Gould Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Gould Meaning
Gould came from gold and was a nickname for someone with
fair or golden hair.  Shakespeare wrote:

“Golden lads and lasses all must
Consign to thee and come to dust.”

It is said that in the time of Shakespeare “gold” was
pronounced “gould,” which would give one indication as to why the
spelling changed.  However, one “Gould” family in Staffordshire
was pronounced “Gold.”  So there could have been local dialect

Is Gould Jewish?  Some think the Gould name may be Jewish in origin.  It is
not.  Gould is a prominent Jewish name because Jewish names like
Goldberg and Goldstein were anglicized to Gould.  That occurred
both in America and Britain.  For instance, it was the Jewish
Tommy Gould who received the Victoria Cross for gallantry in

Select Gould Resources on

Gould Ancestry

England.  The Goulds were
mainly to be found in the west country, in a line from Somerset and
Dorset in the south going north to Staffordshire.  Was this
because fair-haired people were unusual for the dark-haired Britons of
the region?  The surname Gould and its early variants probably
developed as a nickname.  It would not generally denote someone of
rank or importance.

Somerset  John
Golde was a soldier from Somerset who stood in for a Norman knight
in a Crusade to the Holy Land.  He distinguished himself at the
siege of Damietta and, as a reward, was granted an estate at Seaborough
in 1229.  His descendants remained there until the 1500’s and then
have been traced to Devon, Dorset, and later to Hertfordshire.  A
line continued to early immigrants to New England.

Gould family in Somerset traces its roots back to the village of
Brewham, near Bruton.

However, the most prominent of the Somerset
Goulds was the family of Sir Henry Gould, a judge on the King’s Bench
who lived at Sharpham Park near Glastonbury.  His grandson, the Rev. William Gould,
was of a scientific nature, a naturalist whose work on ants earned him
the title of “the father of British myrmecology.”  Another
grandson from his daughter Sarah was Henry Fielding.  It was she
who encouraged him in his literary pursuits which resulted in his comic
masterpiece, Tom Jones.

Dorset  Goulds
were to be found at Dorchester in Dorset from the
1500’s.  Some left with the Pilgrims; others remained:

  • John
    Gould, a local merchant, established his home at West Stafford in the
    1630’s.  It remained in the Gould family until 1831.
  • James
    Gould was the MP in the 1690’s
  • and
    Samuel Gould a
    bookseller and stationer in the 1750’s. 

of these Dorset merchants made it in London; Nathaniel Gould who played
a role in the formation of the Bank of England in 1694, and Edward
Gould, another successful merchant who lived and died in
In 1902,
Harry and Florence Gould opened a draper’s shop in Dorchester, which
flourishes today in the town as Goulds.

There was also a Gould family at Studland in Dorset.  Hikers will
come across Jenny Gould’s Gate (local legend has it that Jenny was a
witch).  The
Goulds of Woodbury Hill
were carpenters and
builders for several generations, beginning in the 1720’s. 
And Lyme
Regis produced that distinguished Victorian
ornithologist, John Gould.

Staffordshire  A
cluster of Goulds were to be found further north in Staffordshire and
its environs.  Goulds were tenant farmers in the upper Dovedale
area of the Peak District on the Derbyshire/Staffordshire border.
We remember them because William Gould kept a diary between 1783 and
1788 of his estate management for the Duke of Devonshire (which was
handed down and later published).

Joseph Gould farmed at Pilsbury
Grange in the early 1800’s and Goulds were still farming there a
century or so later.  The Gould family of Hanson Grange in Dove
produced Nathaniel Gould, a tea merchant in Manchester, and Nat Gould,
a writer of popular sporting and adventure stories in the early
1900’s.  Nat was buried in the village of Bradbourne.

Ireland.  The Irish
spelling has been Goold, traceable to William Goold (possibly of
Anglo-Norman origin), the mayor of Cork in 1443.  They remained
there for generations, with some interruptions, as landowners and
merchants, in latter years from a base at Old Court.

