Cross Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Cross Surname Meaning

The Cross surname appears to have been topographical, describing someone who lived near a stone cross (kross in Old Norse) by a roadside or in a marketplace.  From the Latin crux it may also have had Christian cross connotations.  However, the usual word for someone who carried the cross in church processions was Crozier.

Early spellings were de Crucem in Lincolnshire and de Cruce in Oxfordshire in the 1273 rolls.  Crosse and Cross later emerged as surnames.  The Crosse spelling has faded away, although Edmond Crosse did give his name to the Crosse & Blackwell food brand in the 19th century.

Cross Surname Resources on The Internet

Cross Surname Ancestry

  • from England and Scotland
  • to Ireland, America, and Australia

EnglandHenry Guppy in his 1890 book Homes of Family Names in Great Britain had the following to say about the Cross surname:  

“Rare or absent in the northern counties and in the south coast counties.  Mostly confined to the east centre of England and to the adjacent coast counties between the Wash and the Thames.”  

In this case he probably got it wrong.  The 1891 census showed almost 20% of the Crosses in England were to be found in the county of Lancashire.  History also supported these Cross numbers in Lancashire.

Lancashire.  A Crosse family, thought to have originated in Wales, appeared at Aught near Wigan in the early 1200’s.  Richard del Crosse came to Liverpool in the early 1400’s.  His son John Crosse was mayor of Liverpool in 1469.  The family then held Crosse Hall in Liverpool and Chorley and the Ledsham manor in Cheshire.

The John Crosse name recurred in Liverpool over the 16th and 17th centuries. They were for a time a Catholic recusant familyThey then took the oath of abjuration and had their property and status restored to them. Descendant lines were:

  • the Red Scar line in Preston, from whom came R.A. Cross, the British Home Secretary in the 1870’s.  
  • a branch of the family at Eccle Riggs in Broughton-in-Furness.
  • and there were also Crosses at Shaw Hill near Chorley.  

Unrelated was the Cross family of Bolton.  This descended from a Scotsman named William Cross who had come south in 1785 and made his home in Nantwich, Cheshire.  His grandson John married into the Kynaston cotton-spinning family. Their son John Kynaston Cross inherited the family business and later became an MP for Bolton.  

Somerset.  There was another early Crosse family, this one based at Charlinch in Somerset. Their numbers included:

  • Sir William Crosse who was killed at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415
  • Sir Robert Cross who fought with both Drake and Raleigh and was knighted in 1602 for his heroism at the time of the Spanish Armada.  
  • while Crosses of the next generation departed for America (New England and maybe Maryland).

By this time the Crosse family back in Somerset had moved to Fyne Court in Broomfield. Andrew Crosse, known to locals in the early 19th century as Wizard Crosse, was an amateur scientist with a particular interest in electricity. Ironically, the main hall of Fyne Court burned down in 1894 after his death.  

Elsewhere.  The Cross name figured in the fenland town of Ely in Cambridgeshire.  One family record there dated back to 1669 and the Ely baptism record for Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas and Ann Cross.  During the 19th century Frederick Cross opened a bakery and confectionery shop, from which later came Ely’s first tea room.  Another family line began with the marriage of Thomas Cross and Mary Butty in Ely in 1828.

Scotland.  The Cross name in Scotland is associated mostly with Glasgow.  Robert Cross was one of five sugar merchants working in the 1670’s in the Gallowgate area of Glasgow.  William Cross was a seed merchant there in the 1830’s. His grandson Sir Alexander Cross started the Cross Trust in 1943 “to encourage young people of Scottish birth or parentage to extend the boundaries of their knowledge of human life.”

Ireland. The Cross name in Ireland was an English implant, found primarily in Cork and Armagh:

  • Colonel Sylvester Cross, said to have been a Manxman, arrived with the English invaders in 1599.   He was the father of Epinetus Cross, a Cork merchant who served as High Sheriff of Cork in 1680 and made his home at Carrigrohane castle. 
  • while there was another Cross family in Armagh, beginning in Tynan parish around 1611.  Their home was Dartan Hall.  Maxwell Cross of this family served as High Sheriff of Armagh in 1847.

AmericaRobert and John Cross, possibly related, departed Ipswich in England for the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1634 – Robert on the John & Mary and John with his wife Anne on the Elizabeth.

  • Robert made his home in Ipswich, Massachusetts where he farmed.  He had his problems with the law.  His son Stephen, a mariner, gave his name to Cross Island off the Massachusetts coastline.
  • while John settled in Methuen, Massachusetts.  Eight generations of Cross were said to have lived in his home there.  

