Gilbert Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Gilbert Meaning
The Gilbert surname is of Norman French origin – from Giselbert,
a Norman personal name derived from the elements gisil,
meaning “noble youth,” and berht, “bright” or “famous.”
Richard fitz Gilbert was a Norman lord who
accompanied William the Conqueror to England in 1066.
The Gilbert namethen enjoyed considerable
popularity during the Middle Ages as a result of the fame of St.
Gilbert of Sempringham, the founder of the only native monastic order in England.
There are also considerable numbers of
Gilberts in France. Gilbert can be
a Jewish name too. Examples today are the British historian Sir Martin Gilbert and the American tennis coach Brad Gilbert.

Gilbert Resources on

Gilbert Ancestry

EnglandThe surname Gilbert has its earliest origins in the west country, in particular in Devon.

West Country. It was said that Gilbert or Jilbert possessed lands in the vicinity of Dartmoor at the time of Edward the Confessor.
The earliest recorded Gilbert was Thomas Gilbert who held
Greenway near Dartmouthin the early 1300’s. From
this line in Elizabethan times came Sir John Gilbert, who remained at home, and
Sir Humphrey Gilbert, the
adventurer abroad. They
were half-brothers to Sir Walter Raleigh. Compton
Castle in Devon remained home to the Gilberts until 1785
(although a descendant does live in the place today).
Later Gilberts of this family settled in Cornwall.

Other early Gilberts in the west country were:

  • the Gilberts of Holwell (South Milton) in Devon from sometime in the 15th century
  • the Gilberts of Bruton Abbey in Somerset from Tudor times. Tradition has it that these Gilberts were the principal
    founders of the abbey.
  • while Robert Gilbert, possibly the son of a local clothier, was MP for Gloucester from 1415 to 1430.

A Cornish family of Gilberts began with Nicholas Gilbert who was born in Mullion, Cornwall around the year 1600.  John Gilbart, born about 1760, was a copper mining manager at St. Erth.  He helped build the Methodist chapel there in 1783.  

Elsewhere. Later centuries saw a shift in Gilberts from the west
country towards London and the southeast. William
Gilberd or Gilbert, the Elizabethan physician and scientist,
came from a prosperous merchant family in Colchester.
Gilberts in London in the 17th century included
Captain John Gilbert, granted a license to clean up the Thames in 1631,
James Gilbert, a gunmaker in the 1670’s.

Some Gilberts may have moved from west
to east. The Gilberts of Goudhurst in
Kent were thought to have originated from either Devon or Cornwall. Sir Jeffrey Gilbert, Lord Chief Baron of the
Exchequer in the reign of George I, was of this family.
of Gilbert and Sullivan fame, born in London in 1836,
originally from a Hampshire farming family.

Gilbert began supplying footballs to Rugby School in Warwickshire in
1820’s at the time that William Webb Ellis first picked up a ball and
ran with
it, thus inventing the game of rugby.
The business that William Gilbert started remained family-owned

Channel Islands
The name appeared as Guilbert in
Guernsey. Guillemine Guilbert was
rounded up as a heretic in 1556 during the bloody reign of Queen Mary
together with two other women, burnt at the stake.
George Guilbert was married at Forest in
1717. A Guilbert family later lived at
Hauteville near St. Peter Port.

arrival points for Gilberts in America were New England and

New England.
John Gilbert from Bridgewater in Somerset, distantly related
to the
Elizabethan adventurer Sir Humphrey Gilbert, came to Dorchester,
in 1630 with his third wife Winifred.
His descendants in America were covered in Geoffrey Gilbert’s
1959 book Gilberts of New England.
Notable among them was the architect C.P.L.
Gilbert who made his name in New York in the late 19th and early 20th
for his designs of townhouses and mansions.

Other early Gilbert arrivals in New
England were:

  • Matthew
    Gilbert who in 1637 was one of the first settlers of the
    New Haven colony, being one of the famous “Seven Pillars” to found
    church and
    state there. He was the forebear through
    his son Daniel of the Gilberts of Hamden, Connecticut.
  • Thomas
    Gilbert who came to Braintree in 1639 and later settled in
    Wethersfield, Connecticut. His descendants made their home in
    Stamford, New York. This line was covered in Eliza Gilbert’s 1920
    book The Benjamin Gilbert Branch.
  • while
    Humphrey Gilbert,
    thought to have come from Cambridge in England, was recorded as living
    Ipswich, Massachusetts by 1642. His
    second wife Elizabeth was the mother of his only son John who became a

line of Timothy Gilberts began with the birth of Timothy Gilbert in
Massachusetts in 1748. Timothy and his
brother Lemuel were piano manufacturers in Boston in the first half of
the 19th
century. Timothy was also a leader of
his local Baptist church and an abolitionist advocate

