Mead Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Mead Surname Meaning

The most likely origin of the English surname Mead is that it is topographical, describing someone who lived near a mead or meadow.  The origin of the word was the medieval mede, meaning a meadow or flat piece of land. 

However, the surname Mead may also have described a brewer or seller of mead, a fermented brew from honey that was popular in the Middle Ages. 

The early spelling was Mede.  The principal spellings today are Mead, Meade, and Meads.  Mead is the main English spelling.  Meads has cropped up in the Midlands.

Meade has been the usual spelling in Ireland.  The surname here has different origins – probably from the Gaelic midheach which may have described a person from Meath.

Mead Surname Resources on The Internet

Mead and Meade Surname Ancestry

  • from Southern England and Ireland (Cork)
  • to America, Canada and New Zealand

England.  Early references of the surname are John ate Mede in Essex in 1248, William atte Mede in Hertfordshire in 1293, and Norman atte Mede in Somerset in 1307. Mede here is thought to be the English version of the Norman de Prato (“of the meadow”) name that existed around the year 1200.

SW England.  Some sources have the Mead name originating in Somerset.  Two Bristol merchants held public office in the 15th century – Thomas Mede Sheriff in 1453 and Philip Mede three times Mayor in 1458, 1461 and 1468. And a Thomas Meade was born in Wedmore, Somerset in 1489.  But the larger numbers have been and are in Essex in SE England.

SE England.  Thomas Mede of Elmdon appears to have been the first of the Essex Meads.  He willed his lands in Essex and Cambridgeshire to his two sons Thomas and Reginald in 1557.  This Thomas became a Justice of the Common Pleas in 1577 and was knighted.  Later Meads of his family made their home at Wendon Lofts which Justice Thomas had acquired.  John Mead, the last male of the line, died there in 1715.

It is thought that the Meads of Buckinghamshire may have been related to these Essex Meads. Richard Mede of Soulbury was first mentioned in the Buckinghamshire musters of 1522.  His line extended to Matthew Mead, a nonconformist minister of the mid/late 1600’s, and his eleventh child Richard who became a famous physician. By 1714 he was recognized as the leader in his profession and in 1727 he was appointed physician to George II.

In Hertfordshire, the Mede or Mead name was to be found in Bishops Stortford, Ware and Watford from the early 1500’s.  In Watford the Meads were known as “mealmen,” that is millers of grain. George Mead was a yeoman farmer in nearby Sawbridgeworth a century or so later.

Midlands.  The Meads spelling cropped up in the Midlands, primarily in Nottinghamshire and in villages there such as Oxton and Calverton.  Meads were employed there in the hosiery trade in the 19th century. Nathan Meads, a Mormon convert, departed this area for Utah in 1861.  Joseph Meads was a gardener at Potter Newton Hall near Leeds in Yorkshire in 1841.  A year later he emigrated with his wife Ann to New Zealand.

Ireland.  The origins of the Meagh family in Ireland are unclear.  However, they were among the leading families of county Cork by the beginning of the 14th century.  Their Cork stronghold was Meaghstown castle.  By the 1600’s their name had become Meade.  However, their estates were forfeit in 1645 with Cromwell, regained in 1661 with the Restoration, and then lost again in 1691.

The line from Sir John Meade of Ballintubber near Kinsale in Cork led to a later Sir John Meade, an Irish judge who was created a baronet in 1703.  His descendants became the Earls of Clanwilliam.

The first of these Earls ended up having to sell his family estate in the 1780’s because of debauchery and reckless spending.  Large sums had been dissipated on horseracing, gambling, and mistresses.  “In 1779 Horace Walpole repeated a rumor, almost certainly exaggerated, that Clanwilliam had arranged for the murder of one of his romantic rivals.”  

A measure of respectability returned with Richard the fourth Earl, a Royal Navy officer who ended up as Admiral of the Fleet in the late 1800’s.

In Ireland the Meade name continued at Ballintubber and Inishannon in county Cork and at Burrenwood in county Down.  The Rev. John Meade had acquired the Ballintubber estate from his cousin the Earl in 1787.

America.  William Mead from Watford in Hertfordshire came to America with his family on the Elizabeth in 1835 and first made his home in Stamford, Connecticut.  His son Joseph was the ancestor of the Fairfield county Meads, his other son John that of the Greenwich Meads.  Spencer P. Mead wrote one genealogical account of the family in his 1901 book History and Genealogy of the Mead family of Fairfield County.