Another John Cross, from Suffolk, arrived in Wells, Maine in 1643.  He and his son John were killed by Indians in 1676.

Maryland.  William Crosse came to Talbot county, Maryland from London in 1663. He was by some accounts a hundred years of age when he died in 1679.  His descendants settled in Baltimore in the early 1700’s.

John Crosse came as an indentured servant to Baltimore county, Maryland in 1685. Almost a hundred years later, in 1772, four Cross brothers – Abraham, Elijah, William and Zachariah – left Maryland for what would become Sullivan county, Tennessee.

Zachariah did not stay long. He had married Easter Johnston, the niece of Daniel Boone, and moved to Kentucky.  One other branch, descendants of Abraham, also settled in Kentucky, arriving there after the Civil War.  Others remained. Elijah’s son the Rev. W.K. Cross became known as the Pioneer Mountain Parson of Tennessee.

Australia.  Early Crosses in Australia were convicts – John Cross from Wiltshire on the First Fleet (the Alexander) in 1788 and Charles Cross from Somerset on the Second Fleet (the Neptune) in 1790.  Both received their conditional pardons, farmed and raised families:

  • John Cross settled in the Hawkesbury area of NSW.  John’s son David, born in 1799, built the Victoria Inn at Wiseman’s Ferry.  He outlived his son John Cross who tragically died on the Hawkesbury river in 1859.
  • Charles Cross meanwhile married in Parramatta six months after his arrival in Australia, one of the earliest convict marriages there.  He farmed in Wilberforce, NSW.  He and his wife Rose raised six children there.  Charles died in 1835 at the good old age of 86.

Cross Surname Miscellany

Crosse in Lancashire.  The early Crosses in Lancashire may have come from Wales.  Richard le Waleys (meaning the Welshman) was to be found at the village of Aughton near Wigan in the early 13th century.  In 1210 he had erected a horse-mill within the “Land of the Cross” of the Prior of Burscough.  Henceforth the family was to be referred to as de Cruce.  The de Cruce of the Latin deeds also appeared as de la Croyz, atte Crosse and del Crosse.

Richard del Crosse, first recorded in 1400, did well and acquired lands in Liverpool and Chorley.  Settling in Liverpool, he and his successors had little further direct connection with Wigan.  In 1409 he was appointed Mayor of Liverpool.  John Crosse, his son and heir, followed him as Mayor of Liverpool in 1459.

John Crosse in Liverpool.  John Crosse of Crosse Hall at the bottom of Dale Street was mayor of Liverpool in 1522.  He founded the town’s first grammar school, “free for all children bearing the name of Crosse, and for poor children,” and endowed it forever. Part of the Blue Coat school stood later on this site.

He also bequeathed a small thatched house to the town.  The thatched house is long gone.  But the land is where Liverpool’s Town Hall now stands.

A descendant of John Crosse, also named John Crosse and also mayor of Liverpool, sought to build a wall in 1571 at the Dale Street end to protect his property from the ravages of the sea.

The Crosses were still living there in 1673. A visitor at that time described Sir John Crosse as living in a fine mansion on Dale Street.

Andrew Crosse at Fyne Court.  Among the many visitors to Fyne Court, it is said that William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge both came to see Andrew Crosse. Coleridge was the more likely visitor as Coleridge Cottage was only a few miles away from Fyne Court In the Quantocks.

Crosse was also linked with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and his young mistress Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin after they had attended a lecture by Crosse in 1814 in London in which he explained his experiments with atmospheric electricity.

Crosse seems to have had two very happy marriages. After his first wife Mary Anne died in 1846, the 45 year old Andrew married the beautiful 22 year old Cornelia Berkeley. It was largely due to Cornelia that we know much about Andrew Crosse.  She recorded his life in detail in her books of Andrew Crosse – The Electrician in 1857 and Red Letter Days of My Life in 1892.

On his deathbed, Andrew changed his will, gifting Fyne Court to his beloved wife Cornelia. His eldest son John was left the organ from the music room.  Following Andrew’s death in 1855, Cornelia gave the estate to John. Andrew is thought to have introduced John to Lord Byron’s daughter Lady Ada Lovelace. The two, who were married to other people, then embarked on an affair.

Robert Cross’s Problems with the Law.  Around the year 1653 Governor Bradstreet of Massachusetts entrusted Robert Cross, his father-in-law, and a friend with the custody of thirty ewes. These sheep were turned over to the care of Cross’s two boys, Robert and Stephen.

