Daft Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Daft 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.

Resources on

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 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.

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


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

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.



Select Daft Names

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

Select Daft Numbers

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


Select 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.




Click here for return to front page

Leave a Reply