Churchill Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Churchill Meaning
name Churchill is thought to be habitational in origin, from a place
name meaning “church on the hill.”  The roots here are the Old
English cyrice meaning
“church” and hyll meaning
“hill.”  However, there are alternative origins of Churchill
that have been put forward.

Resources on

Churchill Ancestry

Churchill is a west country name, with early sightings as a
place-name in
Somerset and Devon.

Dorset  Churchill
is, in addition, an old Dorset name.  The first records
of the celebrated Churchill family – of which Sir Winston Churchill is a
member – was in the Dorset village of Bradford Peverville around
1500.  John Churchill was a clothier in Dorchester who prospered
from the sale of church lands at the time of the dissolution of the
monasteries.  These Churchills later made their home at Muston
Manor near

Another John Churchill married Sarah Winston in 1620,
whence came the Winston name.  Their son, the first Winston, was
known as the Cavalier Colonel because of his support for the Royalist
cause.  He made his home at Minterne Manor.

Blenheim Palace
Both Winston’s sons, John and Charles, were soldiers.  It was John
who became the great military commander and, after his victories in
Europe in the War of the Spanish Succession, was ennobled as the Duke
of Marlborough
and had Blenheim Palace near Oxford built to

Because this Duke had no surviving sons, the title was allowed by
special Act of Parliament to pass through his eldest daughter
Anne.  She married Charles Spencer of the Spencer family.
The family initially styled themselves Spencer but reverted to
Churchill in 1817.

Lord Randolph Churchill, a Tory politician and cabinet member in the
1880’s, was a younger son of the 7th Duke of Marlborough.  His
son, Winston, born in Blenheim Palace in 1874, was Britain’s war leader
during World War Two.  Since that time Churchill’s family and
descendants have perhaps been more newsworthy than those of the Duke’s – until possibly Jamie Blandford.

Elsewhere  There
are Churchills other than those of the Spencer-Churchill
clan.  The name continues to be found mainly in the west country,
in Somerset, Devon and Hampshire as well as in Dorset.  A
Churchill family has been in Bruton, Somerset since the 1600’s.
Churchills were recorded as gentlemen in the east Devon villages of
Ottery St. Mary and East Budleigh in the early 1700’s.

America.  There were three
notable Churchills who came to America in the 17th century, two
of them Puritans from Dorset.

New England  The
first was John Churchill, who was possibly related to the
Winterbourne Muston Churchills.  He arrived at the New
England Plymouth colony in 1642 and married Hannah Pontus two years
later.  They raised six children, including a daughter Mary Churchill.
Asaph Churchill of this family became a distinguished lawyer in Milton,

“When a boy he found himself
adrift after his father died.  But he obtained Greek and Latin
books in some way and
walked barefoot from the backwoods of Middleborough to Cambridge to
save his shoes.
Graduating there with honors he married Mary Gardner of
Charleston, remarkable for her beauty, and bought the Adam Street

A descendant Gardner Asaph Churchill compiled the family genealogy The Churchill Family in America in 1904.

Some of these Churchills ended up in Maine.  James
Churchill served as mayor of Portland in the 1840’s. Others moved
to Vermont.  Sylvester Churchill was
born there in 1782.  His service in the army spanned the War of
1812 and
the Civil War and he is comemmorated by Churchill county in
Nevada.  Sir Winston Churchill saw his portrait and believed that
there was a family likeness.

The second Churchill, more definitely connected with the Winterbourne
Muston Churchills, was Josiah Churchill.  He settled in
Wethersfield, Connecticut where he was the town surveyor and married
Elizabeth Foote in 1638.

Virginia and Kentucky
The third, Colonel William Churchill, came to Virginia from
Oxfordshire in 1674.  He had the good fortune to marry
a wealthy widow and this allowed him to live in some style on his Bushy
Park estate along the Rappahonnick river in Middlesex county.  His
grandson Armistead brought the family to Louisville, Kentucky in

“Armistead Churchill came through
Cumberland Gap and across the Wilderness Trail on a coach, driving
four-in-hand.  On reaching Louisville he was completely disgusted
with the settlement.  According to a tradition in the family, he
would have turned back the next day, but for the Indians he had
encountered and the badness of the roads.”

