Hunter Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Hunter Surname Meaning

Hunter is an occupational name, derived from the Old English hunta meaning “to hunt” or sometimes a translation of the Latin venator of the same meaning. Its first recording as a surname was in Scotland, a William Huntar in 1116. The Scottish early spelling was Huntar.

Hunter has been a Scottish and English border name, from Ayrshire at one end in the west to Durham at the other end in the east. The English surname of similar roots is Hunt.

Hunter Surname Resources on The Internet

Hunter Surname Ancestry

  • from Scotland (Lowland) and England
  • to Ireland (Ulster), America, Australia and New Zealand

Scotland.  There was a Norman family of Hunters, so called because they were skilled in hunting, who came north to Ayrshire in the 12th century, apparently at the invitation of the Scottish king.

These Hunters gave their name to the village of Hunter’s Toune, now Hunterston, near the Firth of Clyde in north Ayrshire. For many years they served as royal huntsmen and soldiers for the king. A parchment signed by the Scottish king in 1374, confirming ownership of the Ardneil lands in Ayrshire to William Hunter the 10th Laird, still survives.

“The rent was a silver penny. To this day the Laird of Hunterton keeps silver pennies from the reign of Richard II, just in case the monarch should drop by looking for his rent!”

The seat of these Hunters has been Hunterston. The castle there dates from the 13th century. Hunterston House was built close to the old castle walls in the early 1800’s. Another Hunter line in Ayrshire, recorded in A.A. Hunter’s 1905 book The Pedigree of Hunter of Abbotshill and Barjarg, began at Abbotshill in the 16th century.

Hunters have since spread across the Lowlands of Scotland and are now more numerous around Glasgow and Edinburgh. A Hunter line in Long Calderwood in Lanarkshire produced the famous 18th century Scottish surgeon John Hunter; while the Hunter family at Thurston in East Lothian is probably remembered now because of the tune Miss Sally Hunter of Thurston played by Scottish fiddlers.

England.  Most English Hunters were and are to be found in the north of England, not that far from the Scottish border. Another Norman huntsman, Gilbert Hunter, was recorded as holding land in Cheshire in the Domesday Book. However, his family later became Venables.

Durham.  Hunters have lived at Medomsly in Durham since the 1580’s when two Hunters, Thomas and John, purchased houses there. Medomsly Hall was the home of the noted 18th century physician and antiquarian Dr. Christopher Hunter and of the early 19th century general Martin Hunter.

There were many Hunter coalminers in Durham during the 19th century. They mainly appear in the records of unforeseen deaths. Three Hunters were killed in the Felling mine disaster of 1812. George Hunter, a pitman at Cowpen, was murdered in 1849 during a colliery dispute. And other Hunter fatalities were recorded in later mining accidents.

George Hunter formed the Swan Hunter shipbuilding group on Tyneside in 1879.

Elsewhere.  One Hunter family made their money trading out of London to the Levant in the 17th century. In the 1740’s Henry Lannoy Hunter, the first of four of that name, returned from Aleppo and purchased the Beech Hill estate in Berkshire. The family was to remain there until 1949.

Ireland.  Many Hunters crossed the Irish Sea to Ulster as part of the Scottish plantations there in the 17th century; while some sought sanctuary there because of the religious conflict in Scotland. The Hunter name is mainly to be found in Derry and Antrim.

Hunters from Yorkshire were at the Battle of the Boyne on the Williamite side in 1690 – including Captain Henry Hunter, his younger relation John and John’s friend Anthony Wayne. John and Anthony later fought with the British army in Europe and then departed Wicklow for Pennsylvania in 1722, settling there in Chester county. John and Anthony remained friends throughout their lives. Anthony was the grandfather of Revolutionary War hero Anthony Wayne.

America.  Hunters in America arrived in approximate equal parts from England, Scotland, and Ireland.

New York.  Hunter immigrants have been:

  • Elijah Hunter who was a spy during the Revolutionary War and afterwards one of the founders of Ossining, New York.
  • Robert Hunter who arrived in Manhattan from Ireland after the war was over and set up an auction house. His son John learnt the business, married well, and built Hunter’s Mansion on Hunter island in Pelham Bay to house his fine arts collection.
  • much later in the 19th century came immigrant Thomas Hunter, also from Ireland, who founded the institution now known as Hunter College.

