Locke Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Locke Surname Meaning

Lock and Locke are the surname spellings today, which were rendered in earlier times as Loc or Lok.

The principal derivation seems to have been the Old English word loc. This could mean a “lock” or “fastening” and might therefore describe someone who lived by an enclosure that was locked; or it could also possibly describe a locksmith.  It might in addition mean a “lock of hair” and therefore be a nickname for someone with curly hair.  

Locke can also reflect Chinese origins, from Lok the Cantonese pronunciation of the Chinese surname Luo.

Locke Surname Resources on The Internet

Locke and Lock Surname Ancestry

  • from Western England and Ireland
  • to America, Canada and Australia

EnglandLock and Locke have been very much west country names. We find a very early reference in the 9th century with Ethelbrett of Loxton Loc. Loc here was not a surname, just a locational abbreviation for a place-name near East Brent in Somerset. However, his line would appear to have descended to the Lok and Locke family found in London from the 15th century onwards.

West Country.  William Locke was recorded in Somerset and Robert Locke in Wiltshire around the year 1350.

One Dorset line dated back to the early 1500’s. Edward Locke lived at Canning’s Court in Buckland-Newton parish in the 1550’s. His son Nicholas moved to Pensfold in Somerset where he was a clothier.  Nicholas’s grandson, born in this area in 1632, was the great English philosopher and political theorist John Locke.

Family histories in the west country began with:

  • William Lock who was born in West Bagborough, Somerset in 1530.  Many of his descendants are still living in Somerset.
  • Leonard Lock who was born in Ilminster, Somerset in 1658 and emigrated to Pennsylvania around the year 1685. His line was recounted in Dr. J.R. Peacock’s 1998 book Leonard Lock and Descendants.
  • and William Lock of Dorchester in Dorset who married Frances Brown in 1707.

London.  Coming from Wiltshire were the Lok mercers – John Lok who was Sheriff of London in 1461, his son Thomas, and his grandson Sir William Lok, Sheriff of London in 1548 and a gentleman usher to Henry VIII.  Sir William, married twice, was the father of nineteen children and the forebear of a larger Locke family. By his second wife Catherine came:

  • John Lok, born around 1520, who was a merchant and traveler. There were reports of him traveling to Jerusalem and commanding a ship bound for Guinea in West Africa.
  • and Henry Lok, born around 1525, who was a London mercer. His wife Anne was a poet and translator, as was his son Henry.

A later son Michael Lok, born in 1532, was a London-based merchant and traveler and a principal backer of Frobisher’s unsuccessful search for a Northwest passage to Asia. In 1579 he described himself as having a wife and fifteen children.

From him came Bristol merchants. Another of his descendants Lewis Locke, who was born in Somerset in 1606 and died there in 1692, exceeded his total in both wives and children.  

“By four wives he had thirty five children, most of whom lived to be men and women. What is more remarkable is that his eldest son John, born in 1625, was fifty nine years of age when his youngest son Christopher was born at Taunton in 1684. It was reported in the family that John had a great grandson as old as his younger brother.”  

Another line in London led to Sir John Lock, a merchant importing luxury goods from Turkey in the 1660’s. His son George invested in property along St. James’s Street in London and in 1676 the hat-making company that became James Lock & Co was started there. It still operates on the same premises today.

One London line had obscure origins. William Lock, said to have been the son of a broker, got rich as a merchant in London in the 1730’s. His line was perpetuated by his mistress Mary Wood and their son William who both assumed the Lock name on his death in 1761. Son William could afford to buy the Norbury Park estate in Surrey in 1774 and both he and his son Charles could spend their lives as art connoisseurs.

Gypsy Locks.  These Locks were a Romany family who were first recorded travelling between Devon and Gloucestershire in the mid/late 1700’s. Eric Trudgell’s pamphlet The Family Tree of Matthew and Merrick Lock began in the 1780’s. In the 19th century their area of roaming had widened. One Lock branch were renowned fiddlers who travelled the circuit of Herefordshire, Shropshire and Staffordshire.

