Carpenter Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Carpenter Surname Meaning  

Carpenter, a worker in wood, is derived from the Norman French carpentier, itself from the late Latin carpentarius, introduced into England after 1066.

Carpenter first started appearing as a surname, rather than as an occupation, around 1120. Some see a link with the French de Melun family. A Melun forebear had been called “William the Carpenter” because of his prowess with a battleaxe. This nickname stuck with the family.

Carpenters in America outnumber Carpenters in England by a factor of two to one. This is because the American Carpenter was augmented by the German-speaking Zimmerman (Zimmerman means carpenter in German). Many of these Zimmermans anglicized their names to Carpenter. But Ethel Zimmerman took the name Ethel Merman. And a certain Bob Zimmerman decided to call himself Bob Dylan.

Carpenter Surname Resources on The Internet

Carpenter Surname Ancestry

  • from Southern England and from Germany (Zimmerman)
  • to America, Canada and Australia

England. The Carpenter name was and is mainly to be found in the south of England, particularly in the southwest. Further north, it was the Old English word Wright which described the workers in wood or carpenters in the medieval age.

Herefordshire. Carpenters date from the 1300’s in Herefordshire. They had come over from France and their seat was at Holme (or Homme) in Dilwyn. They were to be found from an early time in London. Richard Carpenter was a chandler there and John Carpenter became Town Clerk of London, and a very famous one, in 1417. Later in the Hereford line came George Carpenter, ennobled as Lord Carpenter for his feats as a general in defeating the 1715 Jacobite revolt.

Cornwall  The Cornish Carpenters started with John Carpenter, MP for Liskeard in 1323, and continued through naval captains to Alfred Carpenter, awarded the VC for his part in the raid on Zeebrugge during World War One.

Elsewhere  The Carpenter name in time spread across the south of England.

Carpenters, for instance, were yeoman farmers in Berkshire from the 15th century. From this family came William Carpenter, an early settler in New England. Another William Carpenter who crossed the Atlantic came from Amesbury in Wiltshire. There was a Carpenter family at Bradford on Tone in Somerset and Carpenters were also to be found in Sussex at this time.

An 18th century family started with Thomas Carpenter, a carpet maker in Kidderminster. His son Lant became an influential Unitarian preacher and his granddaughter Mary a noted Victorian social reformer who founded the ragged school movement.

George Carpenter was a Christian missionary from London who went out to China in the early 1900’s.  He left China in the 1920’s for America, the home of his wife Nellie.  His grandchildren Richard and Karen achieved fame there as the singing duo The Carpenters in the 1970’s.

Ireland.  Henry Carpenter came from an Irish family in Enniskillen. His marriage in 1840 to Hester Boyd later produced the Boyd Carpenters, father and son Conservative politicians.

America.  Early Carpenter arrivals included:

  • William Carpenter, a preacher, who came to the New Providence plantation in 1635. His descendants settled in Jamaica, Long Island. The family line was traced in Daniel H. Carpenter’s 1901 book The Carpenter Family in America.
  • William Carpenter, his wife Abigail, and their four children who arrived on the Bevis to Rehoboth, Massachusetts in 1638. This William, another preacher, died there in 1659. Later Carpenters moved to Vermont.  Charles Carpenter’s 1988 book The Descendants of William Carpenter covered his family history. There is a Carpenter Road and three historic Carpenter Houses in Rehoboth today.
  • Ephraim Carpenter, a Quaker, who came to America in 1678 and settled in Long Island (his forebear was in fact a German Zimmerman who had changed his name to Carpenter in England in the 1550’s).
  • and Samuel Carpenter, another Quaker, who came to Philadelphia by way of Barbados in 1683. A friend of William Penn, he became a very successful merchant in the new colony. Carpenter’s Wharf established itself as one of the city’s landmarks.

All of these Carpenters have a large number of descendants recorded. The Rehoboth Carpenters included Captain Benajah Carpenter who founded the US Army Field Artillery Corps and the painter Francis Carpenter who lived in the White House at the time of Lincoln and published a memoir of his stay. One Carpenter line went through to the astronaut Scott Carpenter.

Zimmerman/Carpenter.   There were hundreds if not thousands of German immigrants into Pennsylvania in the 1700’s named Zimmerman or some variation thereof. Many of them were Mennonites from Switzerland and south Germany seeking religious freedom.

From Switzerland and settling in Lancaster county came Heinrich Zimmerman in 1717, Hans Zimmerman and his family on the Pink Plaisance in 1732, and George Zimmerman in the 1740’s.

George Zimmerman later anglicized his name in Virginia to Carpenter. As did Mathias Zimmerman in North Carolina. And many others did as well. Perhaps they made the name change to fit in better with their English neighbors. Or perhaps their new name represented a growing American pride.

