Brett Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Brett Meaning
Bretons were Celtic-speakers from present-day Brittany in France.
They brought the Brett name and name variants like Britton with
them when they came over with William
the Conqueror or later.
In France and among
Normans, however, the Bretons had a reputation for stupidity.  In
some cases the Brett name may have started out as a
derogatory nickname.  Brett enjoyed a revival in reputation later in the Middle Ages as a
first name.
Brett could mean a native of Brittany. It
could also mean a native of Britain. This latter use here spread
first in England and then overseas where its original connotation
gradually got lost.
Select Brett Resources on The Internet

Brett Ancestry

England. The Brett name
was to be found in SW England, East Anglia, and in Kent.

SW England The
Breton name
first appeared in public records in England after the Norman Conquest
in Somerset.
Ansger the Breton held lands there in the Domesday
Book. Later Bretts left their name to the village of
Sampford Brett near Taunton. Richard
le Bret from Sampford Brett was one of the four killers of St. Thomas a
Canterbury in 1170 – although the suspicion was that he was a Saxon
rather than a Breton.

These Bretts had established themselves at Whitestaunton near Chard by
the 1400’s. But they were Catholics and held onto the old
religion. Lady Anne Brett, a recusant, lost her lands and her
“fair old stone mansion” in the early 1600’s. Some Bretts became
Jesuits. Sir Edward Brett, a decorated soldier of this family,
fought for the Royalists during the
Civil War and later on the Continent for William of Orange. He
was buried in Bexley church in Kent. Meanwhile the Brett line
lived on at Whitestaunton until 1718.

East Anglia More
Bretons settled in East Anglia where the Brett name became quite
widespread. Le Bret families held lands near Boston in
Lincolnshire and in Aveley in Essex from the 1200’s.

In Norwich,
St. George’s church
records show Richard
Brett marrying Elizabeth Leive in 1552; and the Brett name can be found
around Norfolk parishes in the 18th and 19th
centuries. One Brett institution, sadly, is being wound up.
Jonathan Brett had started his family furniture business in Norwich in
1870. There was a time when every British embassy in the world
had at least one piece of Brett furniture. But these days are
long gone.

Kent The
largest number of Bretts in England were and still are to be found in
particularly around Tenterden and Ashford:

  • Percival Brett was the
    mayor of Tenterden in 1609. His family remained influential in
    that town for the next two hundred years.
  • A Brett family dates
    from the
    1540’s at Spring Grove in Wye. Many of them were
    clergymen, in
    their time
    Catholic-leaning. Thomas Brett in fact resigned from his post in
    1714 when the new Protestant oath took effect.
  • There were as well
    the 18th century Kent naval Bretts, including Sir Piercy Brett who
    became a Lord of the Admiralty:
“Piercy Brett had been a lieutenant on
board the Centurion and had
circumnavigated the world under Commodore Anson. He had been
responsible for the drawings which became part of the narrative of the

Descended from the Bretts of Wye was Thomas Brandon
a prominent figure during Victorian times in Hastings in Sussex. He had been born there in 1816, his father
being a smith who was found dead in a fishing boat ten years later. He put together the first brass band in the
town and later started the St. Leonards
and Hastings Gazette
on his own printing press.
In 1894, on the occasion of his golden wedding anniversary,
he was presented with an illuminated address and a sum of 200 guineas
by his
fellow townsmen.

clergymen were to be found in London, starting with the Rev.
Richard Brett in the late 16th century. An erudiite man who
a wide range of interests, he is buried in Quainton church in
Buckinghamshire where he had ministered for forty three years.

The progeny of Rev. Joseph Brett, a vicar of London in the early
century, presents a more unorthodox picture:

  • his son William rose
    to be Lord Esher, a lawyer with possibly a rakish side to him (he
    married Eugenie
    Meyer, the illegitimate daughter – it was said – of Napoleon
  • their son Reginald was a close confidant of the Royal
    Family who helped to edit
    the papers of Queen Victoria. But he was also said to have
    carried on a series of chaste
    pederastic friendships with adolescent boys throughout his
  • while his daughter Sylvia Brett, who had a troubled
    early life (twice
    trying to kill herself), ended up marrying his Highness Rajah Vyner of
    Sarawak and living a glittering socail life.

