Knight Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Knight Meaning
The root of the name knight is the Old English criht, meaning “youth” or “serving
lad.” Originally it may have been an occupational name for s
domestic servant. But in the feudal system introduced by the
Normans, a knight came to describe a tenant bound to serve his master
as a mounted soldier. This would describe a man of some substance
since the maintenance of horses and armor was an expensive
In time the term knight became an honorary title
conferred in a ceremony called knighting by a king or a man of noble
birth on someone who had served
him well.
The surname Knight, however, is more likely to have applied to a
servant in
a knightly house or to someone who had played the part of a knight in a
pageant or had won the title in some contest of skill. Its first
appearance as a surname was Godefridus Niht in the Norfolk pipe rolls
of 1166. Walter le Knit was recorded in Oxfordshire in 1200 and
William Knight in Worcestershire in 1221.
Knight Resources on

Knight Ancestry

England. Knight has been
a surname mainly to be found in southeast England, from Hampshire
through Surrey and Sussex into Kent, London, and Essex.

SE England. A
Knight family was recorded from the 13th century at Chawton in
Hampshire where they were tenant farmers. John Knight was a
clothier in Elizabethan times and his family became prosperous enough
to acquire the medieval Chawton manor house and rebuild it along Tudor

“The Knight family contributed £50 to
Elizabeth”s fighting fund for the battle of the Armada for which they
were rewarded with a commemorative fireback which was displayed at the
Great Hall in Chawton.”

Chawton House
was later to become associated with the writer Jane
Austen. Her brother Edward had been adopted by the childless
Knight family and had taken the Knight name. The Chawton estate
remained with the Knight family until the 1990’s.

Knights from
in Hampshire date from about 1500. John
Knight was described as one of the “guardians of the church of
Romsey.” He helped save Romsey Abbey from the greed of
Henry VIII at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries.
Another Knight at that time was Thomas Knight who owned lands in what
is now West Norwood in south London. These lands are still known as
Knights Hill.

West Midlands.
The Knight name also cropped up in the West Midlands. It was to
be found as Knyght in Worcestershire in the 14th century. A
family held the Barrells estate in Warwickshire from 1554 to
1856. Richard Knight, born in Madeley in Shropshire, was one of
the great names among the early English ironmasters, owning furnaces in
Shropshire, Staffordshire, and Worcestershire.

“Richard Knight was a great character
of his time and widely known in the West Midlands. He liked to
ride a fine horse and in that way covered many miles of the wild
country between Leintwardine and the Worcestershire Stour, collecting
and carrying large sums of money in his saddle bags. It was said
that he loved to entertain his friends and hold convivial parties round
his great punch bowl. This silver bowl, made in London in 1708,
is still in use by his descendants.”

He established his family at Downton castle in Herefordshire.
Later Knights of this family were Richard Payne Knight, the
scholar, and his brother Thomas, the horticulturist. Richard and
his wife Elizabeth had fifteen children, of whom nine married and five
have lines traced to the present day.

Another early Knight sighting was at Banbury in Oxfordshire. John
Knight was probably the Banbury baker who first set up the Knight
fortunes in that town in Elizabethan times. These Knights owned
the Reindeer Inn
during the 17th century. Later Knights were
involved in the Oxford canal traffic when the canal came to Banbury in
the early 1800’s.

Scotland and Ireland. The
Scottish variation McKnight – originally McNaughton – may have
originated with the Strathclyde Britons of Lowland
Scotland. The earliest sightings were in Ayrshire and
Galloway. Many of these McKnights dispersed to northern Ireland
in the 17th century and subsequently, sometimes becoming Knights, to
America. The Irish McKnight is also a part translation of Mac an Ridire, meaning “son of the
rider or knight.”

America. There
were many early Knights into New England.

New England.
was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire around 1643. His wife
Eleanor, whom he married in 1665, was apparently a very racy woman.

“Eleanor was accused of adultery by the
Puritan authorities around 1665, the same year she married George
Knight and became the mother to their son Nathan. Within months
of George’s untimely death in 1671, she married Henry Brookings.”

Nathan Knight moved to Scarborough, Maine around 1720 and ran the
Blackpoint ferry there. Robert Knight, a merchant from the west
of England, predated him in Maine by some seventy years.

Richard Knight came to Providence, Rhode Island around 1640.
Later Knights here were members and deacons of the local Baptist
church, although a certain Richard Knight did earn himself a scolding
in 1785:

“Brother Richard Knight should be
suspended from communing with this Church at present by reason of
having kept a house of merriment and friendship with the vain and
worldly people – allowing them in fiddling and dancing and some kind of
gaming frequently for a long time and having then been absent from the

From Rhode Island later came the brothers Robert and Benjamin Knight
created in New England what was to become – by the late 19th century –
one of the largest cotton manufactures in the world. Their legacy
is that well-known American brand, Fruit
of the Loom

Another Knight line was to be found in Charlestown, Massachusetts from
the 1650’s. A descendant Joseph Knight befriended and employed a
young Joseph Smith who went on to found the Mormon movement.
Joseph Knight himself headed west with the church in 1846, but died
enroute at the age of seventy four before he could reach Utah. A
later Knight, Jesse Knight, was one of the few Mormons to involve
himself in mining in the West.

