Duke Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Duke Meaning 

The surname Duke is generally
considered to be derived from the various Middle English words duc, duk, and douc that came out of the Old
French duc meaning
“leader.”  The patronymic form Dukes (son of Duke) accounts
for about 25% of the
Duke and Dukes

Duke Resources on

Duke Ancestry

surname Duke was originally the Norman le Duc and started to appear in
England in
various places – London, Bedfordshire and Warwickshire – in the late

The Norman family identified
with Roger le Duc, who was sheriff and mayor of London between 1225 and
was particularly conspicuous in the 13th century. Other
Dukes of London were successful in the
wool trade and helped with the royal finances in the next century. The best known of these was Thomas Duke, citizen and skinner of
who died in 1422. The Dukes in Suffolk claimed descent from Roger
le Duc and held land at Shadingfield and Brampton. These Dukes were
during the Civil War but recovered their position
with the

The Duke name was first in the west
country in the early 14th century in Wiltshire. It
appeared a century later in
Gloucestershire, where the Dukes of Cirencester were merchants engaged
in trade
with France, and in Devon where Duke merchants from Exeter had
established themselves along the coast at
Otterton. Richard Duke prospered from the dissolution of the
monasteries in the 1530’s, purchasing Otterton Priory and remodelling
it into a mansion. Later Dukes were country gentry until the male
line ran out in 1741.

last Duke was going to build a new house in Otterton Park. The
entrance pillars are still visible there. But sadly he fell off
his horse and died before the house was built.”

19th century, the main location for Dukes was London and the southeast,
other Dukes in Yorkshire and relatively few left in the west country.

Ireland. Two
Dukes, John and Robert Duke, were Cromwellian soldiers who were granted
the Newpark
estate in Sligo. Their descendants were
landowners in Sligo and Roscommon in the 19th century.

. Henry
Duke was an early immigrant to Jamestown, Virginia sometime in the
1630’s. His descendants moved westward in
and were later to be found in Georgia and Alabama.
One line is thought to have run to Taylor
Duke in Orange county, South Carolina and to his son Washington Duke.

Duke came to North Carolina from Dorset in the 1720’s. Joseph Dukes was recorded in Orangeburg,
South Carolina in 1757. Thomas Goodman
Duke and William Duke were ship captains based in Charleston who
extensively to the Caribbean at that time.

The Duke tobacco
dynasty began with Washington Duke,
a poor farmer in Orange county, South Carolina at the onset of the
Civil War. Afterwards, his tobacco focus paid huge dividends and
his son James was to become the leader of the American Tobacco Company
trust by the turn of the century. The Duke family fortune was to
end up with his daughter, Doris Duke.

Caribbean. Humphrey Duke
from Devon emigrated to Barbados in the 1630’s and is believed to be
the ancestor of many later Dukes on the island. Henry Duke was
Solicitor-General of Barbados, but was killed in a hurricane in 1781
while trying to protect his wife and two daughters.

Later Dukes in Barbados could have had Irish blood in them, descendants
of Mansergh Duke, a doctor from Sligo who had arrived in the 1890’s. A
later Duke of this family, nicknamed Konks, was the Police Commissioner
of Barbados.

Australia. William
Duke came to Australia from Ireland on the Lady
in 1840. He was a
portrait and landscape painter who also worked extensively as a scenery
with a number of theatrical companies.
He died in 1853 at the relatively young age of 38.


Duke Miscellany

Duke and Dukes Today

Numbers (000’s) Duke Dukes Total
UK    7    2    9
America   11    6   17
Elsewhere    8    1    9
Total   26    9   35

The Will of Thomas Duke, Skinner, in 1411.  “To be
buried in St. Katherine’s Chapel, which he had lately rebuilt, in the
church of
St. Dunstan West in Fleet Street.

Sir John Walshford, perpetual vicar of the
said church, and churchwardens of the same, certain rents in the parish
of St.
Dunstan aforesaid for the maintenance of a chantry for the good of his
the souls of Agnes his wife and others, as directed.

In default the said rents
to go over to the rector and churchwardens of the church of St. Brigid
in Fleet
Street for the maintenance of a chantry in the said church of St.

John Duke his son tenements called le
Tabard on the Hoop
, le Crane on the
, le Newe Taverne, and others
in the parishes of St. Brigid and St. Dunstan and elsewhere in tail;

in trust for sale for pious and charitable uses.”

George Duke’s Royalist Plea.  George Duke from
Wandsworth, of the Duke Suffolk family, was Royalist during the Civil
War and, according to him, paid a price:

the late wars, but was taken prisoner in December 1646, kept in the
Prison near Thames Street on pump water and pottage till April 1647,
then turned out, half dead and naked into Lambeth Fields.

his way back to Windsor where he live,
and engaged in a design, which was long continued, to surprise the
castle for
the King; had spies at the Council of State and Cromwell’s Council and
large sums on intelligence and holding correspondence with His Majesty
and his

500 men for Sir George
Booth’s rising.

often helped the
King’s friends with necessaries and money and thus spent 20 years and
most of
his fortune, having also lost £3,000 purchase money and £1,200 a year,
suppression of his office in the Star Chamber.”

plea at the time of the Restoration got him the position of Secretary
to the Council of Trade.

