Gates Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Gates Meaning
and Yates are both surnames that derived from the Old English gatu, plural of geat, meaning “gate.”  Since
medieval gates were usually arranged in pairs, fastened in the center,
the plural name came to be used.  The surname described a
gatekeeper or one who lived by the gates of a walled town.
The Gates and
spellings developed separately in different parts of
the country and probably reflected earlier pronunciation
differences.  Gates may also specifically refer to the Sussex
place-name Eastergate, known as Gates in the 13th
and 14th centuries. Gates in America is often an anglicization of the German name

Resources on

Gates Ancestry

The earliest appearances of the name were in East
Anglia.  Silvester atte Gates was rector of
Brinton in Norfolk in 1354 and Thomas Gates, born in 1327, was the
first of
the Gates gentry family of Essex.  This family purchased the
Garnetts manor in High Easter (near present-day Chelmsford), which
remained in their hands until
1582.  Sir
John Gates
prospered as a courtier under Henry VIII,
but then lost his head when he backed the abortive attempt to put Lady
Jane Grey on the English throne.

“On August 19, 1553 he was tried at the Tower and
sentenced to death for treason.  Three days later he was brought
out to Tower Hill where at three blows his head was struck off.”

The Gates name spread around the southeast, from
Essex to Kent, Sussex, and Hampshire.
  The Gates name was
recorded as early as 1480 in Horsham in Sussex; Henry Gates lived at
the Kings Barn nearby in Cowfold in the 1660’s; and the Gates of Alton
in Hampshire
date from the time of the Civil War.

  The Gates name appeared early in the history of
America.  Sir Thomas Gates sailed for Virginia as head of the
rescue party for the original Jamestown inhabitants.  He became
of Virginia briefly in 1611, but then returned to England.

The Puritan Stephen
stayed.  He came in 1638 from Hingham
near Norwich in England on the Diligent
and settled with other Puritans from Hingham in Hingham,
Massachusetts.  Later Gates descendants were to be found in
Massachusetts.  Jacob Gates was a Mormon and an early arrival in
Salt Lake valley. Charles Otis Gates’ work Stephen Gates of Hingham and His
, published in 1898, is not now considered fully
reliable and has been much corrected by
more recent researchers.  Robert Cady Gates’ 2000 book Records of the Gates Families in America is
a more recent work.

One researcher went through Gates as a surname in the 1850 and 1860 US
censuses and estimated that a majority of them had German rather
than English roots.  Many Goetz became Gates in
America on arrival or a generation or so later.

Among the Goetz who came to America and became Gates then or later were:

  • Early arrivals, John Georg Goetz along with his mother and
    siblings, who left Wurttemburg for America in 1750 and settled in Berks
    county, Pennsylvania.
  • Johannes Gotz from the Rhine Palatinate arrived in 1754 and
    settled in Indiana county, Pennsylvania
  • Adolph Goetz and his family from Wurttemburg who moved to
    Buffalo, New York in 1846 (another Goetz, George Goertz, settled in
    Rochester nearby and later moved onto Indiana and Ohio)
  • Daniel Goetz and his family from Wurttemburg who arrived in Iowa
    in the early 1850’s to farm
  • and a Goetz family from Nuremburg who started emigrating to
    America in 1853.  They settled in Angola, Indiana.

There were two Bill Gates known to be in Alaska at the time of the
Klondike gold rush of the 1890’s.  The first, the flamboyant
Swiftwater Bill, was a small moon-faced wanderer from Idaho.  He
made and lost several fortunes.  In one famous Klondike story he
presented the Dawson dance hall girl Gussie Lamore with her weight in
gold.  A biography The True
Life Story of Swiftwater Bill Gates
was written in 1908 by his
mother-in-law Iola Beebe.  The other Bill Gates, whose family had
come from Rhode Island in the early 19th century, settled in Washington
state and was the
grandfather of Microsoft founder Bill Gates

Canada.  The descent from
New England immigrant Stephen Gates came north into Canada a century or
so later, through two different lines:

  • One was via his son Simon.  Simon’s grandson Captain Oldham
    Gates left Massachusetts in 1760 for what is now Annapolis county, Nova
    Scotia.  His family founded Gates Breakwater, which became known
    as Port
    George in 1812, and were the builders of the first oceangoing vessel
  • The other was via his son Isaac.  There was a Joseph Abel
    Gates, who was born in Kingston, Ontario in 1772 and married Mary
    in 1802, and a Henry Gates, born in Burford in Brant county, Ontario in


Gates Miscellany

Gates and Yates.  Gates and Yates are both
surnames that derived from the Old English gatu, plural of geat, meaning “gate.”  Gates
might seem the more likely derivation.  But it seems that in many
parts of the country the original geat
was pronounced with a “y”
sound.  Consequently, Yates or similar spellings developed.Early examples of Yates as a surname were:

  • Hereward de Jette in the Gloucestershire piperolls of 1198
  • Philip del Yate in the Cheshire piperolls of 1260
  • Robert atte Yates in the Norfolk assize rolls of 1344
  • and Johannes atte Yate in the Yorkshire poll tax of 1379.

The surname is most common in Lancashire but appears
widely around the country.  The spelling Yeats spread to Scotland
and Ireland (and included the celebrated poet W.B. Yeats).

Gates has had a more limited geographical distribution (the Gates are
outnumbered by the Yates in England by a factor of more than four to
one).  The earliest appearances were in East Anglia.  Later, the Gates name spread around the southeast, from
Essex to Kent, Sussex, and Hampshire.

