Curtis Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Curtis Meaning
surname originated from the Old French curteis
meaning polite, refined, or
well-bred – and was brought to England by the Normans.
The English version was curteys.
Chaucer wrote of
his squire Curteys being lowly and serviceable.
Curteys entered service as a surname from the 13th century
onwards. The spelling later became Curtis
and sometimes
Some Hungarian immigrants into
English-speaking countries adopted the Curtis surname.
One reason was that it approximated to the Hungarian
surname Kertesz.

Curtis Resources on

Curtis Ancestry

Curtis name turned up in both SW and SE England.

SW England. Curtis appeared as Curteys in Cornwall as early
as 1305 when Ralph Curteys represented
the borough of Lostwithiel in Parliament.
The Curteys remained influential in the town as merchants and
leaders for the next hundred and fifty years.
The spelling later became Courtis.
It is thought that the Curtises of Polperro came from this
family. Thomas Curteys was a revenue
officer there
in 1401. His Curtis descendants formed
one of the principal families of Polperro in the 18th and 19th

Curtis name extended into Devon, Somerset, and Gloucestershire.
Curtises lived
at Chew Magna in Somerset in the late 1600’s, including Joseph Curtis
clockmaker. Another Somerset family line
began with the birth of Robert Curtis at Chewton Mendip in 1711. His grandson Robert was a cheese factor in
Bristol. Harry Curtis began farming in
the Chew valley outside of Bristol in the early 1900’s and his farm is
now with
the third generation.

SE England. There were early Curtises in Kent. A Curteis family was to be found at Appledore
from about 1450. They were later to be
found at Tenterden where the 17th century mayors included Samuel in
1622, Edward
in 1663, and Jeremy in 1696. William
Curtis of this family emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1632. Another Kentish line began with Thomas
Curtis, a yeoman farmer at Ash near Sandwich, who died there in 1631. Four of his sons emigrated to Massachusetts
in 1638.

Meanwhile John Curtis, another yeoman, was born at Worth nearby in
Sussex in 1605. Richard Curtis was born
in Heathfield, Sussex in 1640.

James Curtis, who died in London in 1734, was the
first in a line of sea biscuit manufacturers at Wapping.
His grandson William – popularly known as Billy Biscuitrevolutionized the technology of biscuit baking and
became the main
supplier of ships’ biscuits to the Royal Navy.
He was Lord Mayor of London in 1795.
His son Charles was a manufacturer of gunpowder, his grandson
Spencer a
merchant trading in the West Indies

Elsewhere. The
Curtis name was also to be found in Nottinghamshire.
A Curtis family was associated with the
village of Hucknall Torkard for centuries, their name first appearing
in parish
records in 1565. The last of this line
was John Curtis who died in 1777.
Meanwhile the Curtis bakers of Wapping were thought to have
originated from

Ireland. The
Curtis name appears to have been an English implant.
An early record was Ensign Matthew Curtis in
the 1659 Clare census.

However, Patrick Curtis, born in 1746 at Stamullin parish
in county Meath, was said to “have descended from
an ancient and respectable Irish family.” He
studied at the Irish college at Salamanca
in Spain, acted as a spy for Wellington during the Peninsular War, and
to Ireland as the Archbishop of Armagh in 1819.

John Curtis left
Mountmellick in Laios for Philadelphia around 1838 and was later joined
by various other family members. His
sister Hannah Curtis who
had stayed
behind endured the horrors of the potato famine.

America. There
were a number of early Curtis arrivals
in New England, notable among them being:

