Beck Surname Meaning, History & Origin

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The Beck surname is either English or German, but can as well be Dutch, Flemish, Jewish, or Polish. Name variants are Bek, Becke, Peck, and Von der Beck.

The English Beck origin may be Norman, from a place-name or family in Normandy, or it may – in northern England – be locational, describing someone who lived by a bekke or “stream.” The German surname also has that connotation with a stream, from beke. It may also be occupational, from the German beck or Yiddish bek (and therefore for Jewish families), for baker.

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The Beck name is fairly common in Germany and nearby countries. The following is the estimated number of Becks to be found there today:

  • 75,000 in Germany
  • 15,000 in other German-speaking lands
  • and 3-4,000 in Denmark.

The name is mainly to be found in southern Germany, in particular in towns like Stuttgart and Karlsruhe in Baden-Wurttenberg.


England
. The Norman Beck origin (from Bec-aux-Cauchois in Normandy) is thought to have begun with Walter de Bec who was granted lands at Eresby in Lincolnshire after the Norman Conquest. This family, however, incurred large debts in the 14th century and their lands were lost to the crown.

Northern Becks have been most numerous in Yorkshire. Thomas Beck lived at Kirkby Malzeard in the early 1700’s and the name was fairly common in nearby villages of the north Yorkshire dales. The 1891 distribution of the Beck name showed the largest number in the north, in Yorkshire and Lancashire primarily, and smaller numbers in Norfolk and London.

Ireland. Becks came to Ireland at the time of the Protestant plantations of the early 1600’s, putting down roots in county Armagh. The 1630 muster roll showed the names of John and Adam Beck of Gransha barony in Great Ardes. Some of their 19th century descendants emigrated to America and Canada.

America. An early Beck settler in America was Henry Beck, who embarked at the age of 18 from London on the Blessing in 1635 for New England. He settled in New Hampshire. George Beck was an English artist who came to America in 1795 and was employed in painting pictures. He later settled in Lexington, Kentucky. A 19th century account of a well-to-do Beck family of English origins in Boston is to be found in Charlotte Conover’s 1907 book A History of the Beck Family.

However in America, if your surname is Beck, the probability is that you will have German roots. The largest number of Becks in 1920 and even today are to be found in Pennsylvania, traditionally an entry point for German immigrants. Among these Beck arrivals to America from German-speaking lands in the 18th century were:

  • Yohan Beck and his family from Alsace Lorraine who came to Philadelphia in 1740 on the Lydia and settled in Northampton county, Pennsylvania. Descendants moved onto Ohio and Michigan. Their line was covered in William Beck’s 1940 book The Beck Family in America.
  • Debolt Beck who arrived in Philadelphia on the Phoenix in 1750 and settled in Rowan county, North Carolina.
  • Johann and Anna Beck who left Pennsylvania for Granville county, North Carolina in the 1760’s.
  • and Conrad Beck or Peck who was born in Dauphin county, Pennsylvania in 1791.

Jacob Beck, born in Pennsylvania in 1780, moved to Wayne township and was one of the pioneers of Armstrong county. David Beck, born in Pennsylvania in 1803, moved to Richland county, Ohio with his wife in 1831. Peter Beck left Pennsylvania in 1861 for Wisconsin and Nebraska.

Canada. English Becks were to be found in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland from the 1830’s when Henry Beck married Dinah Gilbert there.

Jacob Beck, a German immigrant from Baden, founded the Baden community in Ontario in 1853. His son Adam was to achieve great fame as the father of hydro-electric power in Canada.

“In December 1911 Adam Beck came back to Baden for a huge celebration in his honor. The streets were jammed as hundreds of people tried to get into the tiny church to see Beck’s switch on the lights that let everyone know that hydro had arrived at Baden.”

