Noble Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Noble Surname Meaning

The Noble surname has Norman French origins, from the Old French noble meaning “high-born” or “illustrious.” This might have been the case with Peter Noble, a Knight Templar or Crusader under Richard the Lionheart in 1185. 

However, at a lower level, Noble could have started out as a nickname for somebody who played the part of a noble in some medieval pageant. Those who played the part may not have been so noble. Other surnames such as King and Pope also probably emerged in this way.

There are similar surnames in Europe, such as Noble in France and Nobel in Holland. The German Knöbel name derived from an archaic German word for a servant. It was the name of a Jewish rabbinical family which settled in Galicia in Eastern Europe in the 17th century.

The Nobel name in Sweden came from the village of Östra Nöbbelöv in SW Sweden. This name became famous with Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, and the various annual Nobel Prizes that he founded.

Noble Surname Resources on The Internet

Noble Surname Ancestry

  • from NE Scotland, Northern England and from Ireland (Fermanagh)
  • to America and Australia

Scotland.  The earliest record in Scotland was a Nobilis family that had established itself around the year 1190 in East Lothian as vassals of the Vaux family. Their origins were uncertain, but were probably not Norman French. They later appeared at Newbattle near Edinburgh. Thomas and Patrick le Noble were recorded on the Ragman’s Roll in 1296 as rendering homage to the English King.

A later sighting was at Dumbarton on the mouth of the river Clyde. Robert Noble of Ferme served as the town baillie in 1449. This family remained landowners in Dumbartonshire and Lanarkshire until modern times.

  • William Noble of Ardandan Noble and Ardmore was the Commissioner of Supply for Dumbartonshire in the early 1700’s.
  • Andrew Noble, born in Greenock in 1831, was an expert in gunnery and rose to be the Chairman of the Armstrong munitions company in 1900. He became a baronet and made his home at Ardkinglas on Loch Fyne in Argyllshire.
  • while Iain Noble, the 3rd baronet, was a landowner on Skye and a noted Gaelic language activist.

NorthEast. However, the larger Noble numbers in Scotland were in the northeast of the country, in Inverness and Aberdeenshire.

Vilyam Nobile was the chamberlain and procurator for the abbot of Arnbroath at Inverness in 1464. The Nobles of that town may have been descended from him. One Noble family in Inverness-shire began with the marriage of Andrew and Mary Noble at Dores on Loch Ness in the 1750’s.

Further down the cost in Aberdeenshire lay the small fishing village of Broadsea which came to be dominated by the Noble family:

  • Andros Noble was recorded there in 1621 and there were six Noble seamen/fishermen living there in 1696.
  • while by 1789 twenty-nine of the forty-two seamen at Broadsea were named Noble.

The Nobles were granted, until 1747, the hereditary title of “the Constable of Broadsea.” Alexander Noble was the third Constable of Broadsea and his daughter Grizzel the fourth and last.  “These Nobles were a very tight fishing family who stayed very close to the area and married within the fishing families of that village.”

By the 19th century the fishing village of Broadsea was engulfed by the larger town of Fraserburgh and the Noble numbers expanded.  There were 454 Nobles recorded in Fraserburgh in the 1881 census.

England. Noble has been mainly a north of England name, first found in Cumberland probably in the 13th century.

One family based at Crew castle near Bewcastle just south of the Scottish border was a reiver family active in lawless banditry during the 16th century. Their leader Hobbie Noble, however, was captured and executed in Carlisle in 1583 as the Scottish and English governments began a pacification of the region. Some Nobles remained in the Bewcastle area. Others scattered to Yorkshire and elsewhere.

Yorkshire.  The largest Noble numbers have been in Yorkshire.

They have been most noticeable along the coast in and around Whitby. Gawen Noble left Cumberland for Whitby where he died in 1694. Later Nobles departed for America. Mark Noble acquired Aislaby Hall near Whitby in the 1730’s and his family continued to hold this property until its sale in 1905. Another Noble line, resident in nearby Sleights and Ugglebarnby, began with the birth of John Noble there in 1775.

Further down the coast near Scarborough was the Hackness family of stonemason Robert Noble. His son Matthew, born in 1817, became one of the leading portrait sculptors of Victorian England. Matthew’s son Herbert, aged just nineteen, was killed in the Abbots Ripton rail disaster of 1876. Matthew died later on in the same year from an illness which was apparently brought on by the tragic loss of his son.