  • William Curtis from Kent who arrived in the
    Massachusetts Bay colony
    with his family on the Lion in
    1632. They made their home in
    Roxbury. His great grandson Daniel
    became the first in the family to move to Maine, settling in Harpswell
    1745. His son Nehemiah was a militia
    commander during the Revolutionary War.
  • John Curtis from Nazeing in Essex who came with
    his family in 1635. He died within a few
    years. His widow Elizabeth Curtiss and
    eldest son
    John then made their home in
    ; while two other sons William and Thomas settled in
    and Wethersfield respectively.
  • Henry
    Curtis who first appeared in Watertown, Massachusetts around 1635,
    later moving
    to Sudbury. His son Ephraim was a famous
    Indian scout. Henry Woods’ 1907 book The Family of Henry Curtis of Sudbury
    covered his line.
  • the four sons of
    Thomas Curtis of Ash in Kent – Thomas, Richard, William and John – who
    in 1638, settling in Scituate, Massachusetts, Some
    of William’s descendants migrated north
    to Maine. Harold E. Curtis’s book The Descendants of Thomas, Richard and
    William Curtis of Scituate
    was published in 1986.
  • while Deodatus Curtis arrived
    in Braintree, Massachusetts in 1640. His
    descendants moved to Connecticut in the early 1700’s.
    fought in the Revolutionary War and afterwards was one
    of the early
    settlers in Ohio.

lines from William Curtis of Roxbury extended in
Massachusetts to:

  • Dr.
    Benjamin Curtis, a
    surgeon in the Revolutionary War, and his grandson Benjamin Curtis, a
    Supreme Court Justice,
  • James F. Curtis who fought as a young man in the
    War of 1812 and was killed in an early railroad accident in 1839. His eldest son James settled in San Francisco
    in the 1850’s and then moved to Idaho. A
    younger son Greely was a Union general in the Civil War who made his
    home in
    Manchester, Massachusetts. Growing up at
    there were two lady golfers, Harriot and Margaret Curtis, who gave
    their name to the women’s golf Curtis Cup.
  • and
    Herbert Curtis, born in Roxbury in 1830 who also
    fought as a Union officer during the Civil War. His
    son Tom was a winner of the 110 meter hurdles at the
    first Olympics
    in Athens in 1896. Tom’s daughter
    Clarissa married the Russian Prince Michael (who had escaped the
    revolution) in Roxbury in 1921. But this
    marriage ended in divorce in 1935.

descended from William Curtis, this time via Daniel Curtis in Maine,
Captain John Curtis of Brunswick, Maine.
He traded cotton from Alabama to England in the years up to the
War. He was with his ship in Mobile in
1861 when Alabama became the fourth state to secede from the Union. A Captain John Curtis Memorial Library was
dedicated in Brunswick by his son William in 1904.

From Maine, in this case Portland, came Cyrus Hermann Kotzschmar Curtis.
He was forced to leave high school
after his first year in 1866 when his family lost their home in the
Great Fire
of Portland. He became a wealthy
American magazine publisher whose periodicals included the Ladies’
Home Journal
and the Saturday
Evening Post

Canada. DNA testing has
suggested that Garrett Curtis, who grew up in Boston, was a descendant
of William Curtis of Roxbury. Garrett became a master shipbuilder
at Salmonier in Newfoundland in the mi-1800’s. A monument has
been reected there in his honor. The Curtis family who came to
Bonavista Bay in the 1840’s was from Dorset.

Australia. A
Curtis family from London was among the early settlers of Western
Australia. The first to arrive was
Anthony Curtis who had visited the colony whilst with the Royal Navy
decided to settle there with his family in 1830. He
became a very successful businessman,
first at Freemantle and later at Perth (a plaque on the footpath of St.
George’s Terrace acknowledges his achievement).

His widowed mother Mary Curtis
arrived at the colony in 1835 at the age of 70.
In 1853, at the age of 88, she was left destitute and penniless
by the
unexpected death of her son. She
survived by being the oldest cleaner employed by the Governor of
Australia. She died in 1861 at the grand
old age of 96. Her death was reported in
the Perth Gazette as follows:

death was not caused by disease or decay but from shock occasioned when
portion of her dress caught on fire.”

New Zealand
. Gersham Curtis had emigrated as a boy with
his family from Surrey to Canada’s Prince Edward Island in the 1820’s. After his father died, Gersham decided
leave Canada for New Zealand. He and his
family arrived on the Lady Grey in
1855 and settled in Collingwood near Nelson.
He later tried his hand, unsuccessfully as it turned out, in the
goldfields before his death at Westport in 1901.

