader Feedback – Balls in Ohio.  My great grandfather was named John William Ball, born in 1907.  His Dad and Mom were name Jacob and Catherine Ball from Napoleon, Ohio.  I can only look up John William but not Jacob. Do you know any of the Ball family who had a son named Jacob?

Christina Chaney (

Mrs. Ball’s Chutney.  In 1852 when the Quanza was shipwrecked off South Africa, en route from Canada to Australia, Captain Adkins and his wife were lucky to escape with not only their lives but also with the blueprint for what was to become one of the South Africa’s culinary icons.

Making the best of their situation, Captain Adkins and his wife settled in King William’s Town.  In 1865 their daughter Amelia was born. She was later in 1886 to marry Herbert S. Ball, a railway superintendent from Cape Town. As part of her coming of age, the young bride was given the secret chutney recipe.

When the Great War broke out in 1914, Mrs. Ball’s chutney was being made on a small scale and was either given as gifts to friends or sold at church bazaars.  So popular became its piquant and fruity flavor that the Ball kitchen was transformed into a makeshift production line.

As demand continued to soar, Amelia and Herbert sought the assistance of a Cape Town businessman named Fred Metter who procured both the octagonal jar and the oval label with which it is known today.

In 1962 Amelia died at the age of 97, at peace that the secret recipe was known only to her son and to her grandson.

Ball Names

  • John Ball was an English Lollard priest from Essex who took a prominent part in the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. 
  • Frank Ball was the President of the Ball Brothers Corporation which developed in the late 1800’s its famous Ball jars for fruit canning. 
  • Sir Robert Ball was a distinguished Anglo-Irish astronomer of the early 20th century who developed the theory of screws for the science of kinematics. 
  • Lucille Ball was the American star of the 1950’s TV sitcom I Love Lucy.

Ball Numbers Today

  • 49,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 31,000 in America (most numerous in Ohio)
  • 21,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Ball and Like Surnames

Nicknames must have been an early feature of medieval life in a family or community as these nicknames later translated into surnames.  People then lived a more natural life than we do today and the surnames have reflected that.

They could be about color (Brown, Gray, Green etc), whether of hair or complexion or other factors; mood (Gay and Moody are two extremes); youth (Cox and Kidd); speed of foot (Swift and Lightfoot); and actions (such as Shakespeare and Wagstaff).  Then there were likenesses to animals (notably Fox and Wolfe but also Peacock) and to birds (Crowe and Wren for example).  And then there were some extraordinary nicknames such as Drinkwater and Wildgoose.

Here are some of these nickname surnames that you can check out.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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