Elsewhere.  The Noble name did appear further south, but in fewer numbers.

Nicholas Noble was the mayor of Salisbury in 1476 and 1477; and John Noble was recorded as a priest there in 1556. In Hertfordshire Stephen Noble was appointed the rector at Therfield in 1421; while Thomas Noble was the vicar at the All Saints Church in Hertford in the early 1600’s. Another Thomas Noble departed Kent for New England in the 1650’s.

Edward Noble, born in London in 1741, was the father of three gifted sons, one a water-colorist and the other two being engravers.

Ireland. There were early reports of the Noble name in Dublin in the 14th century. However, the main sightings, starting in the early 1700’s, have been in Fermanagh.

There have been three possibly four Noble family lines in Fermanagh – at Glassdrummond, Lisnaskea, and Donagh. James Noble died at Glassdrummond in 1719 at the age of sixty-five. There was also a Major Arthur Noble who died in Fermanagh in 1731 at the age of seventy-seven.

Another Arthur Noble from Fermanagh emigrated to Boston, Massachusetts around 1720. Many more Noble descendants emigrated in the 19th century – to America, Canada, and Australia.

America. The principal Noble line has been in New England.

New England.  Thomas Noble from Kent who arrived in Massachusetts sometime in the 1650’s was the forebear of possibly the largest Noble family in the United States. An early account was rendered in Lucius Boltwood’s 1878 book History and Genealogy of the Family of Thomas Noble.

Thomas settled first in Springfield before having to move, because of the debts that he had occurred, to Westfield, Massachusetts in 1669. There his descendants generally remained. Reuben Noble made a fortune in the town’s whip industry and endowed Westfield’s Noble Hospital in 1883. Clifford Noble, born and raised there, co-founded the Barnes & Noble book store in New York in 1894.

The Noble family became quite confusing over time due to its large size. Among those who migrated away from Westfield were:

  • John Noble who, together with his eight-year old daughter Sarah, settled in New Milford, Connecticut in 1707. John and many of his descendants were tanners. The John Glover Noble house, built in the 1820’s, still stands. William H. Noble from New Milford was a New York congressman in the 1830’s.
  • and Aaron Noble, a hatter by trade, who made his home in Troy, New York after the Revolutionary War. His line was covered in Jeff Messick’s 2017 book The Ancestors of Ruth Noble.

The line from Arthur Noble who arrived in Massachusetts from Ireland around 1720 was much shorter. Arthur died while fighting the French in 1747 in Nova Scotia. He and his younger brother James owned at that time large tracts of land in what was then the district of Maine. His son Arthur inherited most of these territories and in 1788 established a settlement at Nobleboro which commemorated his father.  

Elsewhere.  Abel Noble, the son of persecuted Quakers in Bristol, arrived in Pennsylvania as a young lad in 1684. He eventually settled in Warminster, Bucks county where he died. The line from his son Joseph led to Samuel Noble, born in 1818 and a Quaker farmer near Philadelphia in Montgomery county. He was also a considerable landowner in the area, so much so that this Philadelphia suburb is now known as Noble.

David Noble, born in Pennsylvania, was indentured to John Powell and married his daughter Anna in Philadelphia in 1772. They had two children. Ten years later he went off to fight the Indians with Daniel Boone and was never seen again.

“David had decided not to return and set out along the Appalachian trail south and west towards the new frontier. His family never knew where he went. He met Susannah Emmons en route and they married in Kentucky.”  David and Susannah ran an inn in Madison county, Kentucky until David’s death in 1797.

James Noble and his younger brother Noah, both born in Virginia, grew up in Kentucky before moving to Indiana in 1810. James in Indiana was a ferryboat operator, a judge, and its US Senator from 1816 to 1831. Noah became the Governor of Indiana in the year that James died.

William Noble from England came via Virginia to Somerset county on the eastern shore of Maryland in 1686. He was listed there as a cooper.  The line from his son William led to Anson county, North Carolina and subsequently, in the 1830’s, to Mercer county, Illinois.

Australia. Two English John Nobles arrived in Australia as convicts.

The first John Noble was sentenced for stealing a sheep in Dorset and transported to Sydney on the Indefatigable in 1814. Unusually his wife Ann followed him with their children a year later as free settlers. John was by trade a baker and lived onto 1844.