William Mead Line.  William Mead has a large number of descendants in America:

  • Joseph’s line spread out to New York, Ohio, Indiana, and points further west   
  • while John’s went to New York, Pennsylvania (Meadville) and Vermont. 

One line from John led to Amos Mead, a surgeon in the French and Indian wars of the 1750’s.  A descendant Seaman Mead of Greenwich, Connecticut, possessed his flintlock pistol and powder horn inscribed as follows: “Amos Mead, surgeon of the 3rd Connecticut Regiment, Ticonderoga 1759.”  John Mead IV meanwhile was a Major General in the Revolutionary War.

After the war three Mead brothers – Benjamin, Ralph and Staat Mead – left Greenwich for New York City where they made their mark as merchants. George Mead left Ridgefield for Kingston, New York and subsequently built Mead’s Mountain House in the Catskills.

Much later came Dr. Elwood Mead, born in 1858 in Indiana. As Director of the Department of the Interior, he oversaw in the 1920’s and the 1930’s the construction of the Hoover and Grand Coulee dams in the West. Lake Mead on the Colorado river was named in his honor.

Another William Mead Line.   This William Mead came from Buckinghamshire sometime in the early 1700’s. Quaker records have him in Cecil county,  Maryland by this time.  His descendants had moved to Loudoun and Bedford counties in Virginia in the 1750’s and later onto Kentucky. 

Cowles Mead relocated to Mississippi in the early 1800’s and ran a tavern before becoming a planter.  He served as Acting Governor of Mississippi in 1806, but was unsuccessful in being elected its Governor in 1825.  Even so, he was said to have been a spell-binding orator.

He was the first to introduce Bermuda grass at his plantation home Greenwood in Clinton, Hinds county.  Greenwood fell victim to the Civil War and was burned in 1863. Nothing remains there except for a small cemetery where Cowles and his wife were buried. His earlier home Meadvilla does remain.

Meade Lines.  There were two notable Irish Meade lines in America.

Andrew Meade of the Cork Ballintubber line came in 1685 via London to Nansemond county, Virginia where he prospered.  Some of his descendants remained in Virginia, others moved west to Kentucky. Hamilton Baskervill’s 1921 book Andrew Meade of Ireland and Virginia covered his line.

Robert Meade from Limerick had less notable ancestors, but more remarkable descendants.  He was a merchant, initially in the Bahamas who came to Philadelphia in 1742.  His line led to George Meade, the Union general victorious at Gettysburg during the Civil War.  Meade county in Kansas and in South Dakota were both named after him.

His brother Richard was a naval officer during the war, but lost his ship one stormy night and died a disappointed man. Still, Richard’s sons Richard, Henry and Robert all had distinguished naval records.  Richard became a Rear Admiral, although he retired in dispute with the Navy in 1895.

Canada.  Richard Meade, an indigent farmer in county Cork, came with his wife and three children to Ontario on the Fortitude in 1825.  Granted land in Douro township in Peterborough, they were part of the Peter Robinson settler scheme.

Roland Mead became Roland Meade after he crossed the border with his parents from Vermont to Ontario in the 1840’s. His ancestry went back to immigrant William Mead of Stamford, Connecticut in 1635 and to Colonel James Mead, the first settler in Rutland, Vermont in 1770.  In Canada Roland joined the Hudson’s Bay Company and moved to Winnipeg.  There he pursued a profession as a painter.  Unfortunately, his life was cut short by lead poisoning from his oil paints.

New Zealand.  Joseph and Ann Meads departed England for New Zealand on the Thomas Sparks in 1842.

The main Meads line in New Zealand came from Zachariah Meads, born in Wellington in 1843 and who lived until 1937.  His line extended to his great grandson Colin Meads, one of New Zealand’s greatest rugby players.

Mead and Meade Surname Miscellany

Mead, Meade and Meads Today

Numbers (000’s) Mead Meade Meads
UK    12     3     2
Ireland     2
America    10     8     1
Elsewhere     6     5     1
Total    28    18     4

From de Prato to Mead.  Spencer P. Mead’s 1901 History and Genealogy of the Mead Family started with the Norman name de Prato, meaning “of the meadow,” from whence came the English surname Mead.

