Daft Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Daft Surname Meaning

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.

Daft Surname Resources on
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Daft Surname 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 embarrassed 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 Surname 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.

Reader Feedback – Dafts in Iowa.  I am one of William’s descendants and was born and raised in Jasper county, Iowa. This was very interesting to read. I have always been curious about my last name.

Mary Daft (daftmary@yahoo.com)

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

Daft Numbers Today
  • 500 in the UK (most numerous in Nottinghamshire)
  • 200 in America (most numerous in West Virginia)
Daft and Like Surnames

Some surnames have originated from the English Midlands – the swathe of countryside which covers such counties as Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.  These are some of the noteworthy surnames that you can check out.

AlsopCromwellSheldonWilloughby
BurtonDaftTrumanYardley

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