George Carpenter’s descendants moved inland once the Revolutionary War was over. Carpenter’s station was one of the first stations to be built across the Cumberland Gap in Kentucky. It was established in 1780 near present-day Hustonville by three Carpenter brothers, Adam, Conrad and John, all Revolutionary War veterans. Other Carpenters from Pennsylvania later moved onto Ohio.

Canada.  David Carpenter from New Hampshire crossed the border into Canada in the early 1800’s and settled in the Monteregie region of Quebec.  Later Carpenters were to be found in Missisquoi county.

Australia.  Early Carpenters were convicts, such as Charles Carpenter who arrived in 1832 and Richard Carpenter five year later. Richard subsequently married and eked out a living in what was called “the terrible vale.” However, he had a love of horses and this love was passed down to his descendants who owned, trained or raced horses.

John Carpenter was a New England sea captain and merchant who had moved his shipping base to Sydney in Australia in the 1880’s. His sons later took over the business and Walter Carpenter founded WR Carpenter & Co in 1914, a company which traded copra with the planters in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

“Although much abused by some planters and small traders – WRC was said to stand for “would rob Christ,” – Carpenters also earned the gratitude of those who survived on long-term credit and who looked to it to transact all their business.”

The Carpenter business expanded in the inter-war years into a major shipping company by sea and by air.

Carpenter Surname Miscellany

Meluns and Carpenters in Hereford.  A possible origin of the Carpenter family that was found in Hereford, Cornwall, and Devon by the year 1300 was a branch of the de Melun family of France which settled in England.

Subsequently a common ancestor, when surnames came into vogue, assumed the name Carpenter from his ancestor William Melun, one of the leaders of the First Crusade.  At the siege of Antioch in 1098, he so distinguished himself with his dexterity of the battleaxe that he was nicknamed “William the Carpenter.”

These Counts de Melun, from Melun in France, held many possessions in England.  One of them, Robert de Melun, was Bishop of Hereford from 1164 to 1179; another became Earl of Warwick; and another was Dean of Wimborne.  So de Meluns were prominent in Hereford before 1200.  And a Hugh Carpenter was a chaplain at Hereford Cathedral in 1292.

There is a book in the British Museum entitled The Life of Lord George Carpenter.  It was published in 1736, just five years before George’s death.  It was therein stated that he George was the grandson of Thomas Carpenter of the Holme in Dilwyn, Herefordshire where the family had been possessed of a considerable estate for over four hundred years (suggesting that this Carpenter family had been there by 1300).

Reader Feedback – Meluns and Carpenters in Hereford.  I have found an error in your article, Meluns and Carpenters in Hereford.

William, in fact, received his nickname “The Carpenter” in 1066 at the Battle of Hastings.  This occurred after losing his mount (horse) and all of his weaponry.  In order to survive he picked up an English battleaxe and commenced hacking his opponents to death.  His comrades, seeing the weighty blows he delivered to the enemy, were reminded of a carpenter swinging his hammer.  That is how the nickname came about.

With regard to two of his descendants, William, Sr. and William, Jr, you may find it interesting to note that William, Jr. became a Captain of the Army and, through his five sons, became known as the father of “The Family of Heroes.” Over 300 of his male lineal descendants served America in the Revolutionary War, more than any other American family.

Larry Carpenter (

John Carpenter, Town Clerk.  John Carpenter was one of the most famous of the Town Clerks of London and was the author of the first book of English common law (called Liber Albus or The White Book).  The statue of John Carpenter shows him holding this book.

On his death he had bequeathed land to the Corporation of London intended to fund the maintenance of four boys born within the city.  They would be called “Carpenter’s children.”  This later became the City of London School for Boys.

Reader Feedback – A British Early 18th Century Painting of Carpenters.  I have inherited two paintings by Sir Godfrey Kneller of a Mr. and Mrs. Carpenter.

Of note Mr. Carpenter is dressed down, namely in a relaxed manner wearing his smoking jacket and velvet cap instead of a wig. It is as if he is saying I am comfortable enough not to make a statement about my position. His wife is less well painted and was probably done by Kneller’s students. Clearly to afford the court painter of the day and to have the wife painted, he must have been relatively wealthy.

The problem I have is in connecting it to my family which was mostly naval. Clearly it must have come from a matrimonial line.  However, the thread was lost by my grandfather.

But it was not from his wife or her family; nor from great grandfather James Falkland Sulivan who married Eleanor E Light. His father Admiral Sir Bartholomew James Sulivan married a Sophia Young and his father married a Henrietta James, daughter of Admiral Sir Bartholomew James.

So, discounting the pictures coming from a more distant relative, there must be a connection between the James, Young or Light families with the Carpenters sometime just before or after Kneller’s death in 1723.