Quaker Gilberts began arriving into Philadelphia and
its outlying areas in the 1680’s. Some
have them coming from Cornwall, although there is no confirmation of
this. There were three lines recorded,
those of Byberry,
those of Buckingham, and those of Warminster.
Benjamin Gilbert and his family at Byberry experienced a
terrifying ordeal
of seizure and captivity by Indians
1780. They were then exiled to Montreal
as the Revolutionary War was raging and were not to return to Byberry
until late

were German
Gilberts in Pennsylvania
Five male Gilberts from Hoffenheim in Baden came on the Nancy in 1750. The line of
John Georg Gilbert settled in
Montgomery county, that of his cousin John Andrew Gilbert in York
county. Johan
Conrad Gilbert
moved to Orwigsburg in Schuykill county where he
died in

Gilbert, said to have been a descendant of the Elizabethan physician
scientist William Gilbert, came to Philadelphia from Tamworth in
in 1787. It was written in a family
letter that when George Washington saw his son Joseph disembarking, he
him on his head and said: “A fine rosy-cheeked English boy who will
make a good
American citizen.”

The Gilberts established themselves in what became
Gilbertsville in Oswego county, New York.
Grandson Abijah moved to New York City and, in 1865, to Florida
where he
served as its US Senator. The family
history was
covered in Carl Beck’s 1953 book The
Abijah Gilbert Family of Gilbertsville

Canada. Early
Gilberts in Canada were French.
Jean Gilbert had arrived in Quebec by the 1680’s and made his
home at
Pointe-aux-Trembles. Louis Gilbert came
with his wife around 1720 and settled in L’Ile Dupas. Some
Gilbert descendants crossed the border
into Wisconsin and Maine during the 19th century.

Isaac Gilbert was a Loyalist who
crossed over to Canada after the
Revolutionary War. He was one of the
pioneer settlers of Woodhouse township, Norfolk county in Ontario. His story was covered in Harriet Walker’s
1981 book Isaac Gilbert: United Empire

Australia. The
suburb of Gilberton in South Australia owes its name to Joseph Gilbert,
a sheep
farmer and winemaker who had come to the colony from Wiltshire in 1838. Simon Gilbert, the fifth generation of these
winemakers, has his vineyards in the Mudgee district of NSW.


Gilbert Miscellany

Gilberts in England and France.  Gilbert is a surname that occurs in both England and France.

The English presence is larger.  The
Gilbert numbers today probably run about 30-35,000.
The name was earlier a name of the west
country.  But it has since spread to
London and the southeast and to the Midlands.

The Gilbert numbers in France are about 15-20,000 today.
The name is most noticeable in western
France, from Brittany to Bordeaux with a sizeable number in Vendee.  Philippe Gilbert has come from there and has
written about the dark side of its history.
Danielle Gilbert, the daughter of a wartime Resistance fighter
Auvergne, made herself a successful French TV personality in the 1970’s.

Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s Picture.  Prince in his Worthies
of Devon
concluded his account of Sir Humphrey Gilbert in the
following manner:

noble knight’s lively effigies are yet remaining in his
grand-nephew’s house at Compton – the one hand holding a general’s
and the other is laid on the globe of the world; Virginia is written
over; on
his breast hangs the golden anchor, with the pearl at peak; and
underneath are
these verses which may supply an epitaph:

you may see the portrait of his
Who for his country’s honor oft did trace,
Along the deep; and made a noble
Unto the growing fame, Virginia.
The picture of his mind, if you do crave
Look on virtue’s picture and you have it.’”

This description probably flatters him.
The latter part of Gilbert’s life was spent
in a series of failed maritime expeditions, the financing of which
his own fortune and a great part of his family’s.  He
did not venture to Virginia.  He did
establish an English base at
Newfoundland in 1583, although he was lost at sea on the return voyage.

Gilbert’s mottoes, quid non?
not?”) and mutare veltimere sperno (“I scorn to change or to
fear”) indicated how he chose to live his life.  The
writer A.L. Rowse later described him as

“Gilbert was certainly an
interesting psychological case, with the symptoms of disturbed
personality that
often go with men of mark.  He was
passionate and impulsive, a nature liable to violence and cruelty, but
also intellectual
and visionary, a questing and original mind with the personal magnetism
went with it.  People were apt to be both
attracted and repelled by him, to follow his leadership and yet be
of him.” 

W.S. Gilbert’s Family Background.  The forebears
of W.S. Gilbert of Gilbert and Sullivan fame came originally from
Hampshire.  Gilberts could be found at
Shipton Bellinger in Hampshire since the early 1500’s.  William
Gilbert, the son of
Thomas and Mary Gilbert, was born nearby at Over Wallop in 1746.  The family fortunes were in decline at that
time and William departed for London in search of his own fortune.

In 1768, at
the age of twenty two, he set himself up as a grocer amidst the slums
Westminster.  Twenty years later, after
the completion of the Blackfriars Bridge, he saw a better future south
of the
river and moved his business to Blackfriars.
He prospered and was able to retire to the country, and let his
William take over, in 1803.  But William
did not live much longer.  He died in
1805.  Neither did William junior.  He died of TB in 1812 at the age of 32, the
same disease having taken his wife away in 1810.

