Nightingale Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Nightingale Meaning
The cuckoo and the nightingale are the songbirds that are heralded in
England. No one has ever been called a cuckoo (at least
as a compliment). It is the nightingale that has passed into a
name for someone who sings with a sweet voice. The word
nightingale comes from the Old English niht meaning “night” and galan meaning “sing.”
A nightingale once sang in Berkeley Square. But the incidence of
the Nightingale name around England is something of a mystery. If
the nightingale nests and is heard in the south, how come then that
Nightingale as a surname only appears north of a line from the Midlands
to East Anglia? Were the bird’s migratory patterns different in
the Middle Ages? Or was there some other reason?

Resources on

Nightingale Ancestry

England. We found
three clusters of Nightingales:

  • in Bolton in Lancashire
  • in Huntingdonshire and later in Cambridgeshire
  • and in Derbyshire.

Bolton. The Bolton Nightingales seem to have originated from the village of Rivington. John Nightingale was born there in the 1630’s.  Another John Nightingale was a yeoman in the 1730’s. And the Nightingale name is still current in the Bolton area today.

Samuel Pepys referred in his diary to a visit to his cozen Nightingale
Huntingdonshire “who hath a pretty house in Yelling.”

Nightingale was a lawyer who had managed to parlay his business into
such a money-making enterprise that he was able tp purchase Kneesworth
in Cambridgeshire and become local gentry. Thomas
Nightingale took over the estate soon after 1600 and it remained in the
family until 1831.

Derbyshire. Also
on the way up was Thomas Nightingale, a local farmer in Lea
Derbyshire. He proved very skilled in prospecting for lead and
within a short space of time owned the local smelting works and much of
the land in the area. Over the 18th century this
family became, as a result of his enterprise, one of the richest in

From this family came Florence Nightingale, so named
because she
happened to be born in Florence. In her twenties she decided to
take up nursing even though nursing was not then considered to be a
suitable profession for a well-educated woman. Her time came with
the Crimean War when she exposed and dealt with the unsanitary hospital
conditions that she found. Her campaign touched the public mood
and she became known as “the lady with the lamp.”

America. Nightingales did
make it to America. William Nightingale from Cambridgeshire was
first recorded at Braintree, Massachusetts in 1670. The family
homestead on Granite Street in Quincy, built by Solomon Nightingale in
1820, remained with his descendants until the 1920’s.

One line of these Nightingales, via Samuel Nightingale, migrated
to Rhode Island in 1751. Joseph Nightingale became a wealthy
Providence merchant
and builder in the 1790’s of one of the grandest houses in the

“The location of the house on College
Hill gave Nightingale a commanding view of the Providence river and its
myriad ships, wharves, and warehouses filled with goods shipped from
ports around the world.”

Nightingales from Lancashire came to Paterson, New Jersey in
1818. They operated a silk mill there. In 1849 John
migrated to California at the time of the Gold
He did make a fortune in San Francisco, although in real estate.

New Zealand.
William and Eleanor
Nightingale came to Auckland from Shrewsbury on the Nimroud
in 1860. A
descendant Clifford Nightingale enlisted for World War One and died on
Western front at Passchendaele in 1917. He has
been remembered for his war poems


Select Nightingale Miscellany

The Nightingale.  While I lingered away the latter half of May in Scotland, and the first half of June in northern England, and finally in London, intent on seeing the land leisurely and as the mood suited, the thought occurred to me that I was in danger of missing one of the chief pleasures I had promised myself on crossing the Atlantic, namely the hearing of the song of the nightingale.

Hence, when on the 17th of June I found myself down among the copses near Haslemere on the borders of Surrey and Sussex and was told by an old farmer, to whose house I had been recommended by friends in London, that the season of the nightingale was over, I was a good deal disturbed.

“I think she be done singing now, I ain’t heered her in some time, sir,” said my farmer as we sat down to get acquainted with a mug of the hardest cider I ever attempted to drink.

“Too late!” I said in deep chagrin, “and I might have been here weeks ago.”

“Yeas, sir, she be done now.  May is the time to hear
her.   The cuckoo is done too, sir.  And you don’t hear
the nightingale after the cuckoo is gone.”

The Nightingale Trust.  The Nightingale Trust was founded in 1580 for the village
of Kersey in Suffolk by the will of Robert Nightingale.  There are
six trustees, two representative trustees appointed by the Parish
Council and four co-opted trustees who must be residents of the
village.  The income, mainly derived from garden allotment land,
is distributed at Christmas to the elderly of the parish.