However, the
line fell away disastrously in the late 1800’s.  The elder son,
James, ran away to Australia to escape his identity, working in
laboring jobs there for the rest of his life.  The younger son, Vere Goold,
ended up being tried and convicted in a sensational murder case.

America.  Most Goulds from
England came to New England.

New England  There were a number
of Goulds who arrived there in the 1630’s:

  • John and
    Grace Gould came on the Defence
    in 1635.  Grace died soon after, but John, who settled in
    Charlestown, married twice more and raised five children.
  • Jarvis
    arrived from Kent on the Elizabeth in
    the same year.  One line of these Goulds
    moved north to
    Kittery in Maine, another to Vermont and later to
  • while
    Zaccheus Gould and his wife Phebe from Hertfordshire came in 1638 and
    were the first settlers in
    Topsfield.  He then followed his brother Jeremy and his wife who
    in Rhode Island because of the greater religious toleration
    there.  Their Quaker son Daniel Gould
    and his descendants were farmers there for generations. 

Gould came to Fairfield, Connecticut in 1646 and was a member of the
Connecticut Colonial Council from 1651 until his death in
1694.   Later Goulds of this line were sea captains.
John Gould owned a fleet of schooners that plied trade
between New York and Richmond, Virginia for about forty years from 1826.  The last of the male line was another Captain
John Gould who died in 1871.

Maine  The Rev. Daniel
Gould from Cape Cod was one of the early settlers in Bethel,
Maine.  He was described as “of a rather worldly disposition,
bringing the first chaise to Bethel, and wearing cocked hat, silk gown,
and knee breeches around town.”  When he died in 1842, he left his
entire estate for the formation of a local school on the proviso that
it be named after him.  Since the town of Bethel lacked a public
high school, all local children were educated at the Gould Academy
until 1969.

Heading West  Many
Goulds from New England headed west.  John Gould, who grew up
in New Hampshire, set off for Moline in Illniois in the 1840’s where he
formed a business partnership with John Deere (later the famous plow
manufacturer).  John himself became a stalwart of Moline through
his various business and civic enterprises

Daniel Gould
set off
in 1857 for Davenport in Iowa where he established a carpet
and furniture business. Edward Gould was homesteading in
Colorado in 1887 (the township of Gould is named after him).  And
Hiram Gould arrived via Minnesota and San Francisco at
the new town of San Diego in 1883.  The
Gould numbers there expanded as the town expanded and they are now in
fifth generation of San Diego Goulds.

However, it was
Jay Gould,
from Roxbury in New York, who was to have the biggest impact on the
West.  In his early life he travelled the country as a
His interest later shifted to railroads and he became one of the big
wheeler-dealers of the railroad expansion west and, in the process,
amassed a huge fortune.

His daughter
Anna was a celebrity of her day,
probably best known for her marriages and divorces.  The
line via his son
George led to Kingdon Gould Jr, a noted real estate developer in the
area, and his grand-daughter Georgia, the US mountain bike champion in

Goulds in New York
New York today
has the largest number of Goulds in America.  19th century
Goulds included the New York merchant and financier, Charles Judson

The numbers
swelled with the Jewish immigration,
Goldsteins and Goldbergs anglicizing their names to Gould.
Prominent this century have been:

  • Milton Gould,
    a famous New York
    trial attorney
  • Nathan Gould
    of the Jewish ORT foundation for women
  • Stephen Jay
    Gould, one of the most influential and widely read writers
    of popular science
  • Morton
    Gould, the distinguished classical musical composer
  • Elliott
    Gould, a well-known Hollywood actor
  • and
    Carol Gould, the playwright, filmmaker, and journalist.

Canada.  The early Gould
immigrants into Canada seem to have been Empire loyalists who left
America after the Revolutionary War:

  • One family
    account refers to
    a John Gould from Staten Island in New York who joined the Butler’s
    Rangers and ended up being exiled to Nova Scotia.
  • Another
    from America at that time was a Quaker Gould family from
    Pennsylvania.  They settled in Uxbridge township, Ontario.
    Their son Joseph was a farmer and businessman who later became a
    prominent political figure in the province.