Ireland. The name Milo le Bret
dates from 1199 when he was granted lands in Dublin and in Rathfarnham
in nearby county Louth. In succeeding centuries, the Bretts were
considered among the leading landed gentry of Louth.

In the early 17th century, the Taaffe family had moved into
Sligo on the west coast where they quickly became one of the largest of
the new landlords. The Bretts followed them. Jasper Brett
built a fortified home at Deroon.
Although the family was staunchly Catholic, they somehow managed to
survive the Cromwell incursions and the subsequent Catholic penal laws
and continued to practice their faith.

18th century Brett
priests included Father John, who spent most of his working life in
Italy, and Father Charles, who ministered at Ballysadare until his
death in 1768. Brett names continue in and around Achonry
in Sligo. Some of these Bretts crossed the Irish Sea to England
in the 20th

Protestant Bretts were to be found in county Down on the east
coast. Charles Brett was a successful merchant there who
married Martha Black in 1795. A marriage quilt was made for the
occasion. This quilt ended up in New Zealand after their
granddaughter Martha took it there in 1881 ahead of her own prospective

America. There arrived
in America in the 1630’s two Bretts, one into Virginia and the other
into New England. The first, Mary the sister of Sir Edward
Brett, had married William Isham and they were one of the first
families of Virginia. The second, William Brett from Kent, settled
in Bridgewater. He became an elder in his church and was
respected as a “grave and godly man.”

The Brett name also appeared from an early time in upstate New
York. The Madame
Brett Homestead
in Dutchess county was built in 1709 and
stayed with the family until 1954.

. Many Irish Bretts
emigrated to Canada in the 19th century. Jane and Elizabeth
Brett arrived there in the 1820’s. Their son Robert prospered as
a merchant and banker in Toronto. Another first generation Robert
Brett practiced medicine, moved west, and later became active in
Alberta provincial politics.

Jasper and Celia Brett settled in Essex County, Ontario. Their
name is still prominent there, as owners of The Essex Free Press. It has
been operating as a family-run newspaper for over a hundred years,
presently under Laurie Brett, the great granddaughter of the founder.

Australia and New Zealand.
Among Brett arrivals to Australia were:

  • George and Sarah Brett from
    Suffolk in 1855. They came on the Constitution and were lucky to
    survive the journey because of the many deaths that occurred during the
    voyage and in quarantine.
  • James and Susan Brett from Essex
    in 1857. They arrived with their three children on the Plantagenet.
  • and William and Ruth Brett from London in the 1860’s. The
    family later moved up to Queensland and their grandson James became a
    prominent Brisbane timber businessman in the inter-war years.

Henry Brett left Sussex for New Zealand in 1862 and made his mark in
Auckland as a newspaper publisher (for which he was knighted).
The Brett Printing and Publishing Company became New Zealand Newspapers
in 1929.


Select Brett Miscellany

Bretts in Somerset.  The Odcombe manor in south Somerset near the border with Devon was a small
pre-Conquest estate which
belonged to
Ansger the Breton in 1086.  The Domesday
Book made the following record:

Breton holds it of the count of Mortain. There Ansger has three villani
have one plough and twenty acres of pasture.  It
is worth ten shillings and was worth the
same when the count received it.”

The family name was first Brito and then le Bret.  William
le Bret, the last of this line, held the land until his death in 1199.

The Bretts of Sampford Brett in Somerset came from this family; as
probably did the Bretts of Maperton in Dorset.  Richard le Bret,
one of the assassins of Sir Thomas a Becket, was said to be of Sampford
Brett. Later these Bretts continued in nearby Thorncombe and

Brett Stone in Wye Church, Kent.  In the center of the nave there is a large stone which is enscribed as

“In hope
of a joyful resurrection within the vault are deposited the remains of
Gregory Brett, buried March 6, 1541.  Gregory, his son and
churchwarden.  He
rebuilt the old steeple (burnt by lighning) on July 15, 1572 to which
he was a great contributor to forgiving the parish a debt of £92
besides his sess of £30, for which benefaction they granted burial
place to him and his heirs on paying 6s 8d at each interment.Buried
February 18, 1586.”