The Church in Kneesworth, Cambridgeshire.  The Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, erected in the 14th century, is a
building of stone and flint, consisting of chancel, nave, aisles, south porch of the 15th century and an embattled western tower containing a
clock and five bells cast by Milton Graye in 1650.  In the church
are monuments to the Nightingale and Turpin families, including Jeffrey
Nightingale, born in 1664, and Edward Nightingale, born in 1723.

Lea Hall in Derbyshire.  The origins of Lea Hall are obscure, but it is fairly certain that
Robert Alverley raised a chantry chapel a short way behind the house in
the reign of King John.  In 1709 the house was bought by Thomas
Nightingale, a local farmer who was very skilled in prospecting for
lead.  Within a short period of time he owned the local smelting
works and much of the land in the area.  During the next hundred
years his family became one of the richest in Derbyshire.  In 1754
Thomas’s son Peter added the Georgian facade to Lea Hall.  In
1796, the family moved elsewhere but continued to own the estate until

Florence Nightingale and the Crimean War.  Although being female meant Florence Nightingale had to fight against
the military authorities at every step, she went about reforming the
hospital system.  With conditions which resulted in soldiers lying
on bare floors surrounded by vermin and unhygenic operations taking
place, it is not surprising that, when Nightingale first arrived in
Scutari, diseases such as cholera and typhus were rife in the
hospitals.  This meant that injured soldiers were seven times more
likely to die from disease in hospital than on the battlefield.
Whilst in Turkey, Nightingale collected data and organized a record
keeping system.  This information was then used as a tool to
improve city and military hospitals.

Nightingales’s knowledge of mathematics became evident when she used
her collected data to calculate the mortality rate in the
hospital.  These calculations showed that an improvement of the
sanitary methods employed would result in a decrease in the number of
deaths.  By February 1855 the mortality rate had dropped from 60
percent to 43 percent.   Through the establishment of a fresh
water supply as well as using her own funds to buy fruit, vegetables
and standard hospital equipment, the mortality rate in the spring had
dropped further to 2.2 percent.

Samuel Nightingale of Providence, Rhode Island.  Samuel Nightingale was the founder of the Nightingale family in Providence, Rhode Island.  The son of Joseph Nightingale, he was
raised in Braintree, Massachusetts.  Early in life he was a
clergyman.  He lived in Pomfret, Connecticut for a number of years
and then settled in Providence in 1751.  He operated a distillery
there, invested in mercantile ventures, and served for a time as a
Justice of the Peace.

His eldest son Samuel was a prosperous Providence
merchant, a younger son Joseph an even more prosperous one as founder
of the merchant partnership of Clark & Nightingale.

John Nightingale, Forty Niner.  John Nightingale
was a real forty-niner, having arrived in San Francisco from New Jersey in 1849.

He settled with his wife and eight
children in the Lower Haight/Hayes Valley area of San Francisco.  Although he didn’t literally strike gold, he
did amass a huge fortune by buying up properties and turning them over
profit years later.  He was a San
Francisco alderman and was credited with selecting the site for City
Hall (although
the building itself was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake).

John Nightingale’s own house at 301 Buchanan spanned
the entire block of Haight between Buchanan and Webster.
What is known as the Nightingale House today
is the property that stood next door at 201 Buchanan.
This house was in fact John Nightingale’s
wedding present to his daughter Florence when she married Hamilton Page
in 1882. Florence and Hamilton Page sold the
Nightingale House a year after her father’s death in 1912.

John’s eldest son John practiced general
medicine in San Francisco.  For ten years
his office was at the corner of Stockton and Market before he built his
own six
story medical building at the corner of Market and Van Ness.



Select Nightingale Names

  • Joseph Nightingale was a wealthy New England merchant in Providence in the late 18th century.
  • Florence Nightingale was the nursing superintendent at British military hospitals in the Crimean War and by her efforts became known as “the
    lady with the lamp.”
  • Earl Nightingale from Los
    Angeles was an American inspirational speaker on radio best known for his 1956
    work The Strangest Secret. 
  • Annie Nightingale was the first female presenter on BBC Radio 1 and at the age of eighty was its longest-serving presenter.

Select Nightingale Numbers Today

  • 1,500 in the UK (most numerous
    in Derbyshire)
  • 1,500 in America (most numerous in California)


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