Beal Surname Meaning, History & origin

Beal Surname Meaning

Beal, Beale, and Beall have been the main surnames here. Beal and Beale are English surnames; while Beall is mainly American.

The Beal surname in England may have derived from the Yorkshire place-name Beal, a village near Selby in the north of the county. Beal here was an abridgement of the Begale found in the 1086 Domesday Book, from the Old English beag (“river-bend”) and halh (“nook of land”).

The Beale and Beal surnames in the south of England are likely to have had a different origin. Here it is thought that the name started out as a nickname for a handsome man, from the Old French bel which we would know today as beau.

Beall is a spelling found in America, coming from the Scottish arrivals into Maryland in the 17th century who were originally Bell. Meanwhile some Beals in America may have German roots, anglicized from Biehl or Buhl.

Beal Surname Resources on The Internet

Beal, Beale and Beall Surname Ancestry

  • from Scotland and England
  • to America, Australia and New Zealand

Scotland. A legend has it that the Beals were a Border Scots clan that raided into England during and after the 12th century, leaving their name to villages today in Northumberland and Yorkshire. But evidence for such a clan is scant. Beals or Beales are few in Scotland today.

A number of Bealls did come to America from Fife in the 17th century. But they were Bells in Scotland and only changed their name to Beall on coming to Maryland. The name was usually pronounced as “Bell.” There did remain in Fife a small pocket of Bealls at Dysart.

Daniel Beale was born in 1759 in Edinburgh “of Scottish parents domiciled in Scotland.” He joined the East India Company in 1782 and headed east. There he and his younger brother Thomas were merchants active in the opium trade into China.

England. Beal has featured as a surname in Yorkshire, both Beale and Beal in the south of England.

Yorkshire.  The Beal name may have started out in the East Riding. One family at Skirpenbeck near Stamford Bridge has been traced back to the churchwarden James Beal who died in 1715.

Beals also appeared in Pocklington and Holderness. A Beal family has been farming in Holderness for eight generations. Around 1840 John Scott Beal moved to Hull where his sons became building contractors. Their family business, now known as Beal Homes, continues today.

By the late 19th century, however, the greater Beal numbers were in and around Sheffield in the West Riding.

South of England.  Beale and Beal both appear in the south of England, on roughly a 60/40 basis in the 1881 census. Their main concentration at that time was in SE England.

The Beale line at Maidstone in Kent dates from 1399, according to the Beale Memorial in All Saints church.

“John Beale and his son Robert who died in 1461 and 1490 respectively were wine merchants in the days when the Archbishop of Canterbury dominated the town. But by 1600 their descendants had become either merchants or gentlemen.”  

Thomas Beale who had commissioned the Beale Memorial died in 1606. His brother was John Pepper Beale, a merchant in London. John’s son Sir John was created a Baronet in 1660. Another descendant was Colonel Thomas Beale, a Royalist officer during the Civil War who departed for Virginia.  

“According to family tradition, Captain Thomas Beale distinguished himself in the siege of Pontefract castle in 1644 and was wounded, whereupon he was picked up by a Dutch vessel and brought across the Atlantic.”  

There were two Beales at Biddenden in Kent in the early 1600’s – Richard who became a clothier and prospered and William who emigrated to New England. Richard married Mary Seaman and made his home at River Hall in Biddenden. His line later led to:

  • Seaman Beale, born in 1742, who came as a young man to London where he worked as a wharfinger (wharf keeper). He was bankrupted at one time and died in 1789. His two sons then returned to Kent.
  • and Richard Beale Sr, born in 1771, who with his son Richard Beale Jr kept farm diaries (which have been preserved) at River Hall from 1791 until 1834.

A Beale family which was recorded as living in the Royston area of Hertfordshire from the 16th century as farmers, bakers and inn-keepers. In 1769 John Beale, a master baker, moved to London and opened a shop on Oxford Street. William Beale who arrived in Victorian times also started as a baker but later opened a restaurant. His descendants have expanded the Beales Group into the hotel business in London and Hertfordshire.