“In 1180 to 1195 there was to be found in the ancient Norman records the names of William, Robert, Matilda, and Reginald de Prato, and in 1198 the names of Richard, and Robert de Prato.  In 1199 in Essex occurred the name of Roger de Prato and the same year also that of Walter de Prato in Hertfordshire; and in 1272 there were recorded Stephen and Peter de Prato. Hervey de Prato in 1200 in Normandy was King John’s ‘Faithful Knight’ and the custody of Rouen Castle was given to his brother.” 

Reader Feedback – Meade Origin in Ireland.  Meade and Mede/Mead are completely different surnames from two completely separate countries.

Meade in Ireland is an anglicisation of mídheach – meaning a person from , an Irish county nowadays also occurring in an anglicised version, Meath. The Meade surname therefore has nothing whatsoever to similar sounding surnames in Britain.

Liam O’Grady (

The Meagh Family in Ireland.  Where did the Meagh name come from?  One Irish source has its origin in the Gaelic word midheac (pronounced mee-ach), which in the mutations of time became Miache, Miagh, Meagh, and finally Meade.

According to the Irish surname historian Edward MacLysaght, the Meagh family was among the leading families of county Cork from the beginning of the 14th century.  The earliest recorded was Philip Meagh of Buttevant who lived   from 1315 to 1361.  MacLysaght thought that this family may have originated in county Meath after the Anglo-Norman invasion of 1170 and later settled in Cork and Limerick.

It was unlikely that they had come from Bristol to Cork.  Rather, it may have been the other way round.  Being rich landowners, merchants and ship-owners the Irish Meaghs set up a branch office in Bristol to run their affairs.  It was the Bristol Meades who would then have anglicized their name.

Their ancestral seat was Meaghstown castle in Cork where they had been settled for centuries. The records show that between 1379 and 1637 twelve of the mayors of the city of Cork were from this family.

Family fortunes suffered during the tumultuous 17th century. Their estates were forfeit in 1645 with Cromwell, regained in 1661 with the Restoration, and then lost again in 1691. J.E. Meade’s 1953 book The Meades of Meaghstown Castle and Tissaxon covered the family history until 1766.

John Mead, the Last of the Wendon Lofts Line.  Little did John Mead know when he married Jane, the daughter of William Wardour of Westminster, that he would be the last of the Mead family to live in Lofts Hall.

When his son Thomas was born on 6 July 1674, “between one and two a clock in the morning” he must have felt pleased to have secured an heir. But, though he was baptised on 12 July, hopes were dashed when he died in August of the following year.

Jane was again pregnant and must have wished for a boy as she stood in the church at the firstborn’s funeral.  But a little more than two weeks later she gave birth to a girl, Jane.  The parson records that she was born “on Thursday August 26th 1675 within a quarter of an hour of twelve a clock at noon.”  She lived and was followed by the birth of her sister Margaret, but there was no son and heir.

When John died in 1715 at the age of 63, his Essex property passed to Jane and Margaret, to be equally divided. Jane had married a London merchant, John Whaley. But Margaret had reversed the position of her ancient Somerset kinswoman, Isabel Mede, by marrying a man of lower rank – William Pytches, a joiner from nearby Chrishall.

Benjamin, Ralph and Staats Mead in New York.  Edmund Mead, the forebear of the Mead family of New York merchants, lived in Greenwich (once called Horse Neck) and had come from an old Connecticut Mead family.  He was a wealthy farmer there.

However, by his extravagant tastes and habits, he had made a shipwreck of himself and his property. His wife and family returned to her father’s house where they were cared for until the sons were old enough to look after themselves.  These sons then came to New York, with the exception of one who was left at the Connecticut farm and homestead on the death of their father.

The eldest son Solomon died in New York of yellow fever in 1798.  But the next three sons – Benjamin, Ralph and Staats- all prospered there as merchants. Curiously their wives Eliza, Sarah and Lydia were all Holmes, sisters in the same family. Initially all three families lived close to each other near the Mead business premises at Coenties Slip.

In time the Meads moved uptown.  When the four elegant brick row houses were constructed on Second Avenue in 1838 for the three brothers, that area had become one of the most prestigious residential neighborhoods in the city.  Nearby were the homes of the Stuyvesants, Hamiltons, and other prominent families.

The four matching homes in the new Greek Revival style featured stately brownstone porticos supported by fluted Ionic columns and sheltering grand double-entrance doors.  Long parlor windows opened onto cast iron balconies.

