Daft Surname Meaning, History & Origin

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The
root of Daft is the Old English daffte,
which meant in medieval times “meek” or “gentle.” The name
probably developed initially as a nickname. Early spellings were
Daft and Dafte. The modern meaning of “daft” as clownish or
stupid did not materialize until much later.

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Daft Ancestry

England.
It is extremely rare that a surname can be identified back to a single
location and possibly to a single person. But this seems to have
been
the case with the surname Daft.

Daft is a Nottinghamshire name. Early Nottingham records have a
John Daft in 1230 and a Robert Daft in 1242. Nottinghamshire
records for 1664 showed that this name was to be found in just one
place, the
village of Hickling
on the southern border with
Leicestershire. One family history started with Robert and
Elizabeth Daft of Hickling and their two surviving sons, George and
William, born in the early 1600’s. This Daft family was still
part of village life three hundred years later.

The Dafts were numerous in Hickling in the mid 19th century, but they
were not amongst its most prominent inhabitants. The village
population at that time was 613. Since then it has dropped by
about 35 percent, possibly due to the decline in traffic on the
Grantham canal that went by the village. Dafts moved away.

They didn’t move far. A telephone survey of Dafts in
the late 1980’s showed that 70 percent of the UK Dafts still lived in
reasonable proximity to Hickling village, in Nottinghamshire,
Leicestershire, and Derbyshire.

One family history began with a William and Ann Daft in Nottingham in
the 1830’s. Another William Daft ran the drapery firm of Daft
& Jessop – that was to become
the John Lewis department store – in Nottingham from 1832 to
1866. Richard
Daft
the cricketer was
born in the village of Radcliffe on Trent near Nottingham in
1835. There were also Dafts who had settled to farm in Haltham on
the Lincolnshire
fens. John Daft from Haltham was transported to Australia for
robbery in 1817.

The Daft numbers are lower in England today than they were in Victorian
times. It might be all right to be called Daft if you lived in a
village where you had been known for centuries. But if you lived
in a new town, you might feel embarassed to carry the name of Daft with
the meaning it has today. It would appear, when comparing numbers
between 1881 and 1988, that Daft – like Cock, Smellie and Shufflebottom
– were names which were dumped by some of their holders.


America.
Some Dafts made it to America. An early
arrival was John Daft, a Catholic who had been transported to Maryland
in
1661. His descendants lived in St. Mary’s county. Four
Dafts joined the local militia there at the time of the Revolutionary
War. Thomas
Daft

brought his family over from Nottingham in 1847. His son William
moved out west
and became a farmer and pig breeder in Jasper county, Iowa.

There were 100 Dafts in the 1920 US census. The total
today is up to about 180. It would seem that the American Dafts
have
been less embarrassed by their name than their English
counterparts.

 


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Daft Miscellany

Hickling in Nottinghamshire.  Hickling is a small village and parish situated on the now disused
Grantham canal in the most southernmost part of Nottinghamshire that
abuts the Leicestershire border.  It lies in the Vale of Belvoir
about 12 miles southeast of Nottingham.  In 1771, a farmer whilst
ploughing near the village, found an urn containing about 200 Roman
silver coins and medals, most of them of “the age of Vespasian.”
This discovery seems to confirm the view that there had once been a
Roman station there.

In 1853 the village contained 613 inhabitants and 2,663 acres of
land.  The principal landowners were the Dean and Chapter of
Lincoln, Mr Marshall, Mr Collishaw, Mr Eaton, Mr Robert Hardyard and Mr
Mason, with Earl Manvers the lord paramount.  St. Luke’s church in
Hickling dates from the 14th century and its parish records from 1646.By 1931 the population of the village had fallen to 394, a 35 percent
drop. 

Richard Daft the Cricketer.  Richard Daft, born at Radcliffe on Trent in Nottinghamshire in
1835, was one of the best batsmen of his day, the peak of his
career being the 1860’s and early 1870’s.  It was written of him:
“Not a big hitter, but he played a thoroughly sound and at the same
time graceful game.”  At the end of his cricketing career he ran a
shop in Nottingham and then retired to Radcliffe on Trent where he kept
a small brewery.  He wrote his cricket reminiscences, Kings
of Cricket
, that were published in
1893.

His brother Charles, his sons Harry and Richard, and his
father-in-law Butler Parr also played cricket at a first-class
level.  His great-grandson Robin Butler served as the British
Cabinet Secretary in the 1990’s.

Daft UK Surname Distribution.  In a survey undertaken in the late 1980’s, 163 Dafts were
found in UK telephone directories.  The table below shows their
distribution.

County Numbers Percent
Nottinghamshire   57   35
Leicestershire   55   34
Derbyshire   13    8
Lincolnshire    7    4
Elsewhere   31   19
Total  163  100

Thomas Daft to America.  Thomas Daft, born in Nottingham in 1812, had followed the life of a
farmer in England but became convinced that America offered better
chances for advancement.  He therefore left his wife and children
back home and headed there in 1846.  He obtained work in a store
in Canton, Illinois and within six months had saved enough money to
bring his family over.  Thomas clerked for a while and then bought
land in Farmington township to farm.  He was killed accidentally
in 1865 when a load of hay tipped over him.

His eldest son William headed west a few years later and became a
farmer and pig breeder in Jasper county, Iowa.

 

 


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Richard Daft, a cricketer from
Nottinghamshire, was one of the best batsmen in England during the
1860’s.


Select Daft Numbers
Today

  • 500 in the UK (most numerous
    in Nottinghamshire)
  • 200 in America (most numerous
    in West Virginia)

 

 

 

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