Starting from William Beale of Camp Hill in the late 18th century, these Beales became established in Birmingham as prominent businessmen, lawyers, and civic leaders. Their company Beale & Co. was closely involved with the expansion plans of the Midland Railway and profited thereby. Samuel Beale was the mayor of Birmingham in 1841 and Charles Beale the mayor three times between 1897 and 1905. Around this time James Beale had built Standen House in Sussex.

William Beal, born in 1785, was the son of a Beal family in Devonport. He became a Wesleyan minister in 1808. His son William followed him. Another son Samuel was an Oriental scholar, the first Englishman to translate the early records of Buddhism direct from the Chinese. A third son Philip is only remembered now for having survived the wreck of the Jenny Lind off the Queensland coast in 1850.

Other Beals were well-known stationers in Brighton in the mid-1800’s. Ernest Beal of this family was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery during the First World War.

Ireland.  Thomas and Sarah Beale came to Ireland from Suffolk in 1652, initially settling in Armagh. Their son Joshua later moved to Cork. These Beales were Quakers, first recorded as such in 1711.

Thomas, Samuel and George Beale operated shops on Meeting House Lane in Cork city in the mid-18th century. Joseph Beale was a woollen manufacturer in Mountmellick, Laios who emigrated to Australia in the mid-19th century. William Beale was murdered on the streets during the Irish Civil War in 1923.

America. Beal, Beale and Beall all appear in America.

New England.  John Beal, a shoemaker, came with his family on the Diligent in 1638 – from Hingham in Norfolk to Hingham in Massachusetts. He died in 1688 at the good age of one hundred.

His line subsequently became Beals. Abel Beals migrated to Nova Scotia around 1777. William Beals was the proprietor of the Boston Post from 1831 until his death in 1870. This family line was covered in Nathaniel Shurtleff’s 1865 book John Beal of Hingham.

William Beale from Kent came to Marblehead around 1650. And there may have been two Beal lines in York, Maine:

  • Arthur Beal from Devon, first sighted there in 1655. The town of Beals in Maine was named after Mainwaring Beal. A descendant was George L. Beal, a Major General in the Civil War.
  • and William Beale, perhaps related, who was born there in 1664. He was a ferryman and inn-keeper in Kittery. Beale here became Beal after four generations.

Pennsylvania. William Beale, a Quaker, left his home in Wiltshire for Pennsylvania in 1728. He settled with his family in West Whiteland township in Chester county. His line was covered in Mary Beale Hitchens’ 1961 book Here Comes Tomorrow.

Pennsylvania had German Beals that might originally have been Biehl or Buhl:

  • Peter Biehl, for instance, arrived from Germany sometime in the 1740’s and settled in Somerset county. His Beal descendants later moved onto Ohio. 
  • also making the move from Pennsylvania to Ohio was George Beal of German extraction from Beaver county. Having fought in the Revolutionary War he married Nancy Sparks and they moved to Guernsey county, Ohio around 1813.

Virginia.  Thomas Beale from Kent arrived in 1645 and was made Sheriff of York county that year. He was clearly a person of substance, even more so after he had received a letter of recommendation from King Charles II in 1668.

His son Thomas settled in what is now Richmond county and established the Beale home at Chestnut Hill. Among his descendants were:

  • Robert Beale who fought in the Revolutionary War and penned an account of his experiences for his children. His son Richard Turberville Beale was a Virginia Congressman and a Confederate Brigadier General during the Civil War. 
  • and George Beale who fought in the War of 1812 and subsequently was a paymaster for the US Navy in Washington. His son Ned Beale achieved national fame in 1848 for carrying to the East the first gold samples from California, thus contributing to the gold rush.

The Beale line here was recounted in Frances Beal Hodges’ 1956 book The Genealogy of the Beale Family. 

Beall. Ninian Beall, a big strapping Scotsman seven feet tall with red hair, arrived a prisoner on the Maryland shoreline in 1652 and later became a wealthy and well-respected man in the colony. He was given warrants for thousands of acres of land, including much of what is now Washington DC. His grandson George sold off the land that is now called Georgetown.

