Brooks Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Brooks Surname Meaning

Brooks, the possessive of brook, was generally locational in characteristic, describing someone who lived by a stream or brook. There were also place names such as Brook in Kent and Brooke in Norfolk.

The Hundred Rolls, a late 13th century census, contained a number of uses of “Broke” and “Brock,” derived from the Old English broc, as surnames.  Ralph de Broc, granted lands in Colchester in Essex in 1119, was said to have derived his name from Broc in France (Anjou).

Brooks Surname Resources on The Internet

Brooks and Brooke Surname Ancestry

  • from Northern England
  • to Ireland (Ulster), America, Caribs (Jamaica), and Australia

England.  Brooke and Brooks developed as surnames, with Brooks the more common. However, there were many prominent families who were Brooke.

Cheshire  There was a Broke family of Leighton in Cheshire from the 13th century. Richard Brooke of nearby Nantwich was among the many who prospered from Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, acquiring for himself Norton Priory. His descendants were prominent local gentry in Cheshire.

Yorkshire.  The Brookes of the Holme valley in Yorkshire began with Roger Brooke and a mill at the time of Henry VIII. His descendant John Brooke founded Brooke’s woollen mill there in 1785. Son William moved the mill to Armitage Bridge near Huddersfield in 1798. John Brooke & Sons continued in operation until 1987. It was at that time said to be the oldest family business in England.

Robert Brooke was Lord Mayor of York in 1585 and a later Brooke had the same title in 1651. Their line included:

  • the Rev. John Brooke, rector of High Hoyland near Barnsley
  • John Charles Brooke the antiquarian
  • and the Brook mill family who came to Meltham in the Holme valley in 1778. Later three Brook brothers (Jonas, James and Joseph) started a silk mill complex there.

Lancashire. Brooks as a surname has been more common in Lancashire. A Brooks family who were cattle dealers from Whalley in the 18th century came to Crawshawbooth in the 1830’s and developed a number of industrial enterprises in the Rossendale area.

Another Brooks family from Whalley prospered as cotton traders, bankers, and later as property developers around Manchester. Samuel Brooks developed the Whalley Range suburb of Manchester. Meanwhile a Brooks family from Winsford in Cheshire were watermen on the Weaver river around that time.

Ireland. The Brooke family have been in Ireland since 1598 when Basil Brooke gained the rank of captain in the English army in Ireland. He later held the office of Governor of Donegal.

His descendants established themselves in Fermanagh, an Anglo-Irish family there with a long military tradition culminating with Alan Brooke, Viscount Alanbrooke, the British Chief of General Staff during World War Two. His nephew Sir Basil Brooke was Prime Minister of Northern Ireland from 1943 to 1963.

America. Brooks but not Brooke travelled to America.

New England.  There were many early Brooks arrivals into New England, including:

  • Henry and Thomas Brooks from Manchester (probably cousins), who arrived in the early 1630’s and settled in Concord, Massachusetts
  • William and Gilbert Brooks, servants to a wealthy merchant, who arrived in Boston in 1635
  • and Richard and Thomas Brooks (probably related), who came to Massachusetts also in 1635 and later settled in East Hampton on Long Island.

The Brooks in Concord, Massachusetts had many notable descendants:

  • from Henry Brooks there were Samuel Brooks who fought in the Revolutionary War (his Samuel Brooks house still stands); the Rev. Edward Brooks of Medford, Mass, one of the five Continental Navy chaplains, and his son Peter Chardon Brooks, a shipping magnate who became the first millionaire in Massachusetts.  
  • and from Thomas Brooks there were John Brooks, one of Washington’s generals who was Governor of Massachusetts between in 1816 and 1823; and the Rev. Phillips Brooks, one of the most famous clergymen in America during the mid 19th century.

These Brooks had their own version of Battle Hymn of the Republic.  

Elsewhere. Brooks also moved into Virginia and the South. Bruce Edwards’ 1985 book The Brooks of Virginia covered the early Brooks lines in Virginia.  John Brooks was a notable arrival in Bladen county, North Carolina in the 1730’s.  Another Brooks family from Virginia (Mecklenburg county) migrated to South Carolina, Georgia and Texas.