There were
Jewish Gould families in Canada, such as the Goulds of Gould’s Camera
and Art shop in Ottawa (founded by Abraham Gould who had arrived from
Lithuania in the 1890’s).  Thomas Gold, a furrier in Toronto at
the turn of the century, insisted that he was not Jewish and changed
his name to Gould.  His grandson, the pianist Glenn Gould, was
born in Toronto in 1932.

Australia.  William
Gould was a forger and thief sentenced to transportation to the penal
colony of Tasmania in 1827.  His convict time there was littered
with offences for drunkenness and thievery.  But Gould had a
talent as a painter and illustrator.  He painted exquisite water
color pictures of the local game, fish, birds, and flowers during his
captivity, many of which now hang in the nation’s art galleries.  Gould’s Book of Fish is Richard’
Flanagan’s fictionalized account of his life.

The Victorian ornithologist John Gould visited Australia in the
1830’s and published his Birds of
over the next decade.  The Gould League, founded
in Australia in 1909, probably gave many Australians their first
introduction to birds.

New Zealand.  George
Gould, a carpenter in England, arrived in Christchurch in 1850 to
become a pioneer merchant and financier there.  His company Pyne
Gould remains family-run.  One of his descendants, George Gould,
now has his own investment arm, Gould Holdings.


Select Gould Miscellany

John Golde and Seaborough.  The story and registers of the little parish church of
St. John’s in Seaborough have been transcribed into a 160 page book by
Peter Benson, a local resident and one-time churchwarden. A church building has stood on the site in one form or another since 1415.

The donor of the land was a descendant of John Golde, the
crusader.  The church contains a rare early stone effigy of a 13th
century crusader which is believed to be John Golde.  The register
records date from 1562 (although most Goulds had left the area by then).

Dorchester and Goulds.  The town is Dorchester, a typical English county town of
middling size and unremarkable achievements.  But on August 6,
1613 much of the town was destroyed in a great conflagration which its
inhabitants regarded as a “fire from heaven.”  Over the next
twenty years, at a time of increasing political and religious turmoil
all over Europe, Dorchester became the most religiously radical town in

David Underdown traces in his book Fire From Heaven, published in
1992, the way in which a
tolerant, paternalist Elizabethan town oligarchy was quickly replaced
by a group of men who had a vision of godly community in which power
was to be exercised according to religious commitment rather than by
wealth or rank.

The author includes the following Goulds who were part of
this transformation:

  • Christopher Gould
  • James Gould the elder
  • James Gould the younger
  • Joan Gould
  • John Gould
  • Katherine Gould
  • Margery Gould
  • Nicholas Gould

Reader Feedback – Goulds in the West Country.  For your information Goulds in Somerset and the west
country can be derived from the name Guiff (this spelling may not be
correct) and were of French Huguenot descent.
Many of them were in the lace trade. In the north I believe the
became Gough.

Alex Gould (dhf@falklandwool.net)

The Goulds of Woodbury Hill.  The Goulds of Woodbury Hill in Dorset were
carpenters and builders for several generations, beginning in the
1720’s.  They kept a family notebook over
this time.  Early records went as follows:

Gould, the son
of Edward Gould, departed this life Dec. 19,
– 2 or 3 days before St
Thomas Day.  In 1711 he had been 67 years
houses burned at Woodbury Hill
in 1723.
Gould departed this life on April 16, 1730 upon a Thursday about
3 o’clock in the morning.
He was buried on
April 19 and we paid John Ash for the coffin 2s. Od (the boards were my

The bulk of the Goulds’ work seems to have been
in the provision and maintenance of semi-permanent covered stalls in
with the annual fair on Woodbury Hill.

