Hooker Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Hooker Surname Meaning
The Hooker surname seems to have derived from the Old English word hocere, an occupational name for a maker of hooks. This was a skilled occupation in olden times. They were not made as today from iron or steel, but were fashioned using heating and steaming from animal bone.  Others have suggested that Hooker, like Hook or Hooke, might be topographical, describing someone who lived near a headland or a spur or bend in a river.

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Hooker Surname Ancestry

EnglandThe surname may have had its origins in East Anglia. Osmundus Hocere was recorded in Ely, Cambridgeshire as early as 975. The spelling became Hoker and then Hooker. The first prominent family of that name, however, was to be found in Devon in SW England.

Devon.  The Devon Hooker family was originally Hooker alias Vowell. Vowell was the male line from south Wales; Hooker the family name (probably from Cambridgeshire) of the female heiress who had married into the family in the 1450’s.

Descendants here included:

  • John Hooker, the first Chamberlain of Exeter and a historian of the town.
  • John’s nephew Richard Hooker, known as “the Judicious,” an influential Protestant theologian of the late 1500’s. His statue is to be found outside Exeter Cathedral.
  • John’s son the Rev. Zachary Hooker of Caerhayes in Cornwall and the line from his son Valentine in Crediton, Devon. There
    were later Nonconformist Hooker ministers at Crediton and at Chumleigh.
  • and Joseph Hooker who migrated from Exeter in the 1770’s and set himself up as a wool-stapler in Norwich. From his line came the famous father-and-son botanist family of Kew, William Jackson Hooker and Joseph Dalton Hooker.

Elsewhere. Hookers date from about 1500 in Leicestershire. Thomas Hooker was a farm manager on the Digby estate in the mid-1500’s. He evidently was a man of some substance as his will of 1559 reveals. His grandson Thomas, born in Tilton parish in 1586, was a Puritan preacher of considerable renown. Persecuted by Archbishop William Laud for non-conformity, he departed England first to Holland and then on the Griffin to New England in 1633.

William Hooker was first sighted at Berkhamstead in Hertfordshire in 1622. His son Sir William Hooker prospered as a grocer in London and was its mayor in 1673. He lived in some splendor in Greenwich.

His coat of arms was the same as that borne by the Hookers who acquired Broad Oak at Brenchley in Kent in 1698, although they probably had different antecedents. The Brenchley forebear here may instead have been Thomas Hooker, born around 1620 at Oldberry Hill near Sevenoaks.

Hookers were to remain in residence at Brenchley during the 18th and 19th centuries.  “Samuel Hooker was well known at Broad Oak for his country roses. In 1848 he produced a new gladiolus species which he named Gladiolus x Brenchleyensis.”


The architect John Marshall Hooker was born at Brenchley in 1829.

John Hooker, related to this family, was the owner of Tonbridge Castle in Kent in the 1730’s. His son Thomas lost the family fortune sometime in the 1780’s when their gunpowder mill blew up. His grandson Thomas then became the vicar at Rottingdean in Sussex, holding that position from 1792 until his death in 1838. During that time he supplemented his income by acting as the lookout man for the smugglers who used Rottingdean as their base to bring contraband produce into England.

America. The Rev. Thomas Hooker, who arrived in 1633, was a towering figure in the early development of colonial New England. Known today as “the father of Connecticut,” he had founded the colony at Hartford after dissenting with the Puritan leaders in Massachusetts.

His descendant line, via his son the Rev. Samuel Hooker the minister at Farmington, is large and was covered in Edward Hooker’s 1908 book The Descendants of Rev. Thomas Hooker. Samuel and his wife Mary raised ten sons and two daughters.

Some of their descendants based themselves in Hartford, as merchants in the firm of Hooker & Chaffee. This company provided supplies to the American forces during the Revolutionary War. Captain James Hooker fought in that war and it is his house, built around 1772, that is still standing in Hartford. His line led later to Union General Joseph Hooker, nicknamed “Fighting Joe,” during the Civil War.