William had provided some
financial security for his son William, although he had to wait for it.  In the interim, he travelled in his early
years and became a surgeon in the Navy.
Later he could spend his time as a gentleman and a writer.  The first child of he and his wife Anne, born
in the clean air of Hammersmith in 1836, was W.S. Gilbert.

The Gilberts’ Indian Ordeal.  In April 1780 the Gilbert family in Byberry, about 15 miles outside Philadelphia, was surprised early one morning
at their log cabin by a party of eleven Indians.  Those
captured were the elderly Benjamin Gilbert, his wife Elizabeth, six of
sons and daughters, as well as four other workers on the farm.

They were taken to an Indian village some ten
miles away where they were bound in captivity in the traditional Indian
manner.  They were then moved onwards and
beatings “until their enemies grew weary of this cruel sport.”

Later they endured
the pain of separation.  Benjamin the
elder, his wife and son Jesse were surrendered to Colonel Guy Johnson,
commander of the Fort Niagara garrison where they had come.  They were then sent further north to
Montreal, much of it by boat.  During the
voyage Benjamin died, but his wife, showing great fortitude, managed to
make it
with their son to Montreal.  They
remained captives there.  However, they
did learn with joy of the release of some of their family.

Eventually, in August 1782, they were able to
take their leave of Montreal and, after an arduous journey of 36 days,
to Byberry.

Reader Feedback – German Gilberts in Pennsylvania.  When the German Gilberts came to Pennsylvania, they settled in Gilbertsville, Pa and established
the German Lutheran Church there.

I was wondering if the German Gilberts are related to the
English Gilberts.  I haven’t been able to find the link to the
Gilberts. I’m from the German side.  My
mom was a Gilbert from York, Pa.  Joseph
Henry Gilbert was her grandfather.

Lois A. Pollock (

Johan Conrad Gilbert, Fraktur Artist.  Johan Conrad Gilbert, an immigrant from Hoffenheim in
Germany in 1750, was at various times in Pennsylvania a tailor, a schoolmaster, and a fraktur artist.

was in fact an artist who produced a number of drawings in color
(German Fraktur) on laid paper, some with texts or other writings.  The first Easter Bunny in America has been
attributed to him.  This drawing is in the
Abby Rockefeller Folk Museum in Williamsburg, Virginia.

hundred years after Conrad made the
Fraktur, the fourteen photographs of his work were presented in the
Journal of
the PA Society.  All of the photographs
suggest that the originals are still in good condition. 

Isaac Gilbert, United Empire Loyalist.  Isaac Gilbert was
a descendant of the early English emigrant Matthew Gilbert, one of the
of the New Haven colony.  According to
family tradition, Isaac enlisted in the British Navy during the
Revolutionary War.   He himself stated
that he was a sergeant in the New England regiment, the Queen’s Rangers.

After the war ended, he settled in St. John,
New Brunswick where he remained just a little too long to receive a U.
Loyalist land grant in the new province of Upper Canada (Ontario).

1800 or 1801, he came to the Long Point
settlement with his family and settled in what became the Woodhouse
township.  They had arrived there up the
lake shore in small boats and landed at Port Ryerse. For
several years following the Gilbert
settlement there was a trail leading through the woods from the home of
Samuel Ryerse to the log cabin of Isaac Gilbert which was often
by the old pioneers and their families.

Gilbert was a quiet,
unobtrusive man, and a staunch Loyalist.
He died in 1822 in his 80th year.
His wife Mary had died on the same day of a lingering illness.  It was said that Isaac, aggrieved and weary
with watching, had rested in his chair and within an hour had passed
too.   His son Isaac had been a
in the Norfolk militia during the War of 1812 and was a charter member
of the
first Woodhouse municipal government.


Gilbert Names

  • Sir Humphrey Gilbert was an Elizabethan adventurer, soldier, and explorer who through planting
    the English flag in Newfoundland was a pioneer of the English colonial empire in North America. 
  • William Gilbert was an English 16th
    century scientist credited with the invention of the term electricity. 
  • W.S. Gilbert was the dramatist and librettist in the phenomenally popular 19th century Gilbert & Sullivan comic operas. 
  • Sir Martin Gilbert is a renowned Jewish British historian and the biographer of Winston Churchill.

Select Gilbert Numbers Today

  • 32,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 42,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 18,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


Select Gilbert and Like Surnames.

The Norman Conquest brought new rulers to England and they brought their names and language, a form of French, with them.  Over time their names became less French and more English in character.  Thus Hamo became Hammond, Reinold Reynolds and Thierry Terry and so forth.  The names Allen, Brett, Everett, and Harvey were probably Breton in origin as Bretons also arrived, sometimes as mercenaries.

The new Norman lords often adopted new last names, sometimes from the lands they had acquired and sometimes from places back in Normandy.  Over time the name here also became more English.  Thus Saint Maur into Seymour, Saint Clair into Sinclair, Mohun into Moon, and Warenne into Warren.

Here are some of these Norman and Breton originating names that you can check out.





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