Another early arrival in New Zealand was
George Curtis who had come from London with his family on the Pekin in 1850. Arriving in
Wellington, he took up farming at
the new settlement of Omata and prospered.
His sons Charles and Herbert also did well.
They and their sister Emma were keen hikers
on the Mount Taranaki trails.


Select Curtis Miscellany

Curteys in Cornwall.  There was an ancient family of Curteys based at Pill in Lanlivery near
Lostwithiel. A monumental
brass to Tristram Curteys who died in 1423 can be found on the floor of
Lostwithiel church.  His son Robert was mayor of Lostwithiel in
1445 and

Tristram’s descendant John Courtis
of Pill, who died in 1605 in Fleet Prison, was said to have been the
last male
representative of the family.  However,
the name persisted in Cornwall in various spellings, born perhaps by
younger or
collateral branches.  A pedigree of the
Courtis of Helston exists.  And Curtis
became an important family name in Polperro.

Sir William Curtis aka Billy Biscuit.  For nigh on fifty years, from 1780 to 1829, Sir
William Curtis was a king of London’s commerce.  He is remembered
today only by a few
of his multitude of descendants (he had 41 grandchildren) and by
collectors.  But his story has been told in Nick Brazil’s 2010
book Billy Biscuit.

remarkable story of Sir William Curtis who rose
from humble beginnings as a baker in Wapping to become a self-made
multi-millionaire, banker and shipping magnate.
He was at the center of Georgian society for over fifty years.  A friend and confidant of Kings, Czars and
Prime Ministers, he was the last great merchant prince of Regency

The 1809 Isaac Cruickshank portrait showed three of the
four near
invariable characteristics of a Curtis cartoon:

  • first, the sailor suit and hat;
  • second, the stomach – Curtis was famous both for enjoying
    his food and for the
    naturally consequential belly, his pictures often including edibles
    like a
    turtle or turtle soup, or sausages;
  • and third, the red nose – today, as at
    least one of his descendants can attest, we know this as herpes simplex.

fourth characteristic was that he was no master of words. He was not a
orator and he would have scorned the affectation of being one; plain,
and energetic in the delivery of his sentiments, he trusted to the
substance of
what he had to say.  His mangled catch
words and phrases were the delight of satirists.

Listening to a debate on schooling, he was
bored by those who talked about the importance of Latin and Greek.  He had none of that.

“What children need,”
Curtis said in the House, “is the three Rs, Readin’, Ritin’ and
Rithmatic.”  Posterity’s
laugh is on those who laughed at the MP for the City.  No one
knows if he spoke
from wit or from ignorance and confusion – but the Three Rs remains the
expression of basic education. 

Hannah Curtis’s Letter from Ireland in 1847.  Hannah Curtis wrote in 1847 from Laios in Ireland to her brother John in
Philadelphia about the horrors of the potato famine.
Here are some extracts from her letter:

“I related to you in my last letter the state of the
country.  Therefore I need not go over it
anymore.  Only the distress that was
amongst the people at that time was nothing to what it is at present.   The people are in a starving state, the
house is crowded with people, and they are dying as fast as they can –
from ten
to twenty a day.

Out of it there comes a kind of a strange fever in it.  It is the opinion of the doctor that it will
spread over town and country when the weather grows warm.
No person can be sure of their lives.  One
moment the times are so sudden you would
scarcely see as many people with a funeral as would take it to the

fact I would not describe the awful state of Ireland.
At present you all may think the people are
not so bad on account of all the provision that is coming in.  But for that the country could be a great
deal worse.  There is no trade of any
kind doing norany money in the country.
Everyone that can go to America is going this year as there is
prospect of anything here but poverty and distress.

The Rev. Father Healy is
getting I think above fifty letters and money in all of them. They were
sent to
his care by people in America to their friends at home to take them out
to them.  The post office here is full of
letters every
day, every one without money.

With regard to the rates of provision they are as
follows: bacon is per pound, butter 1-3s per pound, beef 8 pence a pound, mutton
4 pence a pound, best flour 3s-8, oatmeal 3s-10 per stone.
I need not mention potatoes by any chance as
we have none.  For now you see how hard
it is to live here.”