Another Beall from Fifeshire in Scotland, Alexander Beall, arrived in Maryland around 1680. He, like Ninian, made his home in the vast tracts of land that made up Prince George’s county. There were marriages between his descendants and those of Colonel Ninian Beall.

Bealls from Maryland later migrated south and west.

Mannum Beall moved with his family to Georgia in 1787. His Bealls ran the Beall Springs Hotel in Warren county. Erastus Beall left there for Texas in 1853. And Thaddeus Beall who had fought in the Revolutionary War was the forebear of the Bealls of Carroll county, Georgia.

Reasin Beall moved to Ohio in 1803 where he fought in the War of 1812 and served as a US Congressman. His house in Wooster, Wayne county is still standing. Samuel Beall meanwhile departed in 1835 for Green Bay, Wisconsin where he made a fortune in land speculation.

Canada. Abel Beals migrated from Massachusetts to Nova Scotia around 1777 and made his home in Annapolis county. Among his descendants were:

  • Zephaniah Beals who departed as a missionary to China in 1892 and was to stay there forty years.
  • and Carlyle Beals who is considered one of Canada’s great astronomers.

Australia. Joseph Beale, a Quaker, emigrated with his family to Australia from Ireland in the early 1850’s. His son Octavius formed a company to import sewing machines and pianos in 1879, after which he established Australia’s first piano factory at Annandale outside Sydney in 1893. He died in 1930 but the factory continued production until 1975.

William and Joseph Beale were prominent Wesleyan ministers in Sydney in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Joseph’s son Howard became a Liberal party politician who served in the Menzies Cabinet during the 1950’s and was later Australia’s ambassador to the United States. Howard’s son Julian has also been a Liberal party politician.

New Zealand.  Thomas and Eliza Beal arrived in Melbourne from London around 1852. Their son Latham married there and he and his family moved to Dunedin in New Zealand in 1867.

Bernard Beale, also from London, had come to New Zealand in 1861 and settled in Hamilton where he practiced as a doctor. His home there, Beale Cottage, has been preserved as an historic building.

Beal Surname Miscellany

Beals, Beales and Bealls Today

Numbers (000’s) Beal Beale Beall Total
UK    4    8    1   13
America    8    3    3   14
Elsewhere    3    3    6
Total   15   14    4   33

The Beale Memorial in Maidstone.  The Beale Memorial, commissioned by Thomas Beale in the early 1600’s, was erected in the east corner of the St. Thomas Beckett Chapel in All Saints church, Maidstone.  It shows a pictorial history of this local Maidstone family spanning two hundred years from 1399 onwards.

The memorial itself is a plate of copper 30 inches long and 18 inches wide containing a genealogy of six generations of the family, Thomas himself representing the seventh.  It is divided into six spaces vertically, each space representing a generation.  Each space is then divided into three compartments horizontally.

The central compartment contains the figures of the parents, the Christian name of the wife – or two where there was more than one wife – and the relationship of the husband to Thomas Beale.

The left compartment represents the sons, with the name of the one who succeeded the family honors.

The right compartment represents the daughters, all kneeling. The first and third sections, there apparently being no daughter, a short Latin sentence is introduced.  In the fourth section the skull is emblematic of an early death of a daughter.

The inscription reads as follows:

“Thomas Beale, thrice grandson of John Beale his great-grandfather’s great-grandfather, twice Mayor of this town, humbly loyal to God and the King, of frugal and contented spirit, beloved by his neighbours, and studying the good of this town, the husband of two wives, and the father of twenty-one children, died February 2nd 1593, and left surviving six sons and two daughters.

Whose father William Beale, lately Portreve of that town, who succoured its needy in his time, died in the year 1534.

Whose grandfather Robert lived in this town, and died in 1490.

Whose great-great-grandfather William in 1429, having also in his time been Portreve, and one of the first of the Brethren of the Fraternity (of Corpus Christi) in this town, was buried in the Church of St. Faith.