Other lines from Samuel:

  • via his son Nathaniel led to three Hooker brothers – Horace, James, and Henry – who settled in Rochester, New York in the 1820’s.
  • via his youngest son Henry led to Samuel Hooker, a carpenter, who migrated from Massachusetts to Albany, New York in 1772. His son Philip became a prominent Albany architect.

Another Samuel descendant was Seth Hooker who moved to New Hampshire in the 1780’s, settling in Hinsdale. Two of his descendants headed west to California in the 1860’s:

  • Henry Clay Hooker, born in 1828, who migrated to Arizona territory where he established the Sierra Bonita Ranch in 1872. It became one of the largest ranches in Arizona and was held by family members for several generations.
  • and John Daggett Hooker, born ten years later, who settled in Los Angeles in 1878. There he initiated the building of the 100-inch Hooker Telescope, completed in 1917, one of the most famous astronomical telescopes of the 20th century.

Ira Allen Hooker and his family had come west earlier, leaving Missouri by wagon train on the Oregon Trail in 1848 and settling in what was to become Polk county, Oregon. Ira was a descendant of
Matthew Hooker who had arrived in Massachusetts as a young boy in the 1640’s. Ira, born in Vermont, had lived in New York and southern Illinois before heading west.




Hookers in the South
. William Hooker was in Virginia by the 1680’s and died in Chowan county, North Carolina in 1717. Later Hookers of this family migrated to Tennessee. The sons of Thomas and Sarah Hooker in Tennessee all ended up in Texas:

  • James Hooker, born in 1807, set off by covered wagon for Missouri in 1833 and later made his home in what was to become Hunt county, Texas. There he founded Hooker’s Community on Hooker’s Ridge and built the area’s first steam mill. He became a judge and state legislator.
  • Thomas Hooker, born in 1821, migrated as a young man to Mississippi where he became a Baptist minister. He moved to
    Hunt county in 1854.
  • and three other Hooker brothers also joined James and Thomas there.

German Hookers. Some Hookers in America were of German origin. Johann Hockertz came to America with his family in 1846 and settled in Tippecanoe county, Indiana. Their son George Hooker fought in the Civil War and had a difficult life afterwards.  

“Never wealthy, he worked hard his entire life. He lost everything he had in a 100-year-flood and had to file for bankruptcy. Despite having filed for bankruptcy, he worked hard to pay back the debt so that his wife would have no shame in her small community. He died poor in 1921 while checking his fishing nets for food.”


New Zealand
. The Hooker and Vercoe families left St. Just in Cornwall on the Timandra in 1842 for a new life in New Zealand. They made their home in New Plymouth, Taranaki and are among the longest established families there. John Hooker who came there was a blacksmith, Henry and Nathaniel stone masons. John Hooker, an Australian-based writer in the 1970’s, was a descendant.

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Hooker Surname Miscellany

Vowell and Hooker in Devon.  The surname Vowell in this case may have been Welsh in origin, a contraction of the Welsh patronymic ap Howell (son of Howell), although a much less common contraction than Powell.

There were the Vowells or Fowells who date from the early 1400’s at Fowelscombe near Ugborough in Devon.  Frequent MP’s for Totnes, this family remained at Fowelscombe until the 1750’s.

Unrelated was the Hooker alias Vowell family of Exeter.  The male line was originally Vowell from Pembrokeshire, dating back to around 1400. Jago Vowell married Alice Hooker sometime in the 1450’s.

“The Hooker heiress, the last of her line, married into this Vowell line. To honor her father the Vowell male took the name of Hooker. So from the 1500s onwards they were known by both names but then finally by Hooker.”

The Hooker father was Sir Richard Hooker, said to have been from Hurst castle in Hampshire.  He is more likely to have come from Cambridgeshire in East Anglia.

Robert Hooker alias Vowell, born in 1466, was the first in the family in Exeter to distinguish himself.  Born as the youngest in a family of twenty children, he had been constrained to begin his career as the ‘register’ or registrar of Barnstaple. But the catastrophic mortality which carried off every one of his brothers and sisters left him as the sole heir.  He became mayor of Exeter in 1529 and its MP in 1534.  He died three years later from an outbreak of the plague in Exeter.

