Goodwin Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Goodwin Surname Meaning

Godwin is an Anglo Saxon personal name whose use pre-dated the Norman Conquest.  Its roots were the Old English god, “good,” and wine, “friend,” and meant “good friend.”  There were many famous early Godwins, including Godwin, Earl of Wessex, and his son Harold who famously lost the Battle of Hastings.  Godwin was one of the few Anglo Saxon names which survived the latter influx of Norman names.

Godwin emerged as a surname in the late 1100’s and 1200’s.  W.G. Hoskins has recorded this transition in the village of Wigston Magna in Leicestershire.  Robert, son of Godwin, was living around 1210.  By 1250, the father’s name Godwin became the surname of the family which lived in the village for seven generations until their property was sold by Joan Godwyne in 1351.

Both Godwin and Goodwin developed as surnames.  This is not surprising – in an age without standardized spelling, both “god” and “good” were pronounced as “good.”  Thus Earl Godwin gave his name to the dangerous sandbanks off the Kent coastline which came to be called the Goodwin Sands.

Goodwin and Godwin Surname Resources on The Internet

Goodwin and Godwin Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Buckinghamshire and East Anglia)
  • to America, Canada and Australia

England.  Godwin was perhaps more used than Goodwin as a surname until the 17th century when Goodwin became the main spelling.  Thus James Godwin, born in Staffordshire in the 1630’s, was recorded as Goodwin in Lichfield records when he died in 1709.  Goodwins outnumbered Godwins by four to one by the time of the 1891 census, with Godwins holding strong only in the west country.

The early Goodwins were in Buckinghamshire.  There were also Goodwins in East Anglia and Derbyshire.

Buckinghamshire.  From small beginnings as peasant farmers in the Wooburn valley in Buckinghamshire, the Goodwin family was doing well enough by the mid-1400’s that John Goodwin could pay to have a steeple erected at his local church.  By the mid-1500’s they had secured the manor at Winchendon near Aylesbury and become local gentry.  They, like their near-neighbors the Hampdens, were staunchly Puritan in the years building up to the Civil War.  Arthur Goodwin who had raised a regiment of foot and horse died of camp fever during the conflict.

The Godwins first appeared in Swanbourne parish records in 1606.  William Godwin died in 1705 and willed £100 to the education of poor children.  His executor was his only brother Nicholas who supervised the building of the first school in Swanbourne.  But he died in 1714.

East Anglia. Another Puritan stronghold with Goodwin connections was Norfolk.  The name Walter Godwin was to be found in the county’s pipe rolls as early as 1177.  Jo Goodwyn was recorded as marrying in Loddon in 1479; William Goodwin was born a few years later at Blofield near Norwich; and a nearby family from Burlingham counted Daniel Goodwin the emigrant to America among its later descendants.

At the time of the Civil War, Norfolk had two notable Puritan writers and preachers named Goodwin, one John Goodwin the greater theologian perhaps and the other Thomas Goodwin who was the more readable.

There were also Goodwins at that time in Suffolk villages such as East Bergholt, Earl Soham, Southwold, Troston and Yoxford, as well as in Essex and London.

Derbyshire.  Francis Goodwin was a prosperous woollen draper in Derby who died in 1660. His son Samuel who died an old bachelor in 1712 donated his estate of  Plumbley in Eckington to the local church.

Other Derbyshire Goodwins were to be found in the Peak District.  Anthony Goodwin inherited from his wife a farm in Great Rocks Dale in the early 1700’s. In Bradwell in the Hope valley, it appears that the Goodwin name was initially Dudden or Doodin and only became Goodwin in the 18th century. George Goodwin who married an aristocratic young lady but with an unhappy outcome – was born there around 1725.

Ireland.  Goodwin is also an Irish name, but probably an English implant.  The name cropped up in the Londonderry muster roll of 1630.  It was to be found mainly in county Fermanagh.  Many Goodwins left Ireland in the 19th century for America, Canada, or Australia.

America.  Early Goodwins came to New England.