And whose great-great-great-grandfather John also died in the year 1399.

Here they lived, earning a good report; here too, dying, look for the resurrection of the flesh at the advent of Christ.  May God’s blessing rest on their posterity. Thomas, the son of the said Thomas, erects this monument in their memory.”

Reader Feedback – Origin of Beal.  Another explanation of the origin of the surname is that some Beale lands in Kent were around the river Beult (pronounced Bealt), a tributary of the Medway.

Richard Beale (

Beale and Beal Numbers in SE England in the 1881 Census

SE England Numbers Beale Beal
London    679    356
Kent    287    269
Surrey    401    143
Sussex    177    208
Hampshire    245     68
Total   1,789   1,044

James Beale and Standen House.  James Samuel Beale came from one of the great Birmingham families.  There had been Beales in Birmingham since about 1700.  By the mid-19th century they and a small number of other Unitarian families dominated the upper range of Birmingham society and the business life of the town.

In 1891 James Beale had turned fifty.  He had seven children, aged between five and nineteen, and had made his fortune.  He wanted somewhere to spend weekends with his family and ultimately to retire.  He bought land on which to build a house near East Grinstead in Sussex.

His choice of architect and builder was interesting.  Philip Webb had been the leading architect of the developing Arts and Crafts school, together with his friend William Morris.  However, that might not have been the primary reason behind the choice. Webb had a reputation for building houses that did not go over budget and that would have appealed to a careful lawyer like Beale.

Standen House was completed in 1894, with William Morris providing the furnishings, and is probably the outstanding example of an Arts and Crafts house in England today.  James Beale died in 1912.  The house remained with the family through the two unmarried daughters – first Maggie and then Helen – until 1972 when the house passed to the National Trust.

Ninian Beall Who Prospered in Maryland.  Ninian Beall, born in 1625, was the son of Dr. James Bell of Largo, Fifeshire on Scotland’s East Coast. He grew to be seven feet tall and had red hair.  In later years, he was quick to remind people that his name was not pronounced as spelled, but was “ringing bell.”

Commissioned in the Royalist army raised to resist Cromwell, Ninian was captured at the Battle of Dunbar in 1650 and was sent, along with 149 other Scotsmen, to Barbados where he had been sentenced to five years servitude.

There he managed to become Ninian Beall (a not-unusual English name pronounced Be-all).  A likely reason for this was for him to conceal his roots from his captors and to protect his family in Scotland from recrimination.  About 1652 he was transferred, still a prisoner, to Maryland as an indentured servant to Richard Hall of Calvert county.

In time he was freed from his indenture obligations.  After the colony became a royal province in 1659, he rose from indentured servant to being a Member of the House of Burgesses and then the Commander in Chief of the Provincial Forces of Maryland.  He was one of the most influential men in the settling of the District of Columbia and its surrounding area, as well as in the protection of the colonists from the Indians.

In 1699 the General Assembly passed an Act of Gratitude for the distinguished Indian services of Colonel Ninian Beall:

“Whereas Colonel Ninian Beall has been found very serviceable to this Province upon all incursions and disturbances of neighboring Indians and though now grown very aged and less able to perform well, continues, now beyond his ability to do the like service at this juncture of affairs, it is therefore thought fit in point of gratitude for such his good services done and towards his support and relief now in his old age to make him an allowance out of the public revenues of this province.”

Through his many acts of faithfulness and bravery, as well as because of the large number of immigrants he had managed to attract into Maryland, Ninian Beall was given warrants for thousands of acres of land.

When Prince Georges County was created out of Calvert county, over 7,000 acres of his property were found to be in this new county.  On part of this acreage, the District of Columbia is now located, and on another part the famed Dumbarton Oaks.   He died in 1717 a well-respected and wealthy man. 

The National Figure That Was Ned Beale.  Ned Beale was born in Washington DC and ended his life in Washington DC.