Scotland. The Lock name appeared at an early time on the Scottish borders. John Lock of Roxburghshire was recorded in the Ragman’s Roll in 1296 as rendering homage to the English king. He was probably the John Lok who was a juror there in 1303. However, Lockie has been the more common spelling in that region and neither Lock nor Locke has been found much as a surname in Scotland.

Ireland. The spelling in Ireland has tended to be Locke. The name has been spread across the country, but in no great numbers. The best-known Lockes were the small-time merchants from Kildare who bought the Kilbeggan whiskey distillery in Westmeath in the 1840’s. They made Locke’s a popular whiskey brand in Ireland.

John and Elizabeth Locke, said to have been of Scots Irish heritage, were living in Antrim in the 1820’s. Their son John and his wife Mary emigrated to Iowa in 1854.  Charles Locke left Belfast for South Africa around 1900. He was the father of the South African golfer Bobby Locke.

America. There were two main early Locke lines that came to America.

The first line was attributable to William Locke, possibly an orphan, who came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony on the Planter in 1634 at the age of six.  He settled in Woburn around 1650 and died there in 1720 at the grand age of 92. He was the focus of one of the early genealogical books, John Goodwin Locke’s Book of the Lockes, written in 1853.

Then Captain John Locke arrived in Dover, New Hampshire from Yorkshire around the year 1644.  Here the early reference book was Arthur Locke’s 1917 book A History and Genealogy of Captain John Locke. This book was updated in 1979 and again in 2002.

New Hampshire.  Timothy Locke and three of his brothers had migrated from New Hampshire to Rhode Island in 1720 and he was a captain of the state militia during the Revolutionary War. William Locke, a church deacon, remained in New Hampshire.  His descendant John Locke, known as “honest John the miller,” set up a saw mill and grist mill at Locke’s Fall near Barrington after the War.

Calvin Locke of the Massachusetts William Locke line was also in New Hampshire after the War.  His eldest son Calvin ended up in Texas, another son Luther in California. His line was covered in Samuel Gerould’s 1900 book The Descendants of Calvin Locke.

Other Lock and Locke Arrivals.  Leonard Lock, thought by some to have been a descendant of Lewis Locke, came to Philadelphia from Somerset around the year 1685, and then moving to Bladen county, North Carolina. His descendants were to be found in North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama.

There were Locks in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania by the 1740’s.  Tradition has it that the first arrival was John Lock who had been running a line of immigrant ships between London and Philadelphia. By the 1750’s they had moved to North Carolina:

  • Matthew Locke, a general during the Revolutionary War, came from this family.
  • so too did Francis Locke, another general who turned the tide of the war in the south.  His son Francis was very briefly US Senator for North Carolina in 1814.  He had come to a North Carolina in 1780 through a land grant received in Roan county.

Some of these Lockes moved to Georgia and, after the Civil War, to Texas.

Heading West.  Dean Locke, born in New Hampshire and the son of Luther Locke of the William Locke line, headed for California at the time of the Gold Rush. He became a farmer in the San Jaoquin valley and the town of Lockeford there was named after him.

George W. Locke from the Captain John Locke line in New Hampshire also came to California as a young man, settling in Sacramento in 1852 where he became a merchant. He was the owner of land along the San Jaoquin river delta south of Sacramento and built his family home, an orchard and packing house there.

That land would be known as Lockeport in the 1890’s and later as Locke when it was an early settlement for Chinese immigrants to California. It is now known as the Locke Historic District.

Canada.  An early settler of what had been known for a long time as the Ragged Islands off Nova Scotia was Jonathan Locke from Massachusetts, a descendant of Captain John Locke. He had arrived there around 1761. His descendants became wealthy from their proximity to rich fishing grounds. The town that sprung up there was known as Lockeport.