New England.  There was a Puritan edge to the early Goodwin arrivals:

  • William Goodwin and his brother Ozias from Essex on the Lion in 1632.
  • Christopher Goodwin to Charlestown, Massachusetts in the 1640’s.
  • and Daniel Goodwin from East Anglia to Kittery, Maine also in the 1640’s.

The elder William Goodwin is commemorated as one of the founders of Hartford, Connecticut.  The Hartford businessman J.J. Goodwin did a very extensive compilation of this family line in The Goodwins of Hartford, Conn. – Descendants of William and Ozias Goodwin, published in 1891.

Christopher Goodwin was a mason, devoutly Puritan, as was his son John who became sadly embroiled in the witchcraft controversy.  “In 1688, four of his children, said to be possessed with a spirit of childish mischief, perplexed and befooled the Rev. Cotton Mather – which caused Mary Glover, the Goodwin’s washerwoman, to be convicted of dealing with the devil and hanged.”

Daniel Goodwin who settled in Kittery (now Berwick), Maine was the forebear of numerous Goodwins in Maine and, through Nathan Goodwin from the late 1700’s, also in Nova Scotia.  The Ichabod Goodwins of this family date from the 1720’s.  One of these Ichabods was in the 1850’s a successful merchant and politician in Portsmouth and then a Governor of New Hampshire.  His house in Portsmouth, the Goodwin Mansion, has been preserved as a landmark.  John Noble Goodwin later served as the first Governor of Arizona territory.

William Goodwin was a later arrival in 1713 to New England, moving to Marblehead two years later to build the Second Congregational Church there.  These Goodwins have been a presence in the town through nine generations since that time.  Today the telephone book lists twenty Goodwin households in Marblehead.

Virginia and North Carolina.  Both Goodwins and Godwins came to Virginia.  Major James Goodwin arrived from London in 1650 and was a tobacco planter in York county.  The land he held became known as Goodwin Neck and there is a historic marker to that effect today.  The Goodwin homestead remained standing until 1900.  A branch of the family moved onto Tennessee.

Godwin immigrants to Virginia included:

  • Thomas Godwin from Somerset who arrived in the early 1650’s and settled in Nansemond county.  The Godwin name has continued in that county and includes Mills Godwin who became Governor of Virginia in the 1960’s.
  • and Deveraux and Elizabeth Godwin, who arrived in 1653 and settled on Godwin’s Island in Northampton county.  Jamie Grady’s 1981 book Godwin covered this history.

Some of these Goodwins and Godwins were to be found in North Carolina and other points south by the 18th and 19th centuries.  Theophilus Goodwin, for instance, moved to Franklin county, North Carolina in the 1730’s.  Theophilus, a story depicting the sod-bustin,’ tobacco-croppin,’ cotton-pickin’ southern Goodwins, is a somewhat fictitous autobiography of Theophilus Goodwin and his descendants by Ron Goodwin.  These descendants spread south and west and are said to number more than 15,000 today.

Elsewhere.  Silas Goodwin and his son Hartley were pioneer settlers in Port Angeles, Washington state.  Silas had arrived there from Maine in 1864 and then summoned his family.  They got there a year later after a nerve-wracking journey which had seen their ship wrecked off the coast of Panama.  Clara Goodwin, who died in 1944, was the last survivor of that epic voyage.

Canada.  Daniel Goodwin from the west country had fought with the British Army in Canada in the 1750’s and stayed.  He settled in the Bay Verte area of New Brunswick.  He and his wife raised twelve children and his descendants are to be found all over Canada.

Robert Goodwin arrived from Essex in 1781, as a surgeon for the Hudson Bay Company.  He was stationed in Fort Albany in the Far North where he met his native wife Mistagoosh.  He later became a trader and he and his family moved west.  But he died young in 1805, at the age of 45.

Alexander Goodwin arrived in Ontario from Scotland in 1812.  Later immigrants came from England and Ireland.  Eli Goodwin, the grandson of immigrants there, was an early homesteader in Saskatchewan at the turn of the century.

Australia.   Andrew Goodwin and Lydia Munro were convicts on the First Fleet which arrived in Australia in 1788. They were married in Sydney in 1790 but were to spend the next eighteen years of their life on Norfolk Island before being relocated to Tasmania.  They had eleven children in total and their descendants number in the thousands.