Marcus Sullivan (

Carpenters from Berkshire to America.  Two William Carpenters, senior and junior, had resided in the Berkshire village of Shalbourne, just outside Hungerford.  Manor records in Culham, Oxfordshire contain a number of references to a father-son William Carpenter and William Carpenter senior had been a resident of Shalbourne since 1608.  His appearance there coincided with a childless Thomas Carpenter and his wife in Hungerford. William Carpenter junior married Abigail Briant in Shalbourne in 1625.

The Carpenters had inhabited Culham as a prosperous yeoman family from 1533 when Thomas Carpenter was a tenant of the Abbey of Abingdon.  Carpenter tenants of the abbey had extended back to the 1400’s.  A William Carpenter had served as an Assessor of Fines at the Culham manor court.  This William Carpenter educated his son Robert at Oxford for the Church.  It is thought that many of Robert’s books may well have made their way to Massachusetts in the possession of William Carpenter junior.

William Carpenter’s Will, 1659.  “In the name of God, Amen, I William Carpenter of Rohoboth, being in perfect memory at present, blessed be God, do make my last Will and Testament.

I give to my son, John Carpenter, one mare being the old white mare, and my best doublet and my handsomest coat, and new cloth to make him a pair of breeches.  I give unto his son beside twenty shillings to buy himself a calf.  I give to him Mr. Ainsworth’s upon the five books of Moses, Canticles, and Psalms, and Mr. Brightman on Revalations, and my concordance.

I give to my son William, the young gray mare of two yearling colts, and five pounds in sugar or wampum, and my coat, and one suit of apparel, and Mr. Mahew on the four Evangelists upon the 14 chapters of Paul.  I give to him my Latin books, my Greek grammar and Hebrew grammar and my Greek Lexicon, and I give him ten pounds of cotton wool, and to his son John twenty shillings to be paid to him a year after my decease.

I give to my son Joseph, two of the youngest steers of the four that were brought to work this year, and to his son Joseph twenty shillings and to Joseph I give one of Perkins’ works and of Barrows upon private contentions called harts divisions.  I give to Joseph a suit of better cloths to be given at his mother’s discretion, and I give him a green serge coat and ten pounds of cotton wool, and a matchlock gun.

I give to my daughter Hannah, half of my Common at Pawtuxet, and one third of my impropriate, only my meadow excepted, and that land that I had laid out to cousin that I had for the low lands cousin Carpenter that I had by.  I give to my daughter Hannah one yearling heifer, also I give to Hannah her Bible, the practice of piety and the volume of prayer, and one ewe at the island, and twenty pounds of cotton, and six pounds of wool.

I give to my son Abiah, the rest of my lands at Pawtuxet, and the meadow after my decease, and his mother and Samuel to help him to build a house because Samuel has a house built already.  Only if my wife marry again, she shall have nothing to do with that land.

I give to my daughter Abigail, one young mare, a three year old bay mare, and if the mare should be dead at spring, she shall have fifteen pounds in her stead within one year after my decease.

I give twenty shillings to John Titus, his for to be paid a year after my decease, but if John Titus comes to dwell and take the house and land which I sent him word he shall have if he come, then he shall have the land and not the money.

I give to my son Samuel one half my land which I now live upon (and two pens of the young sheep, two cows, one bull) and he now lives on, with his furniture and half of my working tools, and Samuel to have one book of Psams, a Dictionary, and a gun and my best coat, and one ewe at the island.

I give to my wife the other half of the land I now live upon for her lifetime, and the use of my household stuff, carts and plows if she marry not.  But if she marry, she shall have a third part in my land and Samuel the rest, and she shall have four oxen, one mare which is called a black mare, four cows, one bed and its furniture, one pot, one good kettle and one little, and one skillet, and half of the pewter her lifetime and then to give it up to the children, and if she does not marry, to have the rest of my land at Pawtuxet which remaineth, that which is left which is not given to my daughter Hannah and that which is left Abiah to have after my wife’s decease, if she marry to have it the next year after.

I give to my wife those books of Perkins called Christ’s sermon on the Mount, the good Bible, Burroughs Jewell of Contentment, the Oil of Gladness.  I give her two hundred of sugar.  My wife is to have the house I now lodge in and the chamber over, and to have liberty to come to the fire and do her occasions, and she shall have the meadow that was made in John Titus’ lot because it is near, and she is to have a way to the swamp through the lot.  And if John Titus come, Samuel is to have two acres out of his lot that is not broken up and my wife is to have the rest, and Samuel to break it up for her.  Also I give to my wife corn towards housekeeping and the cloth in the house toward the clothing itself and children with her, and twine that she hath to serve towards housekeeping and three acres at the island.

I give to Abiah a yearling mare colt being the white mare’s colt, and one yearling heifer, and Dr. Jarvis’ Catechism and Helen’s History of the World, and one ewe about my wife’s occasion when she was at the island.

