Brett Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Brett Surname 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.

Brett Surname Resources on The Internet

Brett Surname Ancestry

  • from Southern England and from Ireland (Louth and Sligo)
  • to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

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 Becket at 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.

Another early Brett family established themselves at Mapperton near Beaminster in Dorset in the 1300’s.  Robert Morgan married its Brett heiress Mary around 1540 and started the building of the present manor house there.

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 Kent, 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 journey.”

Descended from the Bretts of Wye was Thomas Brandon Brett, 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.

London.  Brett clergymen were to be found in London, starting with the Rev. Richard Brett in the late 16th century. An erudite man who a wide range of interests, he was 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 19th 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 Bonaparte).
  • 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 life.
  • 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 social 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.  Bretts were also to be found at Colrunner in Meath in the 1600’s.  Later Bretts of this family left Ireland in 1760 to fight in the Spanish army.

Sligo.  In the early 1600’s 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 continued in and around Achonry in Sligo where there appeared to be three Brett groupings:

  • the Achonry Streamstown Bretts
  • the Rosemont Cleonarara Bretts
  • and the Tobercurry Bretts.

Some of these Bretts emigrated to Canada in the mid-19th century; others crossed the Irish Sea to England in the 20th century.

Elsewhere.  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 marriage.

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, Massachusetts. He became an elder in his church and was respected as a “grave and godly man.”  His descendants remained in Bridgewater during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Roger Brett, a lieutenant in the British navy, married Catharyna Rombout from a Dutch family in New York in 1703.  Six years later they moved upstate to Dutchess county where he built a mansion at a grove in Fishkill Landing.   After the death of her husband, she was commonly styled as Madame Brett by her friends and their home became known as the Madame Brett Homestead.  This house stayed with the family until 1954.

Canada. 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.  Among the 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.

New Zealand.  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.

Brett Surname 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:

“Ansger the Breton holds it of the count of Mortain. There Ansger has three villani who 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 Whitestaunton.

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

“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 lightning) 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 family?

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. There is such a thing called Fahr’s Disorder or syndrome.  This disorder is related to the basal glanglia and calcium growths growing from the basal ganglia upwards into the brain.  It is a rare genetic inherited disease, which one of the parents must have the gene themselves in order to pass this disorder on to their offspring.  The symptoms are like Parkinson’s Disease 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 disease 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 strongly 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 worldwide service, as well as other family surnames that suffer the same disorder?

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

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

The Tablet to William Brett.  

“William Brett.

  • Presiding Elder of the Church of Christ in Bridgewater
  • Under the ministry of Rev. James Keith
  • Born in England in 1618
  • A settler in Duxbury in 1640
  • An  original proprietor of Bridgewater,
  • A deputy to the Old Colony Court 1661-1666
  • Died December 17, 1681
  • A grave and godly man.
  • What have we Lord to bind us
  • To the land where pilgrims trod?
  • Their memories and their ashes
  • Be 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 – Bartholomew Brett from North Carolina.  Does anyone know of the name Bartholomew Brett? He was born circa 1760, probably in Hertford county, North Carolina.  He married Sarah Murfree Banks and died in 1861 in Wilson county, Tennessee.

Caroline Fafeita (

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 follows:

“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 family 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.

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.

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)

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.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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