Delaware.  Scots Irish Hunters started with three Hunter siblings – Alexander, John, and Jane – who arrived and settled in Delaware in the late 1730’s. Alexander gained a reputation for wrestling among the native Indian population. Jane married the future North Carolina Governor Alexander Martin.

Pennsylvania.  David Hunter who lived in York county mysteriously disappeared in the summer of 1776.

“His fate was not known until nearly a century afterward, when, on the destruction of an old house in the valley of Virginia by Union soldiers, a paper was discovered which showed an order from the Governor of Virginia to bring the dead body of the patriot David Hunter to the capitol at Williamsburg.”

Virginia.  Nathaniel Hunter and his family had come to Virginia from Ireland in 1793 and later set out west for Ohio. Their family account at this time read as follows:

Thus in the year of 1810 we were about ready to start on our journey west. When the time came the horses with their new harness were hitched, five to each wagon, and everything was ready. Mother mounted her pony, boys and girls ready to drive the six cows. The entire neighborhood was there to see us off. With many sad partings, we pulled stakes and moved out, a very memorable time to us and many of our good neighbors. We started for Ohio what seemed then to be the far west.”

General Alexander Hunter, whose family had come originally from Scotland, was a friend of President Andrew Jackson. He acquired the Abingdon plantation in Virginia in 1835 and would often invite the President down for weekends.

Meanwhile Henry Hunter,  born in Virginia, headed south after the Revolutionary War to Pinckneyville, Mississippi where he took possession of a two thousand acre site under a Spanish land grant. He named his plantation Hunter Hall.

North Carolina.  Henry Hunter from Derry in Ireland came to North Carolina in the 1770’s, fought in the Revolutionary War, and settled in Mecklenburg county. He was the progenitor of the Hunter family after whom Huntersville in North Carolina was named.

In 1821 Dr. Johnson Hunter left his home in North Carolina in a circuitous route for what was then the Spanish territory of Tejas. When en route he was reported to have drowned. But he was very much alive. He rejoined his family on the Mississippi and together they traveled down the river to New Orleans where they bought a boat and set sail for Texas. One of the “old 300 settlers of Texas,” he was a cotton planter who made his home at Oyster Bay in Fort Bend county. Eleven Hunters are buried at the Dr. Johnson Hunter cemetery there.

Australia.  John Hunter, a Scottish naval officer, had come out to Australia with the First Fleet in 1788. He stayed and served as the second governor of the colony from 1795 to 1800. When the platypus was first discovered in Australia, it was John Hunter who sent back to England a drawing of the animal and a pelt. The Hunter river and valley in New South Wales were named after him.

In 1838 Alexander Hunter of Edinburgh formed a company to take up land in Australia and five of his sons were soon to move there. Here they were the tough pioneers of the Port Phillip district of Victoria who, every once in a while, would descend on Melbourne to let their hair down.

New Zealand.  George Hunter was one of the early settlers of Wellington, arriving there with his family from Scotland in 1840. He started a general store there, but died in 1843. His son and grandson, both named George, were later prominent in Wellington affairs.

Hunter Surname Miscellany

The First Hunters of Scotland.  The first Hunters arrived in Ayrshire in the opening years of the 12th century.  Experts in hunting and field craft with generations of experience in the forests of their land of origin, these Norman lords were invited to Scotland by King David I who had himself been brought up in the Norman court.

In papers relating to the King’s Inquisition in 1116, there is mention of a Wilhelmo Venator *William the Hunter, the first laird) who was appointed as Royal Huntsman while his wife had the honor of serving Queen Matilda as a lady in waiting.

William put his expertise to good use in the wild forests and fens, then rich with wildlife, which surrounded the site of the timber fortress that was to become Hunter’s Toun or Hunterston.  As recognition of his family’s skills, the title of Royal Huntsman was made a hereditary appointment.

John Hunter the Surgeon.  John was an excellent anatomist.  His knowledge and skill as a surgeon was based on sound anatomical background.  Among his numerous contributions to medical science are:

  • the study of human teeth
  • an extensive study of inflammation
  • fine work on gun-shot wounds
  • work carried out on venereal diseases
  • an understanding of the nature of digestion and verifying that fats are absorbed into the lacteals
  • the first complete study of the development of a child
  • proof that the maternal and foetal blood supplies are separate
  • and unravelling one of the major anatomical mysteries of the time, the role of the lymphatic system.