When the legacies are paid out, the remainder is to be disposed among the children at the discretion of my wife and the overseers.

This is my Will and Testament to which I set my hand.  William Carpenter of Rohoboth, the day and year before written.  I make my wife the executrix and my overseer to be Richard Bowen, and John Allen shall be helpful to my wife, and I appoint my brother Carpenter to help and to have ten shillings for their pains.”

Ora Carpenter – from Vermont to Florida.  Ora Carpenter was born in Derby, Vermont in 1818.  He came to Florida as a young man in the 1830’s.

He was an original settler of Enterprise, Florida (on the banks of the St. Johns river) in 1842.  In 1845 he became its first postmaster.  He then served as Cape Canaveral’s second lighthouse keeper between 1850 and 1853.  Over time he expanded his land holdings in the area and by 1885 he owned some 135 acres of orange grove and farm land and more than a hundred head of cattle.  He died in 1902.

Ora’s ancestry went back to William Carpenter who came to Rehoboth, Massachusetts in 1638.  His grandfather Jonathan had made the move from Massachusetts to Vermont.  He was a soldier in the Revolutionary War and had been captured and imprisoned by the British.  Ora’s father Chester had also fought the British, in the War of 1812.

Mathias Zimmerman/Carpenter.  There were hundreds if not thousands of German immigrants to Pennsylvania in the 1700’s named Zimmerman or some variation thereof, of which many would have been called Mathias.  This Mathias, born in the early 1750’s, probably started his life in Lancaster, Bucks, Berks, or York county, Pennsylvania.  Whoever his parents were, Mathias Zimmerman apparently left them in Pennsylvania and headed south to the Moravian settlement at Salem in North Carolina.  He worked there, true to his name, as a carpenter and married Elizabeth Miller in 1769.

His name appeared in the diary of Minister Soelle of the Moravians who was travelling the area in 1772. Mathias had by then become a captain in the county militia and was much opposed to the brethren.  He was one of the leaders in the movement to keep Soelle out of the Deep Creek meeting house, claiming that only Lutherans or Reformed should be allowed to use it.

By 1775 he had anglicized his name to Carpenter.  Perhaps he did this to fit in better with his English and Scots-Irish neighbors and to reflect a growing American pride at a time when the revolution against English rule was beginning.  Later  he staked out 400 acres at Hunting Creek in Surry county, appearing on the 1782 tax list and 1786 census there.  His father-in-law Christian Miller lived nearby.

Alfred Carpenter and His VC.  Alfred Carpenter had been born into a Cornish naval family. His grandfather had been Commander Charles Carpenter who had been involved in the capture of the American privateer, the Rattlesnake, in 1814.

Having joined the Royal Navy in 1896, he distinguished himself during the assault on the port of Zeebrugge on St George’s Day 1918 whilst in command of HMS Vindictive. He had navigated the ship through mined waters, bringing it alongside the Mole in darkness.

When the Vindictive was within a few yards of the Mole, the enemy started and maintained a heavy fire from batteries, machine-guns and rifles.  Captain Carpenter supervised the landing from Vindictive onto the Mole, walking the decks and encouraging the men.  His power of command, personal bearing and encouragement to those under him were seen to have contributed greatly to the success of the operation; and he was awarded the Victoria Cross by ballot, elected by his fellow officers under Rule 13 of the Royal Warrant of 1856.

In 1921 his book The Blocking Of Zeebrugge was published, giving his own account of Operation ZB and the way the blocking operation was carried out.  As his position was one of a “front row seat,” this must probably be the most authentic version of the action.

Carpenter Names

  • John Carpenter was one of the most famous Town Clerks of London and was the author of the first book of English common law.
  • George Carpenter was the general from Hereford who defeated the Jacobite rebels at Preston in 1715.
  • Lant Carpenter from Kidderminster in Worcestershire was a prominent early 19th century Unitarian minister and educator. His daughter Mary was the founder of the ragged school movement for orphan children.
  • Edward Carpenter was a poet and writer, one of the founders of the Fabian Society in the early 1900’s, and an early advocate of gay rights.
  • Walter Carpenter, the son of a New England whaler, based himself in Australia and was a highly successful shipping merchant in the inter-war years.
  • Richard and Karen Carpenter are the brother/sister pop duo known as the Carpenters.

Carpenter Numbers Today

  • 19,000 in the UK (most numerous in Hampshire)
  • 52,000 in America (most numerous in Ohio)
  • 16,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Carpenter and Like Surnames   

The various medieval trades and occupations were a source of surnames as John the baker would over time would become known as John Baker.  Some skilled craftsmen – such as chandlers, fletchers and turners – were able to form guilds, protective organizations, and style themselves Worshipful Companies.  These are some of the occupational surnames that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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