The Rise and Fall of Sir John Gates.  The Gates family were a family of some standing in Essex
and John Gates’s father Sir Geoffrey had been a regular attendant at
the court and upon the King until his death in 1526.

John himself, educated at Lincoln’s Inn in London, also
became part of the royal household and soon became a trusted confidant
of the King.  This was the time of the dissolution of the
monasteries and John, through his position, was able to obtain for
himself a number of church properties, most notably Beeleigh abbey in
Essex.  When Henry VIII died, John Gates witnessed the King’s will
and rode beside the King’s corpse in the funeral procession at

Gates’s stock remained high during the reign of Edward
VI, having allied himself with the powerful Duke of
Northumberland.  He was knighted and made Chancellor of the Duchy
of Lancaster.

However, when Edward died, he made the disastrous mistake
of supporting Northumberland in his doomed effort to put Lady Jane Grey
on the throne.  For this he paid with his life.  His action
might have been seen as a principled stand against the Catholic Queen
Mary.  But history has generally viewed him as being greedy,
grasping, and opportunistic.

Nevertheless, for many years after, Beeleigh abbey was
haunted by the headless ghost of Sir John Gates.  The ghost was
said to appear each year on August 23 on the anniversary of Sir John’s
execution on Tower Hill. 

The Gates of Alton in Hampshire.  The Gates name has a long history in the town of Alton in
Hampshire.  The Crown Hotel in Alton was owned by a William Gates
at the time of the Civil War.  It was captured by Cromwell’s
forces under General Waller. The Gates’ sympathacies were probably on
the Roundheads’ side  as there were soon many Gates Quakers in the
town.  Nicholas Gates, a master builder, built the Friends’
Meeting House.  Some Gates spent some time in Winchester prison
because of their beliefs.

Later Gates in Alton were farmers.  A number worked
in the 19th century at the town’s paper mill.  And many joined the

Stephen Gates’ English Ancestry.  Recent research by Edward Harrison has indicated with reasonable certainty that Stephen Gates
was the son of Eustace Gates and Rose Wright.
Edward Harrison, a Stephen Gates descendant, began his family
research in 1985.

It was originally
thought that Stephen Gates was “of Hingham in England,” mainly because
marriage in 1628 and the 1636 baptism of his daughter Marie appeared in
Hingham, Norfolk parish registers.

Harrison’s research in the parish registers for Coney Weston, Suffolk,
a small
parish about sixteen miles south of Hingham, found a baptism record
there for
Stephen Gates, son of Eustace, dated December 26, 1597, a marriage
record for
Stephen’s parents Eustace Gates and Rose Wright, dated March 4, 1592,
baptismal records for Stephen’s siblings (Thomas, Rose, William, Alice,
the elder, Bridgett, Simon, and Mary the younger) ranging from 1593

Gates married Ann Veare in
Hingham in 1628 and he and Ann emigrated in 1638 to Massachusetts on
the Diligent.  They
settled in Hingham, Massachusetts.  Stephen
died in Cambridge in
1662 and Ann remarried a year later.
Stephen’s descendants are large in number.  They
include President George Bush through
his mother’s line.

Gates and Goetz.  The Germanic name Goetz is a diminutive form of Gottfried, a combination of gott
(meaning “”god”) and fried
(or “peace”).  One early Goetz family descended from German
knights in Franconia (Hesse) and the name later spread to Wurttenberg
and also to France.  Goetz was also adopted by some Jews in
(which was part of the Austrian empire in the 19th century).

More Goetzes in total came to America than Gates.

From: Gates Goetz Total
England   200     –   200
Scotland and Ireland    48     –    48
Germany     9   412   421
France     –    37    37
Total   257   449   706

Not all of these Goetzes changed their names to Gates
when they came to America.  But a sufficient number did that
Germany became more the country of origin for Gates than England.

Bill Gates’ Ancestry.  Bill Gates’ ancestry had been traced back to Rhode Island and the early 19th century.  The list below shows the progression.

Joseph Stanton Gates, born in West Greenwich, Rhode Island in 1806, married Martha Satterlee

– William Henry Gates, born in Warrenton, Pennsylvania in 1860, married Rebecca Eppinhauser

– William Henry Gates Sr, born in Bremerton, Washington in 1891, married Elizabeth Rice

– William Henry Gates Jr, born in Bremerton, Washington in 1926, married Mary Maxwell

Bill Gates (William Henry Gates III), the Microsoft founder, born in Seattle, Washington in 1955, married Melinda French in 1994.

William Gates Sr, Bill Gates’ grandfather, owned a furniture store in
downtown Bremerton in the 1920’s.  Bill’s father was a lawyer.



Select Gates Names

  • Sir John Gates was a courtier under Henry VIII who was later executed for his role in trying to put Lady Jane Grey on the English throne.
  • Horatio Gates served as an
    American general during the Revolutionary War.  He was credited with the victory at Saratoga but plotted the replacement of George Washington.
  • John W. Gates was a pioneer
    promoter of barbed wire and became a prominent American
    financier.  He was also a big-time gambler, known as
    “bet-a-million” Gates.
  • Bill Gates started and
    developed the computer software giant Microsoft.

Select Gates Numbers Today

  • 11,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Hampshire)
  • 20,000 in America (most numerous
    in California)
  • 7,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).


Select Gates and Like Surnames.

From our selection, these are the surnames of those who have made their business mark in America – as pioneers, inventors, developers, or corporate leaders – over its long history from colonial to modern times.




Click here for return to front page

Leave a Reply