The Churchill name lives on in Louisville through Churchill Downs,
the racetrack on which the Kentucky Derby is staged.

Canada.  There has been a
sizeable Churchill presence in Canada’s Atlantic provinces.  Two
Churchill brothers from Devon, Samuel and Nicholas, had come to Ochre
Pit Cove in Newfoundland in the 1740’s. These Churchills were later to
be found in Portugal Cove.

Nova Scotia
Larger Churchill numbers were in Nova Scotia, the descendants of the
Churchills who had moved north from Massachusetts; Lemuel Churchill to
Yarmouth in 1752, Josiah Churchill to Lockeport in
1762, and Ephraim Churchill to Yarmouth in 1784:

  • Ezra Churchill, whose father had been lost at sea, came from
    Lemuel’s line.  He operated one of the largest
    shipbuilding yards in Nova Scotia in the 19th century.  His home
    at Hantsport is now the Churchill House museum;
  • Lewis Churchill, grandson to Josiah, was a prominent shipping
    merchant in Lockeport;
  • while Ephraim’s descendants were also active in shipping, as sea
    captains and shipbuilders.  In 1874 “Rudder” Churchill moved to
    Savannah, Georgia where he started the Churchill Steamship Lines and
    made his fortune.

Australia.  Churchill
island was the first place in Victoria inhabited by Europeans.  It
got its name because Lieutenant James Grant, who in 1801 had built a
simple cottage there and planted crops, named the island after his
friend John Churchill who had suppled him with the seeds.

Another well-known Churchill name has been Victor Churchill, reputed to
be the oldest butcher’s shop in Australia.  James Churchill opened
shop in the Sydney suburb of Woollahra in 1876, delivering meat with
five horses and carts.  Son Victor was in charge until 1953 when
the business was sold (although the name has remained).


Churchill Miscellany

Alternative Origins of Churchill.  In Devon the name Churchill was recorded as Courcesville in 1201.  This
translates as “the spring on the hill,” from the Old English cruc meaning “hill” and wiella “spring.”  Then there
is the place-name Churchill in north Somerset which some say gave rise
to the Churchill family name.

Burkes Peerage has a different
derivation.  They give it a family origin,
from Gitto de Leon in Normandy whose grandson Roger de Courcil came to
England in 1066 with William the Conqueror and was granted lands in
Somerset.  Over time the name changed from “de Courcil” to:
– “de Churchil,” as with Sir Bartholomew de Churchil, a “great warrior”
of the 12th century
– and then by the 15th century to Churchill.

This is the claimed lineage of the Dorset Churchills and the John
Churchill who became the Duke of Marlborough.

The Duke of Marlborough.  To military historians David Chandler and Richard Holmes,
Marlborough is the greatest British commander in history, an assessment
that is shared by others, including the Duke of Wellington who could
“conceive nothing greater than Marlborough at the head of an English

However, the Whig historian Thomas Macaulay denigrated
Marlborough throughout the pages of his History of England.  In
the words of historian John Wilson Croker, he pursued the Duke with
“more than the ferocity, and much less than the sagacity, of a
bloodhound.”  Macaulay adopted
his unfavorable reading of Marlborough straight from Swift and the Tory
pamphleteers of the latter part of Queen Anne’s reign. According to
George Trevelyan, Macaulay ‘instinctively desired to make Marlborough’s
genius stand out bright against the background of his villainy.”

It was in response to Macaulay’s History that Winston
Churchill wrote his four volume work Marlborough:
His Life and Times.

Mary Churchill’s Crime.  On January 17 1671 Mary Churchill confessed that she had
gotten with child by Thomas Doty, son of Mayflower passenger Edward,
with whom she had “carnal copulation” three times.  The first
occasion was last July 15, the second was on on August 8 last, and the
third was about a fortnight after.