Australia. Robert Lock, a carpenter, had been convicted for burglary in Norfolk and transported on the Grenada to Australia in 1821.  Three years later, he was party to an extraordinary marriage – the first between an Englishman and an Aboriginal woman – whereby he was offered to his bride Maria but could be returned if she did not approve of him. The couple were also promised a grant of land and a cow, although it took many years for the promised land to come through.

They raised nine children and Maria lived onto 1878.  Some of her grandsons and great grandsons volunteered to fight in World War One. Their story was told in Philippa Scarlett’s 2008 book The Lock Family in World War One. There are estimated to be 7,000 descendants of Robert and Maria Locke today.

Locke Surname Miscellany

Lock and Locke Today.  Lock is more common than Locke in England today; but hardly appears at all as a spelling in either America or Canada.

Numbers (000’s) Lock Locke
UK    13     9
America     2    12
Elsewhere     4     7
Total    19    28

Sir William Lok and Henry VIII.  Even before he was admitted to the Mercers’ Company in 1507, William Lok had already supplied cloth of gold and silver to the King. During the course of his visits as a mercer to the annual markets in Antwerp and Bergen, he would also collect intelligence to pass onto the King and his chief minister.

He was a Protestant and supported Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. He went to Flanders and succeeded in his dangerous mission to pull down the copy of the Papal Bull (by which the Pope had excommunicated Henry VIII for his marriage to his second wife Anne Boleyn). This was how the event was recorded in Holinshed’s Chronicle.

“In the year of Our Lord 1534 at the suit of the Lady Catherine the Dowager, a curse was sent from the Pope which cursed both the King and the realm. This curse was set up in the town of Dunkirk in Flanders, for the bringer thereof durst no nearer approach.

There it was taken down by Mr. Lok of London, mercer. Now I, his daughter Rose Throckmorton, reading this of my father, have thought good to leave to my children this addition to it, that for that act the King gave him £100 a year and made him a Gentleman of his Privy Chamber.

He was the King’s mercer and his Majesty vouchsafed to dine at his house. Moreover he was knighted, although he was never Mayor, but only Sheriff of London.”

In 1610, when she was eighty four years of age, Rose Throgmorton nee Lok had written an account of her early life.  This included the story of her father pulling down the copy of the Papal Bull and of him bringing French translations of the Gospels and Epistles from the continent for Henry VIII’s second wife Anne Boleyn.

John Lock & Co.  Lock & Co. became the world-renowned hat-maker of today through the merging of the Davis and Lock business interests in the 18th century.  It began with George James Lock, a London trader in the family business of importing luxury goods from Turkey.

As the Plague and Great Fire took hold of the city in the 1660’s, many businesses began to move west, away from the devastation. With this shift George James Lock became the leaseholder of several properties on the affluent and royally-connected St. James’s Street.

In 1676 a hatter from Bishopsgate named Robert Davis set up shop on the street and Davis and Lock were neighboring business owners for several years.  Robert’s son Charles took over the hat business sometime before 1719.  Meanwhile George Lock had a son named James with his wife Elizabeth and they in turn had a son, James Lock II.   Young James Lock became an apprentice to Charles Davis in 1747 at the nearby hatters.

Charles was looking for a male heir to take over the business and on the lookout for a suitable man to marry his daughter Mary.  James Lock II seemingly fit the bill, being of a similar age, coming from a good family and already a part of Charles’ business.  They married three years later and the two families were united in trade.

James inherited the business in 1759 and later acquired new premises across the road at 6 St. James’s Street.  There the firm remains today, still run by descendants of Robert Davis and James Lock.  In its collection Lock has a hat made for the Duke of Wellington.  It is said that the company was in part responsible for the creation of the bowler hat in the 1850’s. 

Captain John Locke and the Indian’s Nose.  The Locke Family Association erected the following marker at Locke’s Neck near Rye, New Hampshire in 1984.

“Locke’s Neck was named for Captain John Locke who settled here before 1665 with his wife Elizabeth Berry who was born in London in 1627.  He arrived in Portsmouth around 1644 and according to tradition framed the first meeting house there about 1654.  As captain of the militia he was noted for his defensive actions against hostile Indians. He was killed here on August 26, 1696 as he worked his fields with only a sickle for defense.”