The boys were possibly careless.  They said that many of the sheep had been killed by a great bear. Bradstreet did not believe them and, four years later, sued their father and grandfather.  Sons Robert and Stephen were jailed and put in the stocks for their training day.

Robert Cross himself was very quick to sue.  There were various legal entanglements over the years, notably in 1664 when his daughter Martha got into trouble with a certain William Durkee. Cross sued Durkee for abusing his daughter. Durkee replied by suing Cross for withdrawing his consent to the marriage after having given it earlier. Soon afterwards William and Martha were duly married.

Around the same time his servant Lawrence Clinton was courting Rachel Halfield, an aging Ipswich spinster, who bought off his time (around three and a half years) from Cross for £21 and married him.  Clinton soon deserted Rachel and departed for fresh pastures in Rhode Island.  Rachel’s family then sued Cross, accusing him on conniving with Clinton to secure the Halfield money, and won the case.  Cross appealed and did manage to get a reversal.

Robert Cross ended up believing he could get no justice in Ipswich, Massachusetts. But later on Cross did make a point when he sued Thomas Wells for slander for calling him a “cheating knave.”  The court forced Wells to make a public acknowledgement to clear Cross’s name.

Rev. W.K. Cross the Pioneer Mountain Parson.  In a small cemetery in East Tennessee stands a tombstone with the following inscription:

  • Reverend William King Cross.  Known as W. K.
  • Born, July 18, 1814.
  • Died Oct. 18 1893.  Aged 79 years, 3 months

W.K. was one of 12 children born to Elijah and Catherine Cross.  When he was young he was a wild and reckless fellow.  He boasted that he had had more fights than any other two boys of his own size.  At the age of 18, while attending a revival meeting, W. K. stepped out from among his friends and went to the mourner’s bench. He held out his large brawny hands and said earnestly:

“See those broken knuckles, these broken wrists?  I have fought for the devil all these years.  Now I am going to fight for the Lord.”

Parson Cross, as he became, married his childhood sweetheart Loozenia Gross and there were several children. Financially the family was poor.  Spiritually they were rich.  The parson was a giant physically.  Work to him was a pleasure. He became a boatman, a mill-owner, and a prosperous farmer.  He would often leave his family on the farm to go and preach the Gospel, walking where he could not ride a horse.

When he was in the mountains of North Carolina holding a revival, the sad news reached him that his little girl had died. Then his son died. And this affliction caused his wife’s death. For a long time he was lonesome and inconsolable.  But he finally decided to resume his task, his appointed work, which was “to tell the story of Jesus and his love.”

The tragic story of his family he repeated wherever he went. All in the audience would weep. Many embraced the preacher.  Each night a multitude would gather around the altar.  His life, his sorrows, his sermons were topics of general conversion long after the meetings ceased.

Later he married a second time. Children came to replace the ones who had gone on.

The old parson’s memory was clear until the last.  In the spring of 1893, the parson told his family he would attend another camp meeting, for his health was failing fast.  On October of that year, he passed quietly away. The crowd at his funeral was one of the largest anyone in the area has ever seen.  He was buried in the cemetery near his old home.

The Tragic Death of John Cross.   The Sydney Morning Herald of July 9, 1859 had the following story:

“A gloom has been lately cast over the Lower Hawkesbury in consequence of there being every reason to believe that John Cross, farmer, eldest son of David Cross, an old Australian settler there, met his death by drowning on Sundav morning last.

John Cross was a passenger on the New Moon steamer from the Hawkesbury to Sydney. When outside of the heads, near the Long Reef, Mr. Cross went upstairs about three o’clock in the morning saying he would have a look at the lighthouse.

He was never missed till the vessel reached Sydney.  There can be no doubt that he fell overboard and was drowned. None of the seaman saw him, though it is believed there were several on deck.  So he must have gone over immediately after reaching the top.

Mr. Cross has left behind him a sorrowing young wife and family.  He was taking 200 bushels of corn to market.”

Cross Names

  • Robert Cross was knighted by Queen Elizabeth for the role he played in the burning of the Spanish fleet at Cadiz and in the defeat of the Spanish Armada. 
  • R. A. Cross was a Conservative politician who served as British Home Secretary between 1874 and 1880 and again in 1885. 
  • Alfred E. Cross started his ranch, the A7 Ranche, in Alberta in 1885 and became one of the leading cattlemen of the Canadian West.
  • Stan Cross, American born, was a popular cartoonist in Australian newspapers from the 1930’s to the 1960’s.

Cross Numbers Today

  • 34,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 26,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 21,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Cross 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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