The Curtis Family of Stratford, Connecticut.  In August 1635 John Curtis, his wife Elizabeth, and their
sons John. William and Thomas from Nazeing in Essex boarded in London
the ship Safety bound for New England.
Records in Roxbury show John Curtis senior
owning land there in 1638 and his son John having a home in
Connecticut where other Essex men had settled.
The elder John apparently died there.

widow Elizabeth – who added an
extra “s” to her Curtis name – then moved the family to Stratford,
Connecticut.  She died there in
1658.  Her eldest son John lived onto
1707, dying there at the grand old age of ninety six.

family presence in Stratford has remained with the Nathaniel Curtis
house, a
colonial-style saltbox structure built around 1735.
It is one of Stratford’s few surviving 18th
century houses.  The
family lineage was covered in Harlow D.
Curtis’s 1903 book A
Genealogy of the Curtiss-Curtis family of
Stratford, Connecticut

Eleazer Curtis in Ohio.  In 1791
Eleazer Curtis and his family set out from Connecticut to Ohio.  They would have known before their departure
of the massacre at Big Bottom by Indians and the attacks on immigrants
traveling down the Ohio river.  Yet they
made the journey nevertheless.

able to make the trip for the loss of only one life due to an accident.  And they saw no Indians.

would live in
garrisons as protection against the Indians for four years after their
arrival.  However, in 1794 General Wayne
defeated the Indians in the area at the Battle of Fallen Timbers.  The following spring Eleazer went down to
his property at Newberry Bottom and built there a cabin into which his
moved.  He lived there for five peaceful
years until his death in 1801.

Cyrus Hermann Kotzschmar Curtis.  Hermann Kotzschmar was a German musician who had
emigrated to America in 1843 with a group of musicians from Dresden.  While
in Boston, Kotzschmar
met Cyrus Libby Curtis, an amateur musician from Portland, Maine who
he move there to find work. Kotzschmar arrived in Portland in and lived
the Curtis family for his first year there. In 1850 Curtis’ first son
was born
and was named Cyrus Hermann Kotzschmar
Curtis in his honor.

From 1850 until his
death in 1908 Hermann Kotzschmar solidly established Portland as a
center for
music excellence.  His legacy
includes two students who left an indelible mark on American music and

  • one
    was John Knowles Paine.  He was
    America’s first
    composer of large scale orchestral works and America’s first music
  • and
    the other was Cyrus Hermann Kotzschmar
    Curtis.  Having become one of
    America’s richest men publishing magazines including the Ladies
    Home Journal
     and The
    Saturday Evening
    a music
    philanthropist who donated several important organs, funded the early
    Philadelphia Orchestra, and provided, through his daughter’s memorial
    the Curtis Institute of Music.


Select Curtis Names

  • Patrick Curtis was an Irish clergyman, created Archbishop of Armagh in 1819, who
    became a strong advocate in England of Catholic emancipation. 
  • Cyrus Curtis was
    an American publisher
    of magazines and newspapers, including the Ladies’
    Home Journal
    and the Saturday Evening Post
  • Tony Curtis, born
    Bernard Schwartz,
    a popular American film actor of the 1950’s and
    early 1960’s. The actress Jamie Lee
    Curtis was his daughter. 
  • Richard Curtis has been one of Britain’s
    most successful comedy screenwriters, for films such as Four
    Weddings and a Funeral
    , Notting
    , and Bridget Jones’s Diary.
    He was born in New Zealand to a Czech refugee

Select Curtis Numbers Today

  • 35,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 36,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 25,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select Curtis and Like Surnames.

The Norman Conquest brought new rulers to England and they brought their names and language, a form of French, with them.  Over time their names became less French and more English in character.  Thus Hamo became Hammond, Reinold Reynolds and Thierry Terry and so forth.  The names Allen, Brett, Everett, and Harvey were probably Breton in origin as Bretons also arrived, sometimes as mercenaries.

The new Norman lords often adopted new last names, sometimes from the lands they had acquired and sometimes from places back in Normandy.  Over time the name here also became more English.  Thus Saint Maur into Seymour, Saint Clair into Sinclair, Mohun into Moon, and Warenne into Warren.

Here are some of these Norman and Breton originating names that you can check out.





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