Reader Feedback – The Brett Name and Stupidity.  There is one thing that makes me cringe about that “stupidity” thing that the French said about my Brett line and surname.

Yes, I would believe the French people
probably did say that, back before the 1066 date about my family
ancestors.   But, after 1066, when
the Brett’s returned triumphantly with the Duke of Normandy, I wonder
what the
French had to say about the treasures that landed within the Brett

I have what might be a medical explanation
regarding what seemed to be the “stupidity” factor within my family.

Mind you, I am not a medical profession, but I
have dealt with several issues within the brain within my family.
is such a thing called Fahr’s Disorder or syndrome.  This disorder
related to the basal glanglia and calcium growths growing from the
ganglia upwards into the brain.  It is a rare genetic inherited
which one of the parents must have the gene themselves in order to pass
disorder on to their offspring.  The symptoms are like Parkinson’s
and usually manifests itself when an adult reaches the age of thirty
years old.

Instead of me attempting to remember all
that you should be aware of, might I suggest you have someone look this
up on a computer?  I would highly suggest that since it is a
genetic based
inherited disease, which I am a sufferer with the Brett (Britt)
surname, that
anytime something happens to a brain, symptoms are very well going to
occur.  And since I am a sufferer and a
descendant of
the Brett family from Normandy (first in the southwest of England), I
believe that this “stupidity” factor believed by the French, could
very well be the result of what was once called “Fahr’s Disease.”

And, since this disease is a rare genetic
inherited disease, should you place this fact after the “stupidity
factor”, would you not believe your site would be doing the Bretts a
service, as well as other family surnames that suffer the same

Thank you for your consideration and hopefully
some kind of statement may be placed after that “stupidity”

Britt (
Sgt of Marines
UH-1E Marine Armed Attack
Helicopter Machine Gun Door Gunner
Vietnam War Veteran
Cold War Veteran  Virginia Police
Wisconsin Deputy Sheriff Veteran
Wisconsin Selected State Trooper.

The Tablet to William Brett.  

“William Brett
Elder of the Church of Christ in Bridgewater
the ministry of Rev. James Keith
in England in 1618
settler in Duxbury in 1640
original proprietor of Bridgewater,
deputy to the Old Colony Court 1661-1666
December 17, 1681
grave and godly man.

have we Lord to bind us
the land where pilgrims trod?
memories and their ashes
Thou their guard, Oh God.”

The tablet was erected by Mary and Anna Brett, sixth in descent from William Brett.  It is to be found in the West Bridgewater
Historical Society building.

The Madame Brett Homestead.  The Madame Brett Homestead is an early 18th century home in upstate New
York, located in Beacon, Dutchess county.   It was named
after Cathryne Rombout Brett, a Dutch woman who had married
Captain Roger Brett of the British Royal Navy in New York in 1703.

The house itself was built in 1703 and was noteworthy as the residence
of the first white woman to settle in the Hudson river highlands.
She lived there until her death in 1764 and it was lived in by seven
generations of descendants until 1954.

The house was then threatened with demolition (to make room for a
supermarket).  It was purchased instead by a local chapter of the
Daughters of the American Revolution who have turned the building into
a museum.

Reader Feedback – Bretts in Newfoundland.  I  am a direct descendant of a William Brett or Britt who
was born in Christchurch in Hampshire and moved to Newfoundland in the
early 1800’s.  To-date I have been unable
to verify his birth record in Christchurch but the information that I
do have
comes from his headstone.  My research
indicates that there was probably another family of Bretts that came to
Newfoundland around the same time.

Dave Brett (

Walter Brett and His Birds.  From 1871 to 1888, he said, I kept a log book, a sort of general
diary.  It was not until after that time that I commenced a
regular systematic system of measurements and records.