After years of hard work he set up his own anatomy school in London in 1764 and started in private surgical practice.  His recognition rose in 1767 when he was elected as Fellow of the Royal Society. In 1768 he was appointed as surgeon to St. George’s Hospital. Later he became a member of the Company of Surgeons.  In 1776 he was appointed surgeon to King George III and in 1789 he was made Surgeon General.

John Hunter was born in East Kilbride in Scotland and there is a museum there, the Hunter House Museum, dedicated to the work undertaken by him and his brother William. 

Christopher Hunter of Medomsly.  The Hunters had been at Medomsly in Durham since 1584 and Christopher Hunter was born there in 1675.  He practiced as a doctor in Stockton and then, possessed of a good fortune, devoted himself to literary endeavors.  He died at Shotley, just across the border in Northumberland, in 1757 and his tombstone is to be found there.

“Here lie the remains of Christopher Hunter MD a learned and judicious Antiquary and Physician. He was the only child of Thomas Hunter, of Medomsly, Gent. by Margaret his second wife. He married Elizabeth, one of the daughters and co-heiresses of John Elrington of Aspershields esq. by whom he had two sons and a daughter. He died the 13th of July, An. Dom. 1757, in the 83rd year of his age.”

Henry Lannoy Hunter.  From the marriage of John Hunter of St. Olave parish in Southwark with Elizabeth, the daughter of Sir Timothy Lannoy of Hammersmith, came their eldest son Henry Lannoy Hunter.  He was a merchant in the Levant, spending much time of his time abroad in Aleppo. There is a painting by Andrea Soldi, dated around 1735, of him in Oriental dress, resting from hunting with a manservant holding his game.

The following were the notes relating to this painting when it was auctioned in 2004.

“Hunting was the particular pastime of the English merchants in which fellow Europeans, Turkish officials and the Beduin ‘King of the Arabs’ were invited to participate.  After the hunt lavish picnics would be eaten in tents.  Here Hunter sits in full Turkish dress (it is unlikely that all elements of it would have been worn when hunting), surrounded by his trophies of the day held aloft by his Christian possibly Armenian servant.”

A little after this time Henry Lannoy Hunter purchased the Beech Hill estate in Berkshire, presumably from the profits of his business.

Hunters in America.  Hunters arrived in America in approximate equal part from England, Scotland, and Ireland.  The table below shows the computed numbers.

  Numbers   Percent
Scotland   909    33
England   794    29
Ireland   690    27
Britain   240     9
Elsewhere    65     2

Reader Feedback – Hunters in Illinois.  Springfield, Illinois has a strong Hunter lineage that dates back to 1828. They relocated to Springfield from Kentucky around the same time as Abraham Lincoln.  And the Springfield Hunters include ties to the Donner family (with Elizabeth Hunter).  Courtney Hunter (

Captain John Hunter of the First Fleet.  In 1788 Captain Arthur Phillip of the First Fleet, accompanied by his second captain John Hunter, followed in the footsteps of Captain Cook and sailed into Botany Bay.  Later they sailed north and entered Port Jackson.  As Hunter wrote in his diary:

“There was nothing at Botany Bay to recommend it as a place in which to form an infant colony.”

That was on January 22.  Just four days later a new country was born when the British flag was raised in Farm Cove on what Australians now celebrate as Australia’s Day, January 26.  What is not given much coverage in Australian history is the fact that the ten ships of the First Fleet entered Port Jackson under the command of Captain Hunter, Arthur Philip having returned one day earlier on Supply.

Within two days of the setting up of the colony Hunter had begun a detailed survey of the harbor.

Hunter Names

  • William Hunter was recorded as the owner of the Ardneil lands in Ayrshire in 1374.
  • Robert Hunter of Hunterston was the colonial governor of Virginia, New York and Jamaica in the early 1700’s.
  • John Hunter, born in Lanarkshire, was one of the foremost surgeons of the 18th century. The Hunterian Society of London was named in his honor.
  • JA Hunter, born in Scotland, was a famous hunter of the first half of the 20th century in British East Africa.

Hunter Numbers Today

  • 65,000 in the UK (most numerous in Tyne and Wear)
  • 54,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 45,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Hunter and Like Surnames

The border between Scotland and England was a lawless area for well over three hundred years and the subject of many stories and hearsays.  Families on both sides of the border took part in the raids, attacking villages and stealing cattle on the way.  Eventually, following the unification of the Scottish and English crowns in 1603, the area was pacified.  There were mass executions and banishments, many to the new Protestant colony in Ulster.  These were some of the prominent Border family surnames at that time that you can check out.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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