The Will of Thomas Hooker of Blaston, Leicestershire.  September 1559.  I Thomas Hooker of Blaston in the county of Leicester, yeoman, do ordain and make this my testament and last will.  My body is to be buried where it shall please my executrix.

I will as follows – to the mother church of Lincoln, 8d; reparations of the chapel of St. Giles in Blaston; 3s 4d.to Cicely my wife all my household stuff in the hall, parlor, chambers and kitchen, excepting one featherbed which I do give unto Agnes Bellamy my daughter.

The residue of my goods I will shall be divided into three parts.  I give the first part unto Cicely my wife, the second part unto Kenelyn Hooker my son, and the third part to bring my body honestly to the ground and to pay my debts and legacies.

Plus: to Robert Howlett dwelling in London, 6 pounds 13 shillings and 4 pence; to Agnes Bellamy my daughter, 10 pounds; to the children of Richard Bellamy and Agues my daughter, 10 pounds; Cicely my wife to have the custody of the same till the sons come to the age of eighteen and the daughters to the age of seventeen; to the children of John and Johan Watson of Carlton, 20s. apiece; and to every of my godchildren a ewe and a lamb.

And: Reparations of the town of Blaston, that is to say towards the mending of the causey in the town, 3s. 4d; and another 3s. 4d. to be bestowed where the inhabitants think most convenient; to servant Simon Halley a bay filly one year old; and to everyone of my other servants, 12d.

I ordain Cicely Hooker my wife as my sole executrix and Kenelyn Digby, Edward Ireland and Sir William Clarke as supervisors.

Sir William Hooker, Lord Mayor of London.  William Hooker had been born in 1612, the son of William Hooker of Berkhamstead in Hertfordshire. He made his mark as a grocer in London.

He was nominated as the Alderman of Wallbrook Ward in 1664 and of Cornhill Ward in 1668. He had been knighted in 1666 and was to become the Lord Mayor of London in 1673.  He was President of the Guild of Master Grocers from 1679 to 1680, and President of St Thomas’ Hospital from 1683 to 1688.

Sir William had come to Greenwich from London in 1665 to escape the plague. The house he bought at Greenwich had been one of the chief properties of St Peter’s Abbey at Ghent. It was The Grange in Crooms Hill and he lived there in considerable style with his wife, son and three daughters.  His armorial shield – that of a square shield with four shells – could be found on the outside of the gazebo which he built on the land.

He was there until his death in 1697 (after which his son, William jr, continued in residence until 1713) and was buried in his vault at St Alfage.  A handsome monument was placed in the south aisle in white marble surmounted by a figure dressed in alderman’s robes.  His portrait showed him wearing the robes and chain of office of a Lord Mayor of London.

Joseph Hooker and Charles Darwin.  Joseph Dalton Hooker, second son of Sir William Hooker, was born at Halesworth in Suffolk in 1817. He attended high school and university in Glasgow and qualified there as a doctor of medicine in 1839.

The same year came a remarkable opportunity when, no doubt through the influence of his father, he enrolled on the Erebus under Captain James Ross, nominally as a surgeon but in reality as a botanist, to explore Antarctica.  They would also visit Australia, New Zealand and the Falklands. While in Antarctica the Ross ice barrier and Mount Erebus were named, and on the expedition’s return in 1843 Hooker published his botanical findings.

A second expedition followed to India, where he spent two years trekking in the Himalayas and Sikkim, climbing to over 19,000 feet and sending home the first rhododendrons. In Sikkim he and his colleague succeeded in annoying the elderly raja by crossing the country’s borders into Tibet despite an injunction not to do so.  As a result they were arrested and imprisoned in 1849. The British Government secured their release within a few weeks by threatening to invade Sikkim.

He was by now a close friend of Charles Darwin, with whom he corresponded regularly.  Hooker later said:

“I believe I was the first to whom he communicated his then new ideas on the subject of evolution.”