Other Goodwin convict arrivals were:

  • Amelia Goodwin who came as a convict eleven years later in 1799.  She and her partner James Rixon created local history by becoming the first parents of triplets in the new colony in 1806.  They too have numerous descendants.
  • and then there were the nine children and sixty three grandchildren of Ann Goodwin and George Colless.  Ann Goodwin had arrived as a convict on the Experiment in 1804.

A later arrival in 1831 was William Goodwin, the skipper of a convict ship.  He became a prominent and outspoken Tasmanian newspaper editor for the next thirty years.

Another William Goodwin, this time from Ireland, arrived in 1841 and set off for the interior.  William drowned in the Numeralla river in 1850.  But his wife and sons lived on.  Henry, the youngest, died in Queensland in 1922 at the age of ninety seven.

Goodwin and Godwin Surname Miscellany

Famous Godwins.  Saint Godwin of Stavelot was a Benedictine abbot at the monastery of Stavelot-Malmedy in Belgium.  He died in 690.  His feast day is October 28.  Godwin (or Godwine) was the Bishop of Lichfield around 1010.  But the most famous Godwin, who emerged a little later, was the Godwin, son of Wulnoth, who became the Earl of Wessex.

Godwin had risen from the lower ranks of the Anglo Saxon aristocracy to become a favorite of the king, Canute, who made him Earl of Wessex in 1018.  He survived Canute’s death in 1035 and emerged as a kingmaker, resisting the Norman incursions, in the subsequent reigns of Harold Harefoot, Harthacanute, and Edward the Confessor.

Godwin died in 1053 and his mantle passed onto his son Harold Godwinson and his feuding siblings. Harold, the last Anglo Saxon king of England, held the crown for just nine months before being famously killed by an arrow in the eye at the Battle of Hastings.

Frank Barlow’s 2003 book The Godwins: The Rise and Fall of a Noble Dynasty tracks the history of this feuding family that, but for Hastings, might have created an Anglo Saxon dynasty in England.

Reader Feedback – Early Godwins/Goodwins.  I found a record in Winchester showing Goodwin there in 878.  It was the first record of the surname and had links to the Godwin family line. He was working for the King (Alfred the Great) at that time.

Robert Hall (

Reader Feedback – Godwin not Goodwin.  I noticed your site doesn’t have the Saxon surname Godwin in the list, only the derivative Goodwin.  Goodwin was used long after Godwin in early England.  Godwin shows up centuries earlier than Goodwin.  Because the “God-“ portion of the surname was pronounced in Saxon like “Good-,” and because many people back then were illiterate, the erroneous spelling of Goodwin sprang up and has been interspersed within Godwin families throughout time.

I myself am a Godwin, a direct descendant of Lord Hugh Godwin of Godwin’s Bower in Somerset who was born around 1300.  He was my 18th great grandfather.

Regards,  Tony Godwin (

Early Godwins as Surnames

1177 William Godwin Norfolk
1206 William Goodswein Lincoln
1239 Nicholas Godwyn Cambridgeshire
1296 Richard Godwynn Yorkshire
1320 Roger Gudswen Norfolk
1327 William Godewaynes Worcester
1379 William Godwin Yorkshire

Early Goodwin Marriages in Norfolk

Groom from – Bride from –
1479 Jo Goodwyn Loddon Joanne Newman Loddon
1554 Valentine Goodwyn K. Lynn Margaret Miller Thornham
1556 John Goodwyn Suffolk Dorothy Lee Norwich
1558 Robert Rowse Suffolk Joan Goodwyn Bedingham
1560 Roger Guner Hackford Elizabeth Goodwyn Norwich
1561 Thomas Sparrow Norwich Agnes Goodwyn Norwich
1563 Robert Barber Suffolk Helen Goodwyn Norwich
1569 William Leggat Brysyard Etheldreda Goodwine Easton

Reader Feedback – Goodwins in Bedfordshire.  My surname is Goodwin.  My family’s is the oldest grave in the churchyard in Great Barford in Bedfordshire, dating back to 1642.  It is along with the Pitts family the oldest family name in the village.  I would add that the graveyard is on its “second usage” for want of better words.