Some local events were recorded:

“1742, July 25 on Sunday, St. James’
Day.  Will Rutter, John Baskom, and James
Harris broke our window of 10-12 panes about 4-5 o’ clock in the
afternoon.  Will Rutter had offered
Harris to give him a J to break our window.

1790, May 19.  A mob of resolute
fellows rose up at Bere
Regis. They went to Kingston and they were the first men to go with
them down
the vale.  A very scandalous action.

June 12.  There were some horse soldiers
in Bere, some of whom broke into to our house on Woodbury Hill where
the strong
beer was.  But the officer put all things
in place again.”

The book ended up around 1880 with John Gould,
who had been MP for Wareham and lived on Woodbury Hill.
By that time he was old and quite blind.  He
asked that the book be deposited at the
Dorset County Museum in Dorchester, which it was.

Daniel Gould From Rhode Island.  There are two accounts of Daniel Gould, one from
family sources and the other from a reported source at the time.

Daniel Gould was a Quaker and a sturdy adherent of the principles of
the Friends Society.  In 1651 he was one of a party of Quakers who
were scoffed and mocked at by a mob at the Charlestown ferry.  He
with the others received thirty stripes across his bare back, was cast
into prison, and made to lie with his bleeding back on the bare
boards.  The only crimes of the sufferers were that they “were
Friends in the religious beliefs.”

In 1659, the Rev. Daniel Gould of Rhode Island is recorded as escorting
and consoling Mary Dyer, Marmaluke Stevenson, and William Robinson in
Boston.  They were to be hanged for their crimes of missionary
work within the Massachusetts colony.  Mary got reprieve, Daniel
himself received 30 lashes, but Marmaluke and William were hanged. 

Reader Feedback – Goulds in Massachusetts.  I’m descended from Jarvis Gold of Hawkhurst in Kent who arrived in Plymouth on the Elizabeth in 1635 with his brother
Edward.  They were granted land in Hingham, Massachusetts.
stayed and married a daughter of Peter Hobart.  Jarvis sold his
land to
Thomas Lincoln (from whom came Abraham Lincoln) and moved to Boston
where he
died in 1651.  He left one surviving son,
John, aged 10, who was taken in by Robert Crossman and moved to

These lines of Gold/Goold/Gould were original
settlers in Union, Connecticut (Nathaniel Goold marrying Mary Makepeace
there) and
then in Westminster, Vermont (John and brother William were the sons of
Nathaniel and ran the Whig tavern there). Son Jonathan Gould of
Westminster moved
to Ohio as an old man with his son Frederick Gould in the 1830’s where
Goulds have continued to live.

Meanwhile Jarvis’
brother, Edward, remained in Hingham.

Blessings, Chris Gould (crprayer@att.net).

William Gould and His Ants.  The Rev. William Gould was most famous for his book, An Account of English Ants,
published in 1747.  It was the first scientific paper on ants,
bringing together in 109 pages all previous observations on the subject.

When published it was quite controversial.  Gould, albeit
reluctantly, conceded that his observations directly contradicted the
Bible, specifically Proverbs 6: 6-8, where it was written:

“Go to the ant, thou sluggard, consider her ways and be
wise; which having no chief, overseer or ruler, provideth her bread in
the summer and gathereth her food in the harvest.”

Gould correctly stated that there was no evidence to suggest that any
of the British ant species he knew hoarded grain.  For this
reason, he faced much criticism from the Established Church.

Jay Gould’s Machinations.  By 1867 Gould had got onto the board of directors of the Erie Railroad
which was experiencing financial difficulties.  He set out to
control the railroad and to push the lines westward as far as Chicago,
and also to defeat his arch rival Cornelius Vanderbilt who was trying
to acquire the railroad.  In the “Erie war” with Vanderbilt in
1868, Gould illegally issued 100,000 shares of new Erie stock.  He
then went to Albany to bribe the legislators to “legalize” the
action.  He did so and Vanderbilt was effectively blocked.