In 1855 he was appointed assistant director to his father at Kew Gardens and Darwin wrote to congratulate him “though the income is but a poor one.”

After the death of Sir William in 1865 Joseph succeeded to the directorship.  In 1873 he was elected President of the Royal Society.  He was knighted in 1877 and, after retiring from Kew in 1885, spent twelve years publishing his magnum opus, The Flora of India, in seven volumes.  He died in 1911, aged ninety-four and was buried near his father in Kew churchyard.

Reader Feedback – William Hooker in the South.  Do you have any idea (or best guesses) as to the origins of William Hooker in the American South? He is my direct ancestor and I have not been able to find any records with confidence that predate his arrival. Any insight would be great!

Brandon Smith (smithbh@me.com)

Thomas Hooker’s Baptist Conversion.  Thomas Hooker, who had been born in Tennessee in 1821, had only limited advantages for obtaining an education due to the death of his father when Thomas was ten.  He remained in Tennessee until he was nineteen and then departed for Mississippi.

While clerking at Rome he was a leader of a gang of young men, owned two racehorses, lived fast and gambled.  On one occasion, after some days and nights of carousing, he awoke to the realization of the life he was leading, the thought of his early home influence and Christian parents came to him, and he turned away in disgust from the dissipations that had so fascinated him. He disposed of his liquors and sold his racehorses and shortly afterward was converted and joined the Missionary Baptist Church.

His companions in vice left him and he sought other and better company.  Soon he began in a feeble way to preach the gospel of salvation. He preached at intervals while he was engaged in farming in Mississippi.  In the end he was a Baptist minister for fifty four years.

Henry C. Hooker and the Sierra Bonita Ranch.  Henry Clay Hooker moved west as a young man in the 1840’s.  After working for the Indian Department in Kansas and at a mine in California, he began trading livestock when he herded 500 turkeys between California and Nevada.

In 1867 he received a contract with the US Government which made him the leading beef supplier to American troops in the Arizona territory.  As he drove his cattle through the Sulphur Valley that year, he was so impressed by the rich land that he saw that he decided to settle there.

The Sierra Bonita Ranch, set up in 1872 on the ruins of an 18th century Spanish estate, was the first permanent cattle ranch in Arizona. At its peak it amounted to some 250,000 acres and held up to 30,000 head of cattle.  The ranch became famous for Hooker’s hospitality.

In March 1882 Hooker allowed Wyatt Earp and his posse to rest at the ranch during their escape from the Arizona authorities.  He even agreed to speak to the Governor of their behalf.  Conchise county sheriff Johnny Behan stopped at the ranch during his hunt for Earp, but Hooker refused to help him.  Charlton Heston played Hooker in the movie Tombstone which
covered these events.

Hooker’s descendants still occupy their ancestor’s original adobe house.

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Hooker Names
  • Richard Hooker, known as “the Judicious,” was an influential Anglican theologian of the late 1500’s. 
  • Thomas Hooker was a prominent Puritan in early New England, known today as “the father of Connecticut.” He was
    one of the great preachers of his time. 
  • Sir Joseph Hooker was a noted British botanist and explorer of the 19th century. 
  • LJ Hooker, born Tingyou of Chinese heritage, built up the largest real estate company in Australia after World War Two. 
  • John Lee Hooker was a well-known American blues singer, songwriter, and guitarist from Mississippi

Hooker Numbers Today
  • 4,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 6,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 2,000 elsewhere (most numerous in New Zealand)
Hooker and Like Surnames   

The various medieval trades and occupations were a source of surnames as John the baker would over time would become known as John Baker.  Some skilled craftsmen – such as chandlers, fletchers and turners – were able to form guilds, protective organizations, and style themselves Worshipful Companies.  These are some of the occupational surnames that you can check out.

BakerCookPotterTaylor
CarterCooperSawyerTurner
ChapmanFletcherShepherdWalker
ClarkMasonSkinnerWebster
ColemanMillerSmithWright

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