Craven Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Craven Surname Meaning

The Craven surname in England derives from the district of Craven around Skipton in the West Riding of Yorkshire. The place name was recorded as Crave in the Domesday Book of 1086 and is thought to have come from the Welsh word craf meaning garlic (in the Middle Ages the Craven area was known for its wild garlic). Other origins for the Craven name have been suggested.

Craven can also be Irish. It has its roots from the O’Crabhadain sept in county Galway. In English this name would be pronounced Cravane (and anglicized to Creavan or Craven).

Craven Surname Resources on The Internet

Craven Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Yorkshire)
  • to America, South Africa and Australia

England. The first mention of Craven as a surname in Yorkshire appears to be a Thomas de Craven, son of Ragnald de Rawdon, in the early 13th century.

Yorkshire.  William Craven was born in the village of Appletreewick near Skipton in the year 1548. He came to London as an apprentice at the age of fourteen and it was there that he made his fortune. He died one of the richest men of his time.

With the money his widow Elizabeth acquired the estates of Coombe Abbey near Coventry and Uffington in Berkshire. These were to remain the family seats for generations. His son William, a soldier, used the family wealth in support of Charles I. Although the estates were sequestered in 1652, he and the family returned to favor and privilege with the Restoration. William died unmarried in 1664. The estate passed to his cousin William from whose brother John the Craven title is descended.

These Cravens were rich and powerful for many centuries. They left their name to Craven county in North Carolina (in 1712), Craven Cottage in London (in 1780), and Craven A cigarettes (in 1860), as well as to many Craven-named pubs around the country.

There were other Cravens from Yorkshire of course:

  • one Craven family history traces back to the Dewsbury area in the early 1600’s.
  • another Craven family were weavers in Keithley. John Craven of this family started a cotton spinning business at Walk Mill in the 1780’s. These Cravens lived in Steeton.
  • other Cravens from Colne on the Yorkshire/Lancashire moved to Keithley in the early 1800’s and prospered in the building trade. John Henry Craven built his country home Beeches in 1913. He was a renowned orchid grower. His wife Nan in 1906 was one of Keithley’s first women drivers.

Ireland. The Craven numbers are relatively small in Ireland. The name has tended to be Creavan or Creavans rather than Craven in Galway.

As one descendant described their circumstance: “They remained poor, Gaelic-speaking, Catholic, subsistence farmers, and mainly living in the vicinity of Corrandulla on the east bank of Lough Corrib.”

There were some Cravens in county Offaly and elsewhere. These Cravens may represent English implants.

America. The noble Craven family of England generally stayed at home (although Lord Craven was one of the lords proprietors of North Carolina).

There does not appear to be any confirmed connection between this family and the Cravens who came to America. These Cravens have been of various origins – English, Irish and even possibly Dutch (this being the Jacobus Craven from upstate New York who built himself Craven Hall in Warminster, Pennsylvania in the 1720’s).

The widowed Ann Craven and her two sons Thomas and Peter had arrived from London in 1677 and settled in John Fenwick’s Quaker colony in Salem, New Jersey:

  • fifty years later Thomas Craven, also from London, came to Monmouth county. He was an early professor at Princeton University.
  • his son Gershom practiced as a doctor and was the war surgeon to George Washington.
  • from Gershom came the naval Cravens of Maine (after whom several US warships have been named).

Robert Cravens (of possible Irish stock) had been born in 1696 in that part of Pennsylvania which became Delaware. He later moved to Augusta county, Virginia and his descendants to Kentucky and Missouri. In the 1830’s Jeremiah Cravens of this family was one of the first settlers in what was then still Arkansas territory; while Mary Cravens headed south to Texas a decade later with her family.

Another Craven family, originally from Leeds in Yorkshire, came to Texas in 1854 and settled in Bagdad and Leander (where they still remain).

Peter Craven, often referred to by his descendants as the Patriarch, had come to Randolph county, North Carolina in the mid 1700’s and there followed from him a long line of Craven potters in that area. Two books have been written to recount this family history:

  • Mary Craven Purvis’s Craven in 1985
  • and Quincy Scarborough’s The Craven Family of Southern Folk Potters in 2005.

There has been a reunion of the descendants of Peter Craven each year.

South Africa. Danie Craven, the country’s rugby supremo until 1993, was the grandson of a Yorkshire farmer from Steeton who had come to farm in Lindley, Orange Free State in the 1890’s. He grew up on the family farm Noorspoort that lay just outside Steytlerville.

Australia. From Preston in Lancashire in 1865 came a young Richard Craven in search of his fortune. He went gold prospecting in Queensland and struck lucky in 1872. He became wealthy, moved to Sydney, and became well-known in Australia’s horse-racing circles. From county Galway in Ireland two years later came Timothy Creaven and his wife Sabina. They became Cravens in Australia and settled in Geelong, Victoria.

Craven Surname Miscellany

Possible Origins for the Craven Name.  There have been many suggestions for the derivation of the Craven name. The most obvious one is that is descriptive – of a person who is craven.  The dictionary gives craven, from the Old French cravant, as one is defeated and vanquished (in jousting probably) and hence is cowardly. However, craven in this form did not come into general use in England until the 13th century and Craven as a place-name and surname pre-dates that time.

Someone has suggested that Craven is an abbreviation of “Eric the Raven” and describes a Viking in landed in Devon in early times (unlikely if the name was originating in Yorkshire); another that Craven originated from a Norman baron named de Craume.