Later, the Brooks name in America could have come from a number of Jewish names or from the German Brucks. Julius Brooks and Fanny Bruck were pioneer settlers in California in the 1850’s.

Caribbean. The forebear of the Brooks of St. Elizabeth in Jamaica was George Brooks from Godalming in Surrey who arrived there in 1715 and took up the Burnt Ground plantation. A later George Brooks established the family at the Blenheim estate in the early 1800’s.

Australia. Richard Brooks was a mariner from Devon who arrived in Australia as a captain of a convict ship in 1802. He died in Denham Court, NSW in 1833, after having been gored by a bull. His sons Richard and Henry became prominent settlers in the Monaro district.

Brooks and Brooke Surname Miscellany

Brooks and Brooke in England.  Brooke, Brookes and Brooks developed as surnames in England, although the Brooke (and Brook) name was mainly confined to Yorkshire.

1891 Census – 000’s Brooks Brooke Total
Yorkshire    1.9   2.6    4.5
Lancashire    5.2   0.4    5.6
South East    7.7   0.8    8.5
Elsewhere   15.8   1.4   17.2
Total   30.6   5.2   35.8

Brooke and Brooks were sometimes interchangeable.  An examination of the 1841 and 1851 censuses shows many instances of Brook/Brooke in 1841 becoming Brooks in 1851. 

The Death of John Charles Brooke.  John Charles Brooke the antiquarian attended the Haymarket Theater in Pall Mall, London with Benjamin Pingo of the York Herald on February 3, 1794.  Both men were crushed to death in a crowd of well-wishers eager to see the King at the side door of the theatre.

According to Walter Thornbury: “Mr Brooke had died standing, as he was found as if asleep, and with color still in his cheeks.”

Brooks from Whalley in Lancashire.  The Brooks were originally farmers in Whalley near Clitheroe on the river Ribble.  William Brooks traded in cotton and, in partnership with a wealthy friend Roger Cunliffe, started a bank in Blackburn.

His son Samuel opened a branch in Manchester and began to acquire land around Manchester.  He was known in the Stretford neighborhood as “owd stink o’brass.”  Whalley Range, one of Manchester’s first suburbs built as “a desirable estate for gentlemen and their families,” was named by him after his home village.  In Hale Barns he left his name in Brooks Drive, Brooklands Road and Brooklands Station.

During the late 19th century, his son Sir William Cunliffe-Brooks served as the local MP and enjoyed the role of lord of the manor at Hale Barns.

The Brooks Version of Battle Hymn of the Republic.  This was the New England Brooks version of The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

  • “There’s something strong and mighty in a good old family name;
  • The name of Brooks shines very high upon the scroll of fame;
  • For nearly all the Tribe of Brooks pursue a lofty aim.
  • The clan goes marching on!


  • Glory to our grand old family,
  • Virile, worthy, brave and loyal!
  • Ut Am-nis vi-ta la-bi-tur!.
  • The clan goes marching on!
  • William, Henry, Thomas, James were fathers of our clan;
  • Posterity of David and Nathaniel never ran;
  • Samuel Brooks was virile, Maurice was a sturdy man.
  • The clan goes marching on!
  • David was a hero and of Washington a friend;
  • Phillips was a wise man whom the world could comprehend;
  • William fought and gave his life, his country to defend.
  • The clan goes marching on!
  • The Clan of Brooks is mighty with two hundred thousand strong;
  • In seventy-six, five hundred kinsmen fought to right a wrong;
  • Twenty towns now bear our name.  Sure, let us sing that song.
  • The clan goes marching on!”

John Brooks of Bladen County, North Carolina.  Family tradition has it that John Brooks brought his wife, Susan, and six sons to Virginia, lived there a short while, and then moved onto North Carolina around 1735.

At that time he was granted land in Bladen county.  Bible records showed that he came from near the mouth of the James River in Virginia. Through succeeding generations there has been handed down a chest known as the “Sea Chest” and said to have been brought from England by Susan Brooks, his wife.   On the side of the chest in the original lettering is “S.B – 1735.”

An estate sale in Orange county, North Carolina in 1762 referred to him as “Old Brooks.”  He was born about 1690 and died about 1766.