Ralph Mead, a well-known wholesale grocer in New York, stayed on at Second Avenue until his wife died and he decided to retire.  In 1859 he moved uptown again to West 34th Street.  His brother Brockholst, once was a clerk in the City Bank, was an aged bachelor who lived nearby.

Mead’s Mountain House in the Catskills.  George Mead was the original owner and builder of the Mountain House, whose family name is memorialized in the legacy of the gracious Catskill guesthouse and the winding mountain road which leads to the scenic destination.

A native of Ridgefield, Connecticut, Mead ran a successful silversmith business in Kingston, New York until failing health forced him to turn his talents to farming.  He built the original front section of the house in 1865 and subsequently moved his family to the mountain-top farm.

Mead later opened his home to summer guests.  As they became more numerous and frequent he began adding rooms.  He gradually transformed the small farmhouse into the spacious, rambling summer hotel known as Mead’s Mountain House. A broad porch wrapped around the front and one side of the hotel, overlooking a croquet lawn and tennis courts.

Three generations of Meads were hosts to summer guests for over one hundred years. In George’s day, it took a team of four horses to pull the guest carriage up the road. Most of the guests came via the Hudson river by ferry from New York City. Many famous and distinguished people spent their vacations at the Mead’s Mountain House. According to records, there were as many as 65 guests at one time.

In 1948 the Mead family sold the property to Captain Salva Milo, a Yugoslavian pilot who had served in the United States Air Force.  Milo and his wife maintained the hotel until she died, whereupon Milo put the property up for sale.  A great deal of time would pass before the old hotel would take on a new role which could never have been envisioned by the previous owners.  The Meads Mountain House was to become a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery and Retreat Center.

Cowles Mead in Clinton, Mississippi.  Cowles Mead, born in 1776, was said to have moved from Virginia to Mississippi to marry his first love.  When he got to Clinton she changed her mind and married another man.  However, she did name her first child after Mead.  This son, Cowles Mead Vaiden, was the man after whom Vaiden township in Mississippi was named.

Mead himself left and moved to Georgia where he got involved in politics. After losing a congressional seat in Georgia, the President appointed him the Territorial Secretary of the Mississippi Territory, as well as the acting Territorial Governor during the absences of the elected Governor.  At this time Mead’s greatest fame came from his determination to arrest Aaron Burr after he had shot Alexander Hamilton and fled to Mississippi.

Later in his career he lost several elections for various posts, but built his home, Meadvilla, in the state’s first capitol.  He subsequently moved back to Clinton and built the Greenwood plantation where he died in 1844.

Roland Meade’s Death in Canada in 1879.  The following appeared in the Daily Free Press of Winnipeg on May 5, 1879:

“R.P. Meade, a well-known Winnipeger, died at noon today in the hospital to which place he went last Friday.  Mr. Meade was possessed of considerable literary abilities and as an artist he was very clever.  Like many other men of generous disposition, he was his own worst enemy.”

Roland Meade in fact died of lead poisoning at the young age of 42.  His wife Mary, a Metis woman, remarried and moved away after his death.  Meade Street in the North End of Winnipeg was named after him.

Mead and Meade Names

  • Richard Mead was the most prominent English physician of the early 18th century. 
  • General George Meade commanded the Union army at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, a turning point in the Civil War. 
  • Dr. Elwood Mead oversaw in the 1920’s and the 1930’s the construction of the Hoover and Grand Coulee dams in the West.  Lake Mead on the Colorado river was named in his honor.
  • Margaret Mead was an American anthropologist who popularized its insights into American and Western culture during the 1960’s and 1970’s. 
  • Colin Meads was a New Zealand rugby player between 1957 and 1971.  An icon within New Zealand rugby, he is widely considered one of the greatest rugby players in history. 
  • Richard Meade was Britain’s most successful equestrian Olympian, winning three gold medals in total.  He also won five World Championship medals between 1970 and 1982.

Mead and Meade Numbers Today

  • 17,000 in the UK (most numerous in Hampshire)
  • 19,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 14,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Mead and Like Surnames

These names are locational, describing someone who lived in those medieval times by the side of a bank, or by a barn or a lane or a shaw (which means a wood) or a wood and so forth.  Both the oak tree and the ash tree have in fact provided locational surnames – Oakes and Nash (from atten Ash).  Here are some of these locational surnames that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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