The measurements taken of birds, were: length, extent,
wing, tail thus 4.90 x 2.15 x 2.10 in inches and hundredths, usually
adding verre tausus, middle toe and claw, and bill thus 1″ 85, M.T.C
70, Bill 45.  To the skin when made up was attached a gum wad with
a catalog number.  The permanent label had locality, date, sex,
scientific name, field number and A.O.U. number on the front, the
measurements on the back together with any remarks as to condition.

Collecting for Brett really began when he settled in
Lakeport, California in 1891.  The three years spent there
resulted in a large number of bird skins and later of mammals.
From California, Brett moved to Nova Scotia and then to Huns Valley in
Manitoba.  Overall, his field books recorded 1,586 bird skins and
237 mammals.

In 1916, when he was eighty, a visitor described him as

“I found him, as his letters had indicated, the perfect
type of an English sportsman-naturalist, interested in wild life and in
collecting, but beyond that a keen student of nature.  Brett felt
that he could no longer care for his collection and he passed it into
my hands for purchase.”

Sylvia Brett as Lady Vyner.  Sylvia’s early life was troubled.  At the age of 12 she had made
two attempts to kill herself, the first by eating rotten sardines and
the second by lying naked in the snow.

In 1911, she married his Highness Rajah Yyner of Sarawak
at St. Peter’s church in Cranborne.  Her husband, the last white
rajah, ruled a 40,000
square mile jungle kingdom on the northern side of Borneo with a mixed
population of half a million.  She was invested with the title of
Ranee of Sarawak in 1917.

She became a social butterfly, organizing theater and
dances for the European community at Kuching  The Rajah built a cinema which he named after her.  Yet she quickly got bored.
She soon consoled herself with another splash of big spending.  It was indeed a heyday for social life in Sarawak.

Not everybody liked her.  Her brother described her as “a female
Iago” and the British Colonial Office as “a dangerous woman, full of
Machiavellian schemes to alter the succession, and spectacularly vulgar
in her behavior.”   She had become distraught that her
daughter Leonara
could not inherit the throne under Islamic law and had hatched various plots to blacken the name of the
male heir apparent.

Her husband, the Rajah, didn’t seem to care, occupying
himself instead with a string of mistresses.  They later parted
and she took her royal role abroad, to England and America.  She
was the author of books such as Sylvia
of Sarawak
and Queen of the
Head Hunters
which gave her a certain allure.

Bill Brett to England.  It was in the year 1937 and elections were being held all over Ireland.
There was
a struggle for power.  Bill Brett was a
young man living in the Carnagopple
home in Sligo.  Across
the street, young Bill’s neighbor was
running for the council election.  He
promised Bill that if he worked hard for him and if he was elected he
would see
to it that young Bill got a good job.

Alas, it was not to be.  In that year de
Valera’s candidates swept the
boards and Bill’s man was defeated. Bill
was a handsome young man, full of life and ideas, saw the writing on
the wall,
and so he set his course for England and arrived in Heyward near
Manchester.  Good jobs in England were also
scarce and
after some consideration he joined the Irish Guards.  He
was tall, well spoken and a fine recruit.


Select Brett Names

  • Milo le Bret appears to be the
    forebear of the Brett name in Ireland.
  • The Rev. William Brett joined
    the Church Missionary Society in 1840 and was their missionary in British Guiana for the next forty years. His memoir The Apostle of the Indians of Guiana
    recounts this missionary work.
  • Jeremy Brett was an English
    actor best known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes.

Select Brett Numbers Today

  • 16,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Kent)
  • 2,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 7,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


Select Brett and Like Surnames.

The Norman Conquest brought new rulers to England and they brought their names and language, a form of French, with them.  Over time their names became less French and more English in character.  Thus Hamo became Hammond, Reinold Reynolds and Thierry Terry and so forth.  The names Allen, Brett, Everett, and Harvey were probably Breton in origin as Bretons also arrived, sometimes as mercenaries.

The new Norman lords often adopted new last names, sometimes from the lands they had acquired and sometimes from places back in Normandy.  Over time the name here also became more English.  Thus Saint Maur into Seymour, Saint Clair into Sinclair, Mohun into Moon, and Warenne into Warren.

Here are some of these Norman and Breton originating names that you can check out.








Click here for return to front page

Leave a Reply