Abel Knight was one of the passengers on the Welcome which brought William Penn
in 1682 to what was to be Pennsylvania. His brother Thomas
arrived at the same time and settled in New Jersey. Johann Knecht
came from Germany to the Whitemarsh township in Pennsylvania in the
early 1700’s. He and his family later became Knights.

Virginia and the South.
Knights also entered via Virginia and there were many early Knight
families in
and Missouri. Peter Knight appeared in land
grants in Virginia from 1638. John Knight and his family had
moved from Virginia to Georgia by 1803. Charles Knight, born in
Virginia, was in Louisiana by 1810.

A descendant from Peter
Knight, it is thought, was the Miles Knight who fought with the 2nd
Carolina Regiment in the Revolutionary War.
His son John “Jackie” Knight
was the patriarch of
the Knight family that migrated to Jones county, Mississippi around
1820. One of
the county’s largest slaveholders, Jackie was the grandfather of Newton Knight who would lead a
(or infamous) rebellion against the Confederate cause during the Civil

Canada. James Knight was
an early name in Canadian history. He had joined the Hudson Bay
Company from England as a carpenter in 1676, grew rich as a factor at
the company’s main trading post, but died in a vain attempt to discover
the Northwest Passage through Canada to Asia.

New Zealand. William and
Mary Ann Knight left Cornwall with other Cornish families in 1839 to
seek a new life in New Zealand. Their journey on the Duke of Roxburgh was rough, as were
their early years at the Lower Hutt settlement near Wellington (the
Knight family were to live there until 1952). Elaine Bolitho’s
2011 book
Knights from Cornwall recounts
this history and the subsequent tales of the following six generations


Knight Miscellany

Knights in Romsey, Hampshire.  Romsey is
a small market town in the valley of the river Test seven miles NW of
Southampton.  It is principally known for
its 12th century Norman church, originally the chapel of a Benedictine
nunnery.  Romsey Abbey was famous for its
roses at the
time of William Rufus in the late 11th century.

The parish registers of Romsey were kept in the Cathedral and began in
1569, although there were a few scattered records of earlier dates at
Romsey and
Timsbury.  The name of Knight was common in the town at that time.

The earliest record was that of John Knight
of Romsey who died in 1549.  This John helped save Romsey Abbey from the greed of
Henry VIII at
the time of the dissolution of the monasteries.
His will lists his wife Maude and his two sons John and
William.  Knights from Timsbury a few
miles north of Romsey date from later in the 16th century.
They were apparently a minor gentry family
who had come originally from Northamptonshire.

The Knights and The Reindeer Inn in Banbury.  It would
seem that a baker called John Knight, then living in the timber-framed
which now forms the western half of the Reindeer Inn’s frontage, bought
cottage or shop adjoining it.  In 1570 he
demolished this cottage and built an extension to his house which now
forms the
eastern part of the Reindeer.  It
probably became an inn sometime between 1564 and 1570.
John and Joan Knight were recorded then as
its proprietors.

By 1637, just before
the English Civil War, the Reindeer was perhaps Banbury’s most
pub.  It
is believed that
Oliver Cromwell planned the Battle of Edge Hill at the Reindeer.  Wiiliam Knight paid the chief rent for the
Reindeer in 1664 and was probably its landlord at that time.

days gone by, its location on Parsons
Street was on the rough end of town and was generally well populated
ladies of the night and the activities that surrounded them.  One of the strangest stories was that a knife
or sword belonging to the notorious highwayman Dick Turpin was
discovered in
the loft above the Globe Room.

the Inn was probably declining by the early 18th century as the Knight
sold off the Reindeer in 1706.  It passed
through several hands since that time and is still flourishing as a pub
Banbury today.

Richard Payne Knight at Downton.  The main
building of Downton Castle in
Herefordshire was
finished in 1778, though the domed dining room, the Great Room, was
added in
1782.  For some years afterwards work
continued on the decorating and furnishing of the classical interior
and in laying out the grounds in the
naturalistic style beloved by
Richard Payne Knight.

Richard Payne
Knight, it was said, was a man endowed by nature and by circumstance
with gifts
far exceeding most.  In addition to his
valuable paintings, he collected a fabulous library at Downton
where he would often read for ten hours at a stretch.