William Duke – from Devon to North Carolina.  Daniel Goodloe wrote an account in North Carolina in 1911 of the arrival of his forebear
William Duke in America.  The following
are some extracts from this account:

Duke, born in 1709, was a younger son of Raleigh Duke of Hays Farm in
Devon.  There was an inter-connection here
with the
family of Sir Walter Raleigh.  His
birthplace was there (a picture of it can be seen in the first volume
of Hawk’s
History of North Carolina) and Hays
Farm is thought to have come to the Dukes through their intermarriage
with the

parents dying when he was a small lad, the estate passed, according
to English law and custom, to his oldest brother.  William
Duke was left poor and was brought to
Virginia by his relative Colonel William Byrd of Westover on the James
river.  Byrd it was who reared him and gave
him the rudiments of a good business education.

1727 Colonel Byrd was
appointed one of the Commissioners to run the dividing line between
and North Carolina.  He was so pleased
with the soil of what is now Warren and Granville that he called it
“the Land
of Eden” and pronounced it a great country for a young man.  A short time afterward, William Duke,
probably through Colonel Byrd’s influence, moved to North Carolina, and
in 1735
married Mary Green there and they raised their children at Purchase

Washington Duke and the Start of the Tobacco Dynasty.  The Civil War was upon him and, in late 1863, Washington
Duke found himself at 43 compelled to join the Confederate Army.   He decided
to sell his farm belongings and convert all his means into tobacco.  During his brief military career, he was
captured by Union forces and imprisoned in Richmond, Virginia.  At the end of the war the Federals released
him and shipped him to New Bern, North Carolina.  Lacking
money and transportation, the veteran
walked back to his homestead, a distance of 135 miles.

Duke’s trek back to Orange county, South Carolina after the Civil War
marked the beginning of his rise to prominence in the
tobacco business.  He gathered his family and returned to his
virtually barren
home.  Duke and his children then began
their smoking tobacco operation in a small log structure, now known as
first factory.  Though a good part of
stored leaf had been confiscated by soldiers while he was away, the
members were able to fashion by crude hand processes the remaining
portion into
smoking tobacco which they could trade readily for needed supplies and
sometimes cash.

took the
manufactured leaf on a peddling trip into eastern North Carolina, using
a broken-down
wagon and two blind mules to transport him.  The trip was a
success.  Merchants in small towns and
villages were the
best customers.  Money realized from the
sale of the tobacco was used to purchase family necessities such as
lard and
bacon and a surprise bucket of sugar for the children.

Doris Duke, Tobacco Heiress.  Born in
1912, Doris Duke was the only child of American tobacco baron James
Duke and
his wife Nanaline. When she was born, the newspapers christened her
richest little girl in the world.”
Her father fell ill with pneumonia in 1925 and died that year,
the bulk of his fortune to her.  On his
deathbed James cautioned her to
“trust no one,” a piece of fatherly advice that would forever
resonate in her mind.

After a failed marriage, Doris Duke’s behavior and indiscreet
affairs scandalized society.  When at 27,
she became pregnant, it was speculated that any number of men could
have been
the father. The child, a girl named Arden, was born prematurely in July
1940 and died within 24 hours. Told by doctors that she was never to
children again, the devastated Duke consulted psychics to contact her

Over her life Duke used her
money to travel the world, communing with the likes of Indian mystics
African witch doctors.  She employed a
permanent staff of over 200 to look after her and manage her five homes
– a
2,000-acre farm in New Jersey, a Park Avenue penthouse, a hillside
mansion in
Beverly Hills, a palace in Hawaii, and a summer home on Newport, Rhode
Island.  Although her lifestyle was
her attitude toward her father’s fortune was not.  During
her lifetime, Duke was to increase her
father’s fortune fourfold.

However, Duke
was the most reluctant of celebrities.  For over 50 years, she
sought to avoid
the glare of publicity, hiding from cameras and refusing interviews.  When she died in 1993 at her Beverly Hills
mansion without family or friends, Duke’s billion-dollar legacy was
left in the
sole control of her butler, the semiliterate alcoholic Bernard Lafferty.  In death, the reclusive Duke again became the
focus of the world’s attention.


Duke Names

  • Washington Duke was the
    founder of the Duke tobacco dynasty that went on to form the American Tobacco Company.
  • Geoff Duke was the English
    motorcyclist who dominated world motorcycle racing in the 1950’s.
  • Patty Duke was a youthful American TV star of the 1960’s.

Select Duke Numbers Today

  • 9,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Yorkshire)
  • 15,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 9,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)




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