Then Craven could have come from the Anglo-Saxon word meaning “hard-headed” or “stubborn;” or from the Middle English crave, a cleft.  Perhaps a Craven was someone with a split lip or a cleft palate; or, alternatively, someone who lived on a cleft in a hill.

The most likely explanation is that Craven has derived from the Welsh word craf meaning garlic – as the Craven area in Yorkshire was known in medieval times for its wild garlic. 

William Craven and Harriette Wilson.  Unfortunately, this William Craven’s main claim to fame was that he was the first lover of the famous courtesan Harriette Wilson. He was 31 and unmarried at the time.  Harriette was much younger and did not give William a good press in her writings.

Her memoirs began with this famous line:

“I shall not say why and how I became, at the age of fifteen, the mistress of the Earl of Craven.”

She leaves the reader in no doubt that she found the Earl boring and old-fashioned, with his nightcaps and his endless talk of his cocoa trees on his estates in the Indies.  What Harriette must have made of Ashdown House when William took her to the country in 1801, is anyone’s guess.  It is hard to imagine that Ashdown’s rural isolation could appeal to this precocious and materialistic urbanite in any way.

He had his excuses.  The son of the 6th Baron Craven and his beautiful, scandalous wife Lady Elizabeth Berkeley, he was a man whose family background was what would be referred to today as dysfunctional. Both parents took lovers.  In 1783 they finally separated after thirteen stormy years of marriage and his mother went abroad.  When the 6th Baron died in 1791 and Lady Elizabeth, now the Margravine of Brandenburg-Ansbach-Bayreuth, returned to England, her daughters refused to receive her.  William, the new Lord Craven, was also for a time not on speaking terms with her.

The Craven Potters of North Carolina.  Tradition asserts that Peter Craven moved to the Piedmont in North Carolina in the mid 1700’s and settled in Randolph County.  Although there is debate as to whether Peter and his son Thomas were potters, the craft definitely emerged with the Rev. John Craven.  Within John’s generation, some of the family spread out to Tennessee and Georgia while a few of his descendants remained in North Carolina.

There were many possible reasons why the Cravens might have left North Carolina.  Some could have been trying to escape the Civil War, some may have wanted to move to places where potters were more in demand; some may have wanted more land; and some possibly wished to distance themselves from slavery.

Rev. John’s children who did stay in North Carolina were Enoch and Anderson.  They continued the potting tradition and passed it onto their children.  Various family members married into other prolific North Carolina potting families such as the Hayes, the Coles and the Foxes.

There have been nine generations of potters since the mid 1700’s and living descendants still carry on the traditions.  Most of the early pieces that can be seen today are ovular or cylindrical jugs meant for everyday use.  The later pieces exhibit a bit more color and are not the large utility pieces that were once the norm. This is due to increasing demand for more artwork as well as the influence of the Temperance Movement. There was no longer any need for the typical moonshine jugs and the advent of the American Art Pottery movement gave rise to more decorative pieces.

From Kentucky to Texas.  The Darnalls had come to Texas before the fall of the Alamo.  But the Indians gave them so much trouble that in 1837 they decided to return to Kentucky.  Wiliam and his family were crossing the Red river when the waters began to rise and his wife was drowned. William returned to Kentucky alone with his children.

Then Mary Cravens – after the death of her husband in 1845 – also left Kentucky for Texas, in her case with her son Gershom, their slaves and a party of friends.  Gershom had left behind his sweetheart Zerelda Darnall.  He was nineteen and she sixteen and her father William judged them too young for marriage.  But Gershom missed Zerelda greatly. When their train came to the Cumberland river in Montgomery county Tennessee, Gershom slipped away in the night to return for Zerelda.  They were married nearby in Clarksville.

The Cravens settled on Bois d’Arc Crook north of Windom.  Soon the remaining Darnall children joined them. They were all buried in the Cravens cemetery in Fannin county.  The following were the Cravens recorded there:

Name Birth Death
Mary Cravens  1793  1868
Gershom C. Cravens  1826  1871
Zerelda Cravens  1829  1898
William H. Cravens  1846  1901
Mary E. (Eliza) Cravens  1847  1918
James N. Cravens  1859  1862
Mary (Ella) Cravens  1867  1892

Users of Craven A.  Craven A is an English brand of cigarette still popular in Canada and Jamaica.  The cigarette was named after the third Earl of Craven in 1860.  Here are some of the people who smoked it:

  • Charles de Gaulle was said to be smoking two packs of Craven A cigarettes a day while he was in London during World War Two as leader of the Free French.
  • Norwegian resistance worker Dagmar Lahlum was smoking Craven A when she met the British double agent Eddie Chapman in Oslo in 1943.
  • American actress Tallulah Bankhead always smoked Craven A cigarettes.
  • So did the founder of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah.
  • Craven A appears in the Bob Marley song Craven Choke Puppy.  From a Jamaican context the line “Craven Choke Puppy” is a colloquial metaphor of the actual action of a dog and “cravin” too much beyond one’s means.

Craven Names

  • William Craven, born near Skipton, was a London merchant who became Lord Mayor of London in 1610 and founded the Craven family fortunes.
  • T.T. Craven was a 19th century US naval officer who rose to prominence during the Civil War.
  • Danie Craven was the formidable head of South African rugby, as coach and administrator, from the 1950’s to the 1990’s.

Craven Numbers Today

  • 9,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 6,000 in America (most numerous in Pennsylvania)
  • 4,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).

Craven and Like Surnames

Many surnames have come from Lancashire.  These are some of the noteworthy surnames that you can check out.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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