This account explained why John Locke was so hated by the Indians.

“John Locke was noted for his daring and success with which he fought the Indians, foiling their many attempts to foil the settlers. On one of their raids from the east, landing on the coast near Locke’s Neck, they concealed their canoes in the bushes and went inland to surprise their intended victims.  Locke discovered their canoes and cut big slashes in them, but in a way that was not immediately apparent.  The Indians pushed off, only to find themselves sinking and thereby losing all of their plunder and arms.”

The following story about his death appeared in an 1892 edition of The Granite Monthly magazine.

“John Locke was killed by Indians while reaping in his field.  Although in the 70th year of his age, he made a gallant fight.  When found, by his side lay a broken sickle (now in the New Hampshire historical rooms) and part of an Indian’s nose which had been clipped from one of his assailants.

It was said that a few years later one of Locke’s sons, gunning along the beach between Portsmouth and Rye, met an Indian who had lost part of his nose.  Young Locke inquired how he had lost it.  The Indian replied: “Ole Locke cut it off at Rye.” Instantly Locke raised his gun and fired, killing the Indian and thus avenging the death of his father.”

Jonathan Locke of Lockeport, Nova Scotia.  Jonathan Locke lost his father in 1731 when he was an infant and he was brought up by his maternal grandparents.

He had married Abigail Perry and they had one son Jacob in Massachusetts before he decided to set off in 1761 with Josiah Churchill for some islands off Nova Scotia known as the Raggedy Islands.  There was logic to his departure. These islands were close to some of the richest fishing grounds in the region.

Jonathan and his son Jacob were known in early records there as “the old settlers.”  They faced trying times at the time of the American Revolutionary War.  Hundreds of American privateermen harried the shoreline, robbing the homes and warehouses and boats of the New England settlers, leaving havoc and distress behind them.   Jonathan Locke himself was targeted in 1776 and again in 1779.

Jonathon was a Baptist and the first gospel service atLockeport was apparently held in his cabin there in 1782.  He became a deacon of the famous black Loyalist, the Rev. David George, in the mid-1780’s.

Jonathan lived to be 94 and died on the island in 1825 or thereabouts.

The Locke House in the San Jaoquin Valley.  Dean Locke, a trainee physician back in Boston, had joined the Gold Rush to California in 1849.  However, he quickly realized that owning and farming land was a much more prosperous occupation than mining.

In 1851 he and his brother Elmer built a small ranch along the Mokelumne river in the San Joaquin Valley.  On Pioneer Hill they erected their log cabin.  Dean and Elmer were soon joined by their brother George and father Luther from New Hampshire, plus Dean’s new wife Delia.

Meanwhile other settlers were arriving and a town was forming.  It’s not certain when this town started being called Lockeford.  The first official town map labeled Lockeford was not filed until 1862. The town’s name is credited to Dean‘s wife Delia who suggested the name since people were calling the river crossing “Locke’s ford.”

The Locke’s little cabin had been expanded to a three-story brick house by 1865.  With these additions, the house contained twenty-two rooms and accommodated Locke, his wife, and their thirteen children.  It could also house the occasional visitor, relative, or a patient of Dr. Locke’s.

Recently the Locke House has been restored and renovated by its current owners who are the proprietors and innkeepers of The Inn at Locke House.

Locke Names

  • John Locke was a 17th century English philosopher, commonly known as the “Father of Liberalism.”   
  • Francis Locke led the American Patriots in victory over the British at Rameur’s Mill in the Revolutionary War, turning the tide in the war in the south. 
  • Bobby Locke was a South African golfer who won the English Open championship four times in the 1950’s.
  • Gary Faye Locke was Governor of Washington state from 1997 to 2005, the first Chinese American ever to hold that office.

Locke Numbers Today

  • 22,000 in the UK (most numerous in Hampshire)
  • 14,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 11,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

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Written by Colin Shelley

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