The vicar in the 1960 traced our family tree back even further to Norman times using the Domesday Book. The name has changed from Godwin, Godwyng,  Goodwine, and Goodwing to Goodwin.  The oldest part of the church dates back to 1066. Apparently there are cottages in the village built with beams from the ships that came up the river Ouse.

Trevor Goodwin (

George Goodwin and Lady Charlotte Radcliffe.  In 1747 Lady Charlotte Radcliffe, when 18 years of age, was married in Scotland to George Goodwin who was descended from an old Derbyshire family and was a native of Bradwell in the parish of Hope in Derbyshire.

Here the trouble began. George Goodwin was a Protestant and his wife a Catholic, yet they were devoted to each other.   The couple made their home at Bradwell in a cottage in Hugh Lane.  But the aristocratic young bride, having married a Protestant, became alienated from her family and was anathematized by them.

Tragedy followed.  In early 1749 there was born to them a son – their only child. This son was named George after his father.  But George the father lived only eight years after his child was born for he died in 1757.  Differences then arose as to the religious training of the child. At the father’s death the child was adopted by its uncle who resided in Bradwell.  His mother left the area, re-entered the Roman Catholic Church “suffering great mental and pecuniary distress” under her maiden name until her death in 1800.

What of the child – the Hon. George Goodwin?  His uncle Birley was his Protestant guardian.  He married in Yorkshire but he had to fight the battle of life “in obscurity and poverty.”  In late life George and his wife entered the Shrewsbury almshouses at Sheffield, where he died in 1835 at the age of eighty six.

Goodwins and Godwins.  

UK.  The following was the geographic distribution of Goodwins and Godwins at the time of the 1891 UK census:

1891 Census (numbers)
Goodwins Godwins Total Godwin
Yorkshire     950     50   1,000      5%
North West   4,700    700   5,400     13%
South West     400  1,200   1,600     75%
London   2,250    750   3,000     25%
South East   2,100    150   2,250      7%
Elsewhere   5,600  1,150   6,750     18%
Total  16,000  4,000  20,000     20%

The main cluster of Godwins were in the west country, in Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, and Hampshire.

US.  The US showed the following distribution of Goodwins and Godwins at the time of its 1920 census.

1920 Census (numbers)
Goodwins Godwins Total
North   4,100    500   4,600     11%
South   3,900  1,400   5,300     27%
West   3,000    300   3,300       9%
Total  11,000  2,200  13,200     17%

Here there were some Godwin clusters, most conspicuously in North Carolina and in nearby southern states.

Australia.  The following were the results from Australia, from a smaller sample.  The numbers here come from the various Goodwins and Godwins recorded as incoming convicts and immigrants in the 19th century.

Arrivals (numbers)
Goodwins Godwins Total Godwin
As convicts    51      18    69     25%
As assisted immigrants    93       6    99       6%
Other immigrants    65       3    68       3%
Total   209      27  236     12%

If statistics mean anything, then the Godwins were the more criminally minded.  However, the overall totals probably underestimate the Godwin share.

Wiiliam Goodwin of Earl Soham and His Diary.  William Goodwin of Street Farm in Earl Soham, Suffolk was a surgeon who kept a diary between the years of 1785 and 1820.

Earl Soham at that time was a smuggling place and Goodwin would meticulously record the contraband passing from Sizewell Bay:

  • in the summer of 1785, for instance, he noted that, in less than a week, twenty carts had passed through, carrying 2,500 gallons of spirits
  • in February of the same year, five carts carrying 600 gallons passed in the course of just one morning
  • on the 23rd of February, though, the smugglers were not so lucky and they lost six carts loaded with spirits to the preventive services.

This extract in 1789 commented on the cold winter that year:

“January 11, 1789.  The severe frost with deep snow still continues.  The Thames above Putney has stalls and public diversions exhibiting on it daily.  The drought has lasted so long and the springs so frozen up that water is sold by the pail in Norwich and by the pint in some places.  The game are in distress. Uncommonly a hare took refuge in a copper hole and a partridge in my house.  Another was unable to fly and brought in.”