Two years later, Gould secretly began buying gold on the
free market, in the belief that the U.S. Treasury would not sell its
gold.  He ran up the price so much that September 24, 1869, a day
of serious financial emergency, became known as Black Friday.
Then the U.S. Treasury, realizing that Gould had tricked them, started
selling gold and its price dropped sharply.  Gould had speculated
not only in gold but also in stocks and lost a fortune.  In 1871
and 1872, however, he made it up again.

Later Gould made one astute acquisition.  In 1879 he
bought the American Union Telegraph Company, joined it with the Western
Union Company, and then added the telegraph network of the Baltimore
and Ohio Railroad.  By the end of the 1880’s Western Union had no
real competitor in the two important businesses of railroad telegraphy
and sending Associated Press stories to member newspapers.

Milton Gould’s Advocacy.  Milton Gould was one of New York City’s most distinguished
litigators.  Together with his politically connected partner
William Shea, he built a firm that ultimately bore the two men’s names
into one of the city’s powerhouses, with 350 lawyers, gross revenues of
$100 million, and a star studded client roster.

He was renowned as a master of the sotto voce for the jury’s
benefit.  In one favorite story recalled by one of his partners,
an angered adversary asked to approach the bench and complained that
Gould was making “a fool” of him.  At the bench, in a whisper just
loud enough for the jury to hear, Milton Gould told the judge: “When he
stops acting like a fool, I’ll stop treating him like a fool.”

The Trunk Murder.  Vere Thomas St. Leger Goold from a well-to-do Cork family was a “cheery
wild Irishman,” according to the man who beat him in the 1879 Wimbledon
singles final, the Rev. John Hartley.

In August 1907. after trying their luck in the casino at Monte Carlo, Goold and his wife had travelled by train to Marseilles and left a
large trunk in the station cloakroom, leaving instructions for it to be
forwarded to London.  A porter became suspicious of a nasty smell
and called the police.  They found that the box contained the
dismembered body of Emma Liven, a Danish woman.

His trial and conviction were headline news.  “The Trunk Murders,”
as the headline writers dubbed it, had it all: glamorous defendants,
the grubby subject of money, and a grisly ending.

The trial revealed that Goold and his wife had emigrated to Canada in
1891, but then returned to Liverpool in 1903 to start a laundry
business which failed.  They then moved to Monte Carlo to try to
make their fortune on the gaming tables, and, to fuel their craving,
borrowed heavily.  And, as the prosecution was to prove, borrowing
led to stealing and finally to murder.

They were both given life sentences.  Goold himself was
transported to the notorious Devil’s Island penal colony off French
Guiana, where he died two years later.



Select Gould Names

  • John Gould from Dorset was one of
    the great Victorian ornithologists.  His best-known work was The Birds of Australia, published in 1840-48. 
  • Jay Gould was a 19th century
    American financier, often vilified as a robber baron, involved in railroad development and speculation. 
  • F.C. Gould, born in Somerset,
    became in 1888 the first political cartoonist to be employed by a daily newspaper. 
  • Nat Gould was a hugely popular
    writer of sporting and adventure stories in the 1910’s and
    1920’s.  He came from Derbyshire farming stock. 
  • Glenn Gould from Canada was one of the best-known and most celebrated pianists of the 20th century.

Select Gould Numbers Today

  • 16,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Wiltshire)
  • 16,000 in America (most numerous
    in New York).
  • 16,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select Gould and Like Surnames

Nicknames must have been an early feature of medieval life in a family or community as these nicknames later translated into surnames.  People then lived a more natural life than we do today and the surnames have reflected that.

They could be about color (Brown, Gray, Green etc), whether of hair or complexion or other factors; mood (Gay and Moody are two extremes); youth (Cox and Kidd); speed of foot (Swift and Lightfoot); and actions (such as Shakespeare and Wagstaff).  Then there were likenesses to animals (notably Fox and Wolfe but also Peacock) and to birds (Crowe and Wren for example).  And then there were some extraordinary nicknames such as Drinkwater and Wildgoose.

Here are some of these nickname surnames that you can check out.



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