 

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Becks in the Grewelthorpe Area of North Yorkshire.  There were a number of Beck families recorded in this part of North Yorkshire, dating probably back to the 17th century:

  • Thomas and Mary Beck who lived at Missise and died in Kirkby Malzeard in the early 1700’s.
  • John and James Beck who lived at Kirkby Malzeard in the mid 1700’s.  They were the parents of William Beck of Foulgate Nook in Grewelthorpe and the grandparents of John Beck the miller who later became the innkeeper of the Manor House Inn in Kirkby Malzeard in 1881.
  • Francis and Mary Beck who lived at Hackfall Gate in Grewelthorpe in the 1820’s and 1830’s.  Francis was a farm laborer and their daughter Dorothy a dressmaker.
  • Charles Beck, a shoemaker, and his wife Mary who lived in Kirkby Malzeard in the 1830’s and 1840’s. Their sons Charles, a slate merchant, and Peter, a tailor, moved to Ripon.

 Becks in Ulster.  Tradition has it that two Beck brothers came to Ulster with the English troops in the late 16th century.  One of them, Adam, died soon after his arrival and it was the other, John, who survived and looked after their children.

This family was of foreign extraction and appeared to have settled in London sometime during the 16th century.  The Heralds’ Visitation of 1633 described the then head of the family Abraham Beck as “descended out of Ancou,” possibly meaning Alsace-Lorraine.

John W. Beck traced the family in his 1929 book A Brief History of the Beck Family in Northern Ireland.  He had worked at the Public Record Office in Dublin before it had been destroyed by bombing and fire in 1922.

Becks in America by Country of Origin

Origin Numbers (000’s) Percent
German-speaking lands    2.6 90
England    0.3    10

Conrad Beck of Dauphin County, Pennsylvania.  Conrad Beck or Peck was born in Dauphin county, Pennsylvania in 1791.  He became well-known as the keeper of the toll road in his county where he sold cakes and beer. He was also noted as being something of an eccentric genius.  He was not only singing master of vicinage, but was a finished mechanic and it was said that he could make or mend anything.

When a widower in old age he married a younger woman and they moved out to Michigan.  One of his descendants was a survivor of the Titanic disaster in 1912.  Present-day descendants hold a reunion each year in Kansas.

Peter Beck of Two Lancaster Counties.  Conrad Beck and his family had settled in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania by the early 1800’s.  Son Peter married Sarah Moore in 1850 and they were to move west to Wisconsin in 1861.  Eight years later, they left Wisconsin to homestead in Lancaster county, Nebraska.

The family found a place two miles northeast of the town of Hickman where Peter took up farming.  They raised nine children there and remained lifelong residents of the area, living in town after 1891. Both Peter and Sarah died in the year 1916, within three months of each other.

Jacob Beck in Baden, Ontario.  The Becks had been millers for generations and were familiar with water power.  Jacob Beck had arrived with his family in America in 1829 when he was twelve and followed them to Canada six years later.  In his early twenties, he started a foundry near Preston.  It was later moved to a site near Berlin to become the centre of a new community that he called Baden after his birthplace in Germany.  The village grew rapidly and by 1864 had a population of 400.

His son Adam later recalled:

“My father in the early 1850’s founded this village with a neighbor, the kindly Chris Miller who assisted hardy pioneers in hewing their way through forests and brush to start their new homes.  My thoughts at this time also go out to those dear women of Baden who were associates of my mother in founding the little Lutheran Church in this virgin community snatched from nature.”

Young Adam particularly enjoyed the Saengerfests that took place at Christmas in the church when old-time carols were sung by all. The Saengerfests consisted of choirs, bands, parades and dancing with both German and English songs and were considered the musical highlights of the era.

He was strongly influenced by a father characterized as “alert, daring and energetic, so charged with optimism that adversity could not keep him down,” and a mother who was kindly, busy and a leader in community activities.

However, during the economic downturn of the late 1870’s, Jacob
Beck went bankrupt and had to sell out. He moved with his family to Detroit where he set up and prospered in the grain and cereal business.  He died there in 1906 at the ripe old age of ninety.

 

 

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Sir Adam Beck was a Canadian politician and hydro-electricity advocate who founded the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario.
Harry Beck designed the iconoclastic London underground map in 1931 that is still used today.
Aaron Beck is an American psychiatist widely regarded as the father of cognitive therapy.
Jeff Beck is an English rock guitarist often compared with Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page.
Glenn Beck is a conservative American radio and TV host, prominent on the Fox Network.

Select Beck Numbers Today

  • 12,000 in the UK (most numerous in Hampshire)
  • 36,000 in America (most numerous in Pennsylvania)
  • 14,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

 

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