A genealogy of the family written by Joseph Headen in 1869 said the following:

“John Brooks first stopped in the West Indies with his five other brothers, then they came to Virginia and stopped for awhile.  There the brothers separated, three of them went North, the other three came South.  The first Brooks that ever lived in Chatham county came from Fayetteville, North Carolina, having owned that land where the town now stands.”

Joseph Headen had married a great granddaughter of John Brooks and was born during the lifetime of some of his sons.

Records suggest that John Brooks was a man of influence.  His family in England had been notable before they came to America.  Named among the incorporators of the Virginia Company, 1609 was Sir John Brooks, listed “in Virginia Commission 1631.”  So it is easy to understand why John Brooks came to America and was immediately identified as a member of the Courts in his adopted land.

He also seems to have been a man of wealth.  He built what was then considered a costly home. The house was a two story building, framed, weather boarded, ceiled and had glass windows and paneled doors.  The building survived until about 1940.

Brooks/Bruck, Jewish Pioneers in California.  In 1852 Julius Brooks returned to his native village of Frankenstein in Germany, having lived in America for five years. In that year he met Fanny Bruck who became intrigued by his tales of adventure and begged him to take her with him back to America.  Fanny Bruck married Julius Brooks when she was sixteen in August 1853. The newly-wed couple sailed at once from Hamburg to America.

As was the custom in those days, the entire town of Frankenstein came to the train to see them off.  They brought rice, flowers, old shoes, and called after them “Good Luck,” “God-Speed” and “Early Return.”  Julius and Fanny took a room at a boarding house on East 14th Street. In the spring of 1854, they left New York, for Galena in Illinois, where they heard that a company was leaving the following June for California.

They had to go by boat from Galena to Florence and there they purchased a covered wagon and two little mules in order to be comfortable (otherwise they would have been compelled to walk).  Ten individuals were the number allotted to each wagon and one tent.

The wagon bed was 12 feet long, 3 feet 4 inches wide, and 18 inches deep.  Each wagon was supplied with 100 lbs. of flour, 50 lbs. of sugar, 50 lbs. of bacon, 50 lbs. of rice, 30 lbs. of beans, 20 lbs. of dried apples, 20 lbs. of dried peaches, 5 lbs. of tea, 1 gallon of vinegar, 10 bars of soap, 25 lbs. of salt.

These articles and the milk from their cows, the game caught on the plains, and the fresh water streams furnished them better food and more of it than the immigrants had had in their native land.  Fanny said that the Yankees were lovely people but very wasteful and poor cooks. Their main forte was bread, pies and hotcakes, ham or bacon and eggs.  Their vegetables were cooked without taste and their meats either done to death or raw.

However, Fanny’s dream of striking it rich in America was not realized.  They settled in Marysville, California, where Julius opened a general store.  Fanny died in Wiesbaden in Germany in 1901.

Brooks Names 

  • Sir Richard Broke from Suffolk was Chief Baron of the Exchequer to Henry VIII.
  • John Brooks, Governor of Massachusetts in 1816, was the last Federalist to be elected to public office.
  • James Brooke became the first white rajah of Sarawak in 1841, ruling that part of Malaysia as his personal fiefdom for the next forty years.
  • Rupert Brooke was the English poet known for his idealistic war sonnets at the time of World War One.
  • Alan Brooke, Viscount Alanbrooke, was the British Chief of General Staff during World War Two.
  • Edward Brooke was in 1966 the first African American to be elected to the US Senate.
  • Mel Brooks, born Mel Kaminsky in Brooklyn, is an American writer, comedian, and film producer and director.
  • James Brooks of Brooklyn Jewish roots is the TV producer of American shows like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Simpsons.
  • Garth Brooks is a very popular country music singer.

Brooks Numbers Today

  • 60,000 in the UK (most numerous in Sussex)
  • 88,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 22,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Brooks and Like Surnames  

These names are locational, describing someone who lived in those medieval times by the side of a bank, or by a barn or a lane or a shaw (which means a wood) or a wood and so forth.  Both the oak tree and the ash tree have in fact provided locational surnames – Oakes and Nash (from atten Ash).  Here are some of these locational surnames that you can check out.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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