Sergeant Ephraim Tinkham testified that around the stated
second time he had gone to Joseph Churchill’s house to speak to him,
but no one had answered his knock.  He went in and, after he heard
some noise from another room, Mary Churchill came forth.  He
apparently had reason to suspect that Thomas Doty was there for he
asked Mary if Thomas was in the house.  After some pause she said
that he was.  Tinkham and Doty went away together, Tinkham warning
him to take heed lest evil come of such carriages.

Mary Churchill later was fined for her
transgression.  At the
time of her court hearing Thomas fled the colony.  Records showed
that they later married sometime after their first child was

Churchill Downs.  Churchill Downs, located on Central Avenue, Louisville in Kentucky, is
a thoroughbred racetrack that is famous for hosting the Kentucky Derby
annually.  It officially opened in 1875 and held the first
Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks that same year.

The track was named after John and Henry Churchill who leased the land,
some eighty acres, for the racetrack to their nephew, Colonel
Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr.  Clark was a grandson of explorer
William Clark and the president of the Louisville Jockey Club.
Churchills was sizeable landowners in the area and raced their own
thoroughbreds as a hobby.

Josiah Churchill and Lockeport.  In 1762 two families from Massachusetts journeyed to Nova Scotia in an
effort to find a new colony that was closer to the rich fishing grounds
of the Grand Banks.  When they found the sheltered Allendale bay,
they knew they had found a gem in the rough.  Situated halfway
between the colonies in New England and the fishing grounds, their new
town would be a centre for both fishing and trade.

The patriarchs of those first two families, Josiah Churchill and
Jonathan Locke, went on to become the captains of industry in the
area.  Churchill was the first mayor of the township of Locke’s
Island.   And Locke’s Island (later to be called Lockeport)
entered a period of booming industry, with
hotels, trade warehouses, and multiple fish plants being built.

Reader Feedback:  Curious as to Josias Churchill’s English lineage as he is my ancestor.  Warren Churchill (

John Wilton and Sarah Churchill.  For years a romantic story with a sad ending was
told and retold at Wilton family picnics in Ontario.

John Wilton was a young, ambitious gardener with the famous Churchill
family who met and fell in love with their daughter.  Her family
were not happy about this arrangement as he was not of her social
standing.  But they, both being of full age and in spite of family
objections, chose to be married.  They married on Christmas Day,

John and Sarah then departed to Canada to begin a new life
together.  Her parents placed money in Chancery for their
daughter.  Sarah died shortly after arriving in Canada.  The
money was never claimed.

Jamie Blandford.  Jamie Blandford, the eldest surviving son of the 11th Duke of
Marlborough and his first wife Susan Mary Hornby, is the heir apparent
to the dukedom.  He has been largely disowned by his father who
has disapproved of his lifestyle.

In 2009 Blandford appeared in the BBC documentary Famous, Rich and Homeless.  On
the first night he claimed to sleep in the carpark of a five star hotel
(despite the fact that his sleeping bag was discovered unopen).
On the second night he demanded to be housed in a hotel.  He said
he would sleep rough on the third night but then withdrew that promise
and refused to participate further in the program.

Commenting on this, fellow participant Hardeep Singh Kohli said: “It’s
disrespectful to all the people out here.  If he doesn’t have the
bollocks to do this, he can fuck off.”


Select Churchill Names

  • John Churchill was the commander who made his name and his fortune by his military victories in Europe between 1704 and 1709.  He was ennobled as the Duke of Marlborough and built his grand home, Blenheim Palace, just outside Oxford.
  • Lord Randolph Churchill was a Victorian politician (father to Sir Winston Churchill), who was briefly
    in the 1880’s Chancellor of the Exchequer.
  • Sir Winston Churchill was Prime Minister and Britain’s war leader during the Second World War.
  • Peter and Odette Churchill were British spies during the Second World War who were captured yet survived the German concentration camp.

Select Churchill Numbers

  • 9,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Hampshire)
  • 5,000 in America (most numerous
    in California)
  • 7,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).


Select Churchill and Like Surnames

From our surname selection here, these are the names of those who have risen in British politics to become Prime Minister from the time the office was first established in the 1730’s (although missing here are noteworthies such as Palmerston, Gladstone, Disraeli, Attlee, and Thatcher).





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