In his social life he was an extreme
sophisticate, suffering the foolish not at all.
He always surrounded himself with the elegant, the intellectual
and the
artistic.  Yet he had a sense of humor and wrote amusing verses satirizing
social occasions  He would also eulogize some of the beautiful women of his
acquaintance –
such as Lady Oxford, beloved of Lord Byron, and Lady Hamilton, who with
husband and with Lord Nelson he had entertained at Downton.

Edward Knight at Chawton House.  Chawton House was owned by Jane Austen’s brother Edward, known as Edward Knight after having been adopted by the Knight family.  Edward had inherited the Chawton House estate in Hampshire and offered his widowed mother and two sisters a home
there.  It was from the cottage in Chawton
that Jane
Austen started her most productive writing period from 1809 to 1817.

Edward possessed a silk suit which has survived and was recently described as follows:

“The matching silk frock coat and breeches are dated to
approximately 1789.  The coat is fully
lined with a yellow silk taffeta fabric, with the sleeves being lined
in a
white plain weave linen fabric.  The
olive green breeches are constructed in ribbed silk and feature a wide
waistband, loose fitting seat and finished below the knee with narrow
cuffs.  The coat and breeches are a good
example of
the fashion of the day, with Edward’s penchant for oversize buttons!”

There is also a painting of Edward Knight which
was thought to have been commissioned in Italy and painted in Rome in
1790 while he was completing his Grand Tour of Europe.
The fashionably dressed Edward was
depicted standing among classical ruins in a leafy glade compete
grotto.  The portrait used to hang in the
dining room of Chawton House until the estate was sold in the

Elder Knight, Primitive Baptist in Georgia.  William
Anderson Knight, born in North Carolina in 1778, moved with his parents to
Georgia when
he was about ten.  He married Sarah Cone
there in 1798 and they were one of the first settlers in Wayne county. William was later to serve as its state
senator and one of its justices of the peace.

Elder Knight later became active in the
Primitive Baptist ministry.  He was
ordained to the Gospel ministry in 1830 and, in the years that
followed, became
very zealous in the spread of the Gospel into frontier country,
several new churches there.  He and his
pastor, Elder Matthew Albritton, often went together on trips that
days, many miles from home.  Elder Knight
stayed busy holding special services in the homes of the settlers,
visiting the
sick, conducting funerals, organizing “arms” of Union Church that
later became independent churches and assisting in constituting new
over an area a hundred miles or more in extent.

His missionary labors precluded him from serving as pastor of many of
the churches that wanted him.  He
assisted in the constituting of Unity Primitive Baptist Church in
county in 1841 and became its first pastor, serving until his death
years  later.

Newton Knight and the Free State of Jones.  Newton Knight lived onto 1922 and it was not until after his death that accounts of Knight
and his followers during the Civil War in Jones county, Mississippi
were brought out by descendants of him
and other local figures of those years.

In 1935 Knight’s son Tom Knight
published a book about his father, The
Life and Activities of Captain Newton Knight.
  Tom portrayed his father
as a Civil
War-era Robin Hood who
refused to
fight for a cause with which he did not agree.

Taking a contrary view was his
great niece Ethel Knight.  She wrote a
1951 history entitled Echo
the Black Horn: An Authentic Tale of ‘he Governor of the Free State
Knight as a traitor to the Confederacy and castigated him for his
marriage to a
freedwoman.  Ethel portrayed Newton as a
backward, ignorant, murderous traitor.
She argued that most members of the Knight Company were not
but had been manipulated by Knight into joining his cause.

Fruit of the Loom.  The Fruit of the Loom
brand dates back to 1851
in Rhode Island when Robert Knight, a Rhode Island textile mill owner,
his friend, Rufus Skeel.  Mr. Skeel owned
a small shop in Providence that sold cloth from Mr. Knight’s mill.

Mr. Skeel’s daughter painted images of apples
and applied them to the bolts of cloth.
The ones with the apple emblems proved most popular.  Mr. Knight thought the labels would be the
perfect symbol for his trade name, Fruit of the Loom – a name
resemblance to the phrase “fruit of the womb,” an expression meaning
“children” which can be traced back to its use in the Bible.

In 1871, just one year after the first
trademark laws were passed by Congress, Robert Knight received
trademark number
418 for the brand, Fruit of the Loom.


Knight Names

  • Richard Knight was one
    of the early English ironmasters.
  • Frank Knight pioneered
    the Chicago school of economics in the 1930’s.
  • Bob Knight was the long-time coach of the Indiana Hoosiers, winning more college
    basketball games than any other coach.
  • Phil Knight was co-founder and
    later chairman of Nike, the sportswear company.
  • Gladys Knight is the American lead singer of Gladys Knight and the Pips, often known as the “Empress of Soul.”

Select Knight Numbers Today

  • 64,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Kent)
  • 50,000 in America (most numerous in Florida)
  • 32,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


Select Knight and Like Surnames

These were status positions within the feudal position of that time – usually positions serving noble families, lords of the manor, or in the church.  Here are some of these status position surnames that you can check out.




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