In the interim he fought in the Mexican–American War and emerged as a hero in the Battle of San Pasqual in 1846.  He achieved national fame in 1848 in carrying to the East the first gold samples from California, thus contributing to the gold rush.

In the 1850’s Ned Beale surveyed and built Beale’s Wagon Road, which many settlers used to move to the West and which became part of Route 66 and the route for the Transcontinental railroad.  As California’s first Superintendent of Indian Affairs, he helped charter a humanitarian policy towards Native Americans.  He also founded the Tejon Ranch in California, the largest private landholding in the United States, and became a millionaire several times over.

He moved back to Washington in 1871 and acquired Decatur House opposite the White House.

President Grant appointed Beale Ambassador to Austria-Hungary in 1876.  His lavish entertaining, tales of the American West, command of foreign languages, and warm personality made Beale and his wife popular figures in the Viennese court.  He subsequently returned to Washington and Decatur House where he died in 1893.

“Beale successfully pursued a personal El Dorado of adventure, status, and wealth,” wrote Gerald Thompson. “In doing so, he mirrored the dreams of countless Americans of his day.”

Big Edie and Little Edie at Grey GardensSome have hailed the 1975 documentary Grey Gardens as one of the greatest documentary films of all time.

It depicted the lives of two reclusive upper-class women, a mother and daughter both named Edith Beale, who lived in poverty in a derelict mansion called Grey Gardens in the wealthy area of East Hampton on Long Island.

The story began when attorney and sportsman Phelan Beale from Chattanooga with his southern roots in Alabama and North Carolina, having attended Yale Law School, moved to New York.

There he started a law practice (Bouvier & Beale) with “Major” John Vernou Bouvier from a well-to-do New Jersey family.  Both belonged to the upper echelons of Catholic society.

The Major had a daughter Edith whom Phelan married in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1917.  He was 36 and she was 22.  Together they had three children.  In 1924 they acquired the 28-room Grey Gardens mansion.

Edith Beale nee Bouvier, later to be known as Big Edie, was aunt to the Major’s grand-daughter Jacqueline Bouvier who would become Jacqueline Kennedy and America’s First Lady.  Edith herself had musical aspirations.  At Grey Gardens her preference was to bang away on the grand piano and sing, rather than venture to the cocktail parties that her husband enjoyed attending.

In fact her outlandish freethinking attitude and gypsy-like appearance embarrassed her husband. She could not care less about the opinions of others and reportedly refused to have her name printed in the Social Register.  In 1934 Phelan Beale left Big Edie and the mansion and moved to his hunting lodge, the Grey Goose Gun Club, on the island.

Big Edie remained at Grey Gardens.  In 1952 her daughter – Little Edie – joined her.  For the next two decades mother and daughter became increasingly reclusive, rarely venturing outside their property. Grey Gardens continued to slide downward, becoming the domain of stray cats and raccoons, both of which Little Edie took care to feed on a regular basis.

The two women shared a bedroom and cooked their dinners over a hot plate. Visitors and the occasional handymen often had to wear flea collars on their arms or legs in order to stay more than a few minutes. Bills went unpaid and the two women got by in part on cat food.  In such circumstances the documentary film-makers found them in 1973.

Eventually Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis stepped in with her checkbook, paying $25,000 to have the place cleaned up – on the condition that her aunt and cousin could remain in their home.  Big Edie died in 1977.  Little Edie lived onto 2002.

Beal Names

  • Ninian Beall arrived in Maryland as a prisoner in 1652 and was its biggest landowner by his death in 1717. 
  • Daniel Beale was a Scottish merchant active in the opium trade into China in the early 1800’s.  
  • William Beale of Camp Hill was the forebear of the Beale family in Birmingham during the 19th century. 
  • Ned Beale was a pioneer of the American West. He achieved national fame in 1848 for carrying to the East the first gold samples from California, thus contributing to the gold rush. 
  • Andy Beal from Dallas is an American banker, businessman, amateur mathematician and poker player.

Beal Numbers Today

  • 13,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 14,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 6,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


Click here for return to front page

Written by Colin Shelley

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *