Browning Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Browning Meaning
started out as the Anglo-Saxon first name Bruning,
probably a nickname, from the Old English brun meaning
“brown.”  As Norman names were introduced,
the use of Bruning as a first name gradually faded
out.  Still,
de Cestretona
was recorded in Cambridgeshire in 1086 and Brunyng Dypres in Sussex in
Early examples of Browning as
a surname were
Hugo Bruning in Norfolk in 1198 and William Brouning in Cambridgeshire
in 1291

Browning Resources on

Browning Ancestry

England.   Browning’s
origin as a surname looks to be clearly in the west country;
although the Browning numbers in the southeast, in particular in Kent,
rival or surpass those there.

West Country.  The
Browning family of Gloucestershire
dates from about 1300, and
maybe earlier.  John Browning of Leigh was
active in local politics and was elected MP for Gloucestershire three
times in the late 1300’s.  His direct line
seems to have ended about 1460.

the Browning name did continue at Cam and Cowley in Gloucestershire in
the next
two centuries.  It also extended into
neighboring Somerset, appearing at East Quantoxhead and Watchet in the

The earliest recorded
Browning in Dorset was John Browninge at Bere Regis in 1550.  Robert
died at Pentridge in 1746.
He was the first known ancestor of Robert Browning the poet.  The line went to:

  • Thomas
    Browning who held the
    lease of the Woodyates Inn and was for many years the churchwarden at
  • Robert
    Browning, the poet’s grandfather, who in 1769 left Dorset for London
    where he
    worked at the Bank of England for over fifty years.
    He married into the Tittle plantation family
    of St. Kitts in the West Indies.
  • Robert’s
    younger brother William meanwhile had
    been drowned in the West Indies in 1781 while serving with HMS
    at the naval anchorage in Antigua.
  • and
    Robert Browning,
    the poet’s father, who renounced the family’s slaveholding and worked
    for the
    Bank of England in London.

Tittle was said to have had a mixed race
ancestry.  Both her son Robert Sr. and
the poet were dark-complexioned, which raised eyebrows.
According to one account, Robert Sr. – on
visiting the family plantation in St. Kitts – was made by the church
beadle to
sit with the “colored” people rather than with the white.  The two
poets Robert and Elizabeth
Barrett Browning
married in secret in 1846. 

.  Kent has many Brownings as well,
there is a lack of evidence of any early presence there.
One family line has been traced back to the
marriage of Matthew Browning and Susannah Smith at Whitstable in 1737.

Browning instrument makers were thought to have come from Kent.
They included the brothers John and Samuel
Browning, the latter who went into partnership to form the nautical
makers Spencer & Browning in 1778.
However, it was John’s great grandson John Browning who became
best-known of these Brownings.  His
speciality was spectroscopes and his were considered by the 1870’s to be the best
in England.  He later produced optical

Scotland.  There
was a small enclave of Brownings in Lanarkshire, centered around
Avondale.  Gavin and Ann Browning left
there in the
early 1840’s for Canada.  They settled in
Lambton county, Ontario.  Their son
Robert later moved south to Nebraska.

America.  Brownings
were prominent at an early stage in
America’s history.  Three books covering
these Brownings were:

  • Edward F. Browning’s 1908 book Genealogy
    of the Brownings in America
  • Clint Joyce and Cecil Houk’s
    2000 book Browning Family History
  • and
    Dr. Jess Browning’s 2015 book Captain
    John Browning: A Family History.

Captain John Browning was a prominent early settler and tobacco grower at
Jamestown.  He had arrived there with his
family on the Abigail in 1621 and was
recorded in the Muster of Inhabitants in
in 1624.  Thomas Browning, also from
Gloucestershire, meanwhile had
arrived in Old Rappannock county with his wife Hester around the year 1656.  Their son John later made his home
in Cecil county, Maryland.  This was the
other significant Browning southern line.

One line via Captain John’s son
William led to Francis and Elizabeth Browning of Culpepper county,
Virginia in
the 1730’s.  Some of their descendants
were later to be found in Greene county, Georgia and then in Arkansas.

There was the line as well via George Francis
Browning in Kentucky in the early 1800’s and found in Louisville.  This line led to:

  • Pete Browning, known as the
    Louisville Slugger, who was a baseball
    star in the 1880’s
  • and
    his nephew Tod Browning, a film director who pioneered
    horror movies in Hollywood in the early 1930’s.

Browning also came out of
Culpepper county.  His son Jonathan, born
in Tennessee in 1805, was the forebear of the famous Browning
gun-makers.  Jonathan, the inventor of the
repeating rifle,
first set up his gun-shop in Quincy, Illinois.
There he converted to the Mormon faith and in 1852 made
the long
trek to Salt Lake valley.  His son
John Moses Browning, born in Utah, worked with his father there and
later founded
Browning Arms Company.  Credited with
over 120 patents for firearms, John Moses made the name Browning
with guns

Browning was a soldier with the First
Fleet that arrived in Botany Bay in 1788.
He stayed in Australia, first working for the NSW Corps and then
in the Seven Hills area.  William and Nancy Browning were bounty
immigrants from
Devon who came to Sydney in 1840.
William was a shepherd and found work in the Lismore area where
were said to have been the first white settlers


Browning Miscellany

The Browning Family of Gloucestershire.  The Browning family in Gloucestershire was thought to have had Norman
origins.  The early spellings of the name
were Burnwyn (the suffix wyn being a
term of endearment), Bruning and Brune.
It then became Brounyng and later Browning.

Richard and John were common first names in
the family.  It was said that the
Browning men were split into two groups, the Richards and the Johns,
in honor of the two Plantagenet Kings Richard the Lion-Hearted and John
were brothers.

The earliest Browning in Gloucestershire dates from about 1300.  The family became wealthy when John Browning
married the heiress Alice Maltravers sometimes in the mid-1300’s and
made his
home at Leigh.  It was their son John who
benefited most from her inheritance.  He
was active in local politics and was elected MP for Gloucestershire
three times.  John died in 1415 and his
line seemed to end about 1460.

Robert Browning at Pentridge in Dorset.  The following
tablet is to be found at the St. Rumbold parish church of
Pentridge in Dorset:

the memory of Robert Browning of Woodyates in this
parish who died on November 15, 1746
and is the earliest known forefather of
Robert Browning the poet.
He was formerly foreman and butler to the Bankes

tablet was erected by some of the poet’s friends and admirers, 1902.”

Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  Elizabeth
Barrett was already a respected poet who had published literary criticism and Greek
translations in addition to her poetry. Born in 1806 near Durham at her
father’s 20-bedroom mansion, she enjoyed wealth and position.

Meanwhile, Robert
Browning, the son of a bank clerk, had studied at the University of
London and
continued his education at his parents’ home, reading extensively and
poetry. His early work was harshly criticized. While most critics
rejected the
work, Elizabeth Barrett defended it.
Browning wrote to thank her for her praise and asked to meet her.

She hesitated at first but finally relented and the couple quickly fell in love.
Barrett’s strict father disliked Browning whom he viewed as an
fortune hunter.  Therefore most of the
courtship was conducted in secret.

On September 12, 1846, while her family was
away, Barrett sneaked out of the house and met Browning at St.
Parish Church where they married. She returned home for a week, keeping
marriage a secret, then fled with Browning to Italy. She never saw her

The Brownings lived happily in Italy for fifteen years until
death in her husband’s arms in 1861.

Captain John Browning.  Not that much is known about
Captain John Browning, the early settler in Jamestown.
It was said that he came from a family of
merchant clothiers in Gloucestershire.
The New World would turn him into a merchant farmer.

in Cowley in
1588, he married Elizabeth Demaron in 1614, following the marriage of
sister Margaret to John Smyth of Nibley five years earlier.  John Smyth was to play an important role in
his life.  He had grown rich by managing
the affairs of the powerful Berkeley family in Gloucestershire.  While England was in the midst of a “great
depression” in 1621, it appears that it was these Berkeleys that
Browning towards the Merchant Adventurers of Virginia and a new life
for him
and his family in the New World.

John sailed to America from Gravesend aboard the
Abigail in 1621 with his wife
Elizabeth and young son George.  Another
son William arrived on the Bona Nuova
three years later.  The family
prospered.  John’s tobacco plantation at
Browning Manor lay some two miles outside of Jamestown.
He died in 1662.

Pete Browning the Louisville Slugger.  Pete Browning was the youngest of eight children born in 1861 to Louisville
merchant Samuel Browning and his wife Mary Jane.
A prosperous merchant, Samuel had run for
years a grocery store at the corner of 15th and Jefferson Streets on the city’s
west side, not too far from the family’s residence.
However, in 1874, when Pete was 13, Samuel
died at the age of 59 from injuries sustained during a cyclone.

His mother
proved much more resilient and lived onto the age of 84 before her death in
1911.  Young
Pete, who never married, remained with her, ultimately living in the house
where he had grown up until the day he died six years before her.

A skilled marbles
player and figure skater, Browning was a talented baseball player from
the very start.  An instant major league
star, he had at the beginning a big drinking problem.
Deaf and illiterate, he also had his
eccentricities. He refused to slide;
played defense standing on one leg to prevent anyone running into him; stared
into the sun to improve his “lamps” (eyes); and treasured his
“active” bats because of the hits they still contained.

Yet he became
one of the sport’s most accomplished
batters of the 1880’s, playing
primarily for his home-town Louisville Colonels.  His
.341 lifetime batting average remains amongst the highest in major league history.

After he left baseball,
Pete Browning worked as a cigar salesman and ran a bar for a while.  When that venture failed, he turned to caring
for his mother.  However, in June 1905 he
was taken to the criminal division of Jefferson County Circuit Court in Louisville where he was declared a lunatic.
He died three months later after undergoing surgery for a


Select Browning Names

  • John Browning was
    three times MP
    for Gloucestershire in the late 1300’s. 
  • Robert Browning and his wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning were widely-read Victorian poets. 
  • John Moses Browning was the late 19th century
    firearms developer who founded the Browning Arms Company in Utah. 
  • Tod Browning was a Hollywood pioneer of
    horror movies in the 1930’s

Select Browning Numbers Today

  • 9,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Kent)
  • 16,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 4,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


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