Gould Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Gould Surname 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 variations.

Is Gould Jewish?  Some people 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 1942.

Gould Surname Resources on The Internet

Gould Surname Ancestry

  • from Western England, Ireland (Cork) and from Jewish emigrants
  • to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

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.

Another 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. 

Some 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 Highgate.  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 Dale 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 Gould 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 Ohio.   
  • 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 had settled in Rhode Island because of the greater religious toleration there.  Their Quaker son Daniel Gould and his descendants were farmers there for generations. 

Nathan 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.  Captain 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 later 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 their 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 surveyor. 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 Baltimore area, and his grand-daughter Georgia, the US mountain bike champion in 2012.

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 Gould.

The numbers swelled with the Jewish immigration, Goldsteins and Goldbergs anglicizing their names to Gould.  Prominent in the 20th 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 exile 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, was descended from the Rev. Isaac Gold, a Methodist minister from England who had come to Uxbridge, Ontario in the 1860’s.  Thomas, fearing that Gold was considered a Jewish name, changed his name to Gould.  His grandson, born in Toronto in 1932, was the famous pianist Glenn Gould..

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 Australia 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.

Gould Surname 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 England.

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 completely correct) and were of French Huguenot descent.  Many of them were in the lace trade. In the north I believe the name 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:

“John Gould, the son of Edward Gould, departed this life Dec. 19, 1719 – 2 or 3 days before St Thomas Day.  In 1711 he had been 67 years old. Ten houses burned at Woodbury Hill in 1723.  Henry 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 own).”

The bulk of the Goulds’ work seems to have been in the provision and maintenance of semi-permanent covered stalls in connection 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.

1826, 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.

Reader Feedback – Boon Gould.  What about the ancestors of Boon and Phil Gould, musicians from the Isle of Wight who were founders of the British band Level 42 in the 1970’s?

Adelio Prado (agomesprado@gmail.com)

Reader Feedback – Gould from Scotland?  Is there any information connecting the surname Gould / Gold originating in Scotland?  According to the census records of my ancestor (born in Virginia in 1827), his father was born in Scotland.  I have an original document with the name “John Gold” in my possession. This document was passed down through my Gould ancestors. Would love to know more.   Gayle Dellaringa.

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. Edward 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 Taunton.

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 the 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.

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.

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)

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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Written by Colin Shelley

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