Goodwin Neck in Virginia.  One of the most beautiful spots in the Tidewater area of Virginia is the ancestral home of the Goodwin family.  Goodwin Neck encompasses the present village of Dandy, located in York county near to historical Yorktown.  The area was part of the land granted to John Chew in 1636 and then sold by his heirs to James Goodwin in 1668.

James Goodwin, the son of a salt merchant in London, came to Virginia in 1650.  He farmed mainly corn and tobacco on this 1,200 acre site.  He was also a magistrate in York county, a speaker in the House of Burgesses, and a major in the militia.  He married, the story goes, a sickly woman, the last of the maidens brought to the colony to be taken as wives.

Goodwin and his wife Rachel raised five sons and two daughters before she died in 1666 at the age of 36.  He subsequently married an Elizabeth who inherited the estate on his death.  The Goodwin homestead was an imposing two-storey structure facing Goodwin Island on the Thorofare.  People continued to remember the house long after it was torn down in the early 1900’s.

The Goodwin Mansion and Park in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  The descendants of New Hampshire Governor Ichabod Goodwin owned a plot of land, Goodwin Field, across from their mansion on Islington Street.  The city struck a private deal was struck with these Goodwins. The city could build a park and raise a monument; but the land would have to remain public for all eternity.

Most people get confused at this point in the story because the stately Goodwin Mansion no longer looks out over Goodwin Park. There’s a one-story brick furniture store there now.  The historic house was transported to Strawbery Banke Museum on the other side of town in 1963.  Built during the War of 1812, this Federalist building in all its gubernatorial splendor has been preserved for public viewing at its new location.  Good for the South End, but not so good for the once exclusive tree-lined Islington Street.

On July 4 1888, Mayor Eldrege erected his 42-foot Civil War statue in the new Goodwin Park.  Ichabod Goodwin’s face was hastily designed into the monument, with the obligatory relief of Abraham Lincoln on the other side.  The town turned out in full for the inaugural celebrations, with an estimated 5,000 outsiders coming in by trains that ran hours late.

Eli Goodwin in Saskatchewan.  Eli was the first of the Goodwin family to leave Ontario and take up the Government’s offer of free land grants for all those willing to take up the challenge of homesteading in this vast prairie land.  It was prior to 1909 that Eli set off from Palmerston in Ontario to Colgate in Saskatchewan where he filed for his homestead.

He relied on the mercy of his neighbors to aid him in getting his land broke by using their oxen and implements.  Gradually he was able to buy his own oxen and later these were replaced by mules and then by beautiful horses.  He did not receive a formal education.  So he surrounded himself with maths and literature books.  One of his accomplishments was the memorizing of Rudyard Kipling’s poem If.

After eighteen years of living alone and at the age of 47, he married Beryl Waldon in the fall of 1927.  They had four children.

Goodwin and Godwin Names

  • Godwin, Earl of Wessex, was the kingmaker in England in the years prior to the Norman Conquest.  His son Harold was famously defeated by William of Normandy at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
  • Thomas Goodwin was a Puritan theologian and preacher from Norfolk who served as chaplain to Oliver Cromwell.
  • William Godwin was an English political philosopher at the time of the French Revolution who advocated egalitarianism and anarchy.  His daughter Mary married the poet Shelley and wrote Frankenstein.
  • Ichabod Goodwin was a 19th century New England merchant and financier and Governor of New Hampshire at the time of the Civil War.
  • Fred Goodwin presided over the Royal Bank of Scotland’s rapid rise to world prominence between 2000 and 2008.  However, the bank spectacularly collapsed in 2008 and he became a symbol of the overweening corporate greed of the time.
  • Paul Goodwin from Warwickshire in England has been an acclaimed oboist who progressed to conducting orchestras in the 1990’s.

Goodwin and Godwin Numbers Today

  • 35,000 in the UK (most numerous in Manchester)
  • 37,000 in America (most numerous in Texas).
  • 16,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).

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Written by Colin Shelley

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