The second John Noble, a stable hand in Derby, was transported to Sydney on the York in 1830. He married Mary Chilcott in Singleton, NSW in 1841 and they raised eleven children at the Old Maison Dieu homestead there.

Another John Noble, this time Scots Irish from Fermanagh, came to Sydney with his wife Ann on the Helen in 1841. John died at Kangaloon in the southern Highlands in 1898. Some of his children had by then moved onto Alstonville in northern NSW. John and Ann raised fifteen children in all and their descendants – close to 2,000 today – have held reunions. Their story was recounted in Douglas Johnston’s 2016 book A Noble Heritage.

Noble Surname Miscellany

The Story of Hobbie Noble.  Sir Walter Scott, an avid lover of Border history, gathered the story of Hobbie Noble and committed it to verse in his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border.  Here are two particularly poignant verses from the ballad:

  • “And fare thee weel, sweet Liddesdale, (weel = well)
  • Baith the hie land and the law;
  • Keep ye weel frae the traitor Mains,
  • For gould and gear he’ll sell ye a’ (goud = gold, a’ = all)
  • Yet wad I rather be ca’d Hobbie Noble, ( wad = would, ca’d = called)
  • In Carlisle, where he suffers for his fau’t, (fau’t = fault)
  • Than I’d be ca’d the traitor Mains,
  • That eats and drinks of the meal and maut.” ( maut = malt).”

Edward Noble and His Family.  Edward Noble, born in 1741, served in his youth as a midshipman in the Royal Navy.  However, after contracting incurable asthma in the fogs of Newfoundland he relinquished the service for the profession of a bookseller in London. An accomplished mathematician, he wrote The Elements of Linear Perspective.  But the book proved to be too difficult for most readers and did not sell well.

His wife was also named Noble, although from a different Noble family in London. She was a sister of William Noble the drawing master.

They had three sons.  In 1784, soon after the birth of their third son, Edward – never in good health – died at the young age of forty-three.  It was their mother who raised the three sons and enabled them to have an education.  William became a landscape painter in water colors, Samuel and George were engravers.

Noble Seamen at Broadsea in 1789.  The Noble seamen of 1789 all had nicknames which were probably repeated by their sons and grandsons who also went to seaHere are some of these names.

  • Andrew Noble – Skipper
  • Alexander Noble – Shankie
  • Andrew Noble – Nobilie
  • Andrew Noble – Bobin
  • Andrew Noble – Bengie
  • John Noble – Bangie
  • William Noble – Rockie
  • William Noble – Skipper
  • Andrew Noble – Onzie
  • and William Noble – Elder.

It was probably one of the William Nobles above who was obliged to leave Broadsea in 1804 after one of his sons had accidentally shot and killed, while firing at sea fowls, the son of a neighbor.

The Nobles of Ardkinglas.  Andrew Noble was a gunnery expert who had left the army to join Armstrongs when they opened their Ordnance factory at Elswick to produce the new Armstrong gun.  He was to become Lord Armstrong’s right-hand man, rising to Chairman in 1900.  He bought Ardkinglas on Loch Fyne in Argyllshire in 1905 and enjoyed holidays on the estate there until he died in 1915 at the age of eighty-four.

His fourth son John inherited and became the Baronet at Ardkinglas.  He had a wonderful collection of silver and was regarded as a connoisseur whose opinion was well respected.  When he died in 1938 his two younger sons, John and Michael, ran the estate together.

John and his wife Elizabeth moved into Ardkinglas as their permanent home and brought up their children there.  Their introduction of contemporary paintings and furnishings combined with their informal hospitality to a wide range of friends and visitors instilled the house with a particular atmosphere which has remained a vital ingredient in the house’s character.

John worked at Bletchley during the war and was away from Ardkinglas for four years.  After the war, as well as running his part of the estate, John was active in promoting the arts in Scotland.  He was Chairman of both the Scottish Crafts Centre and the Edinburgh Tapestry Company.  And he arranged musical weekends at Ardkinglas with professional musicians. His brother Michael meanwhile became the MP for Argyllshire in 1958 and in 1962 was the Secretary of State for Scotland.

When John Noble died unexpectedly at the early age of sixty in 1972, his only son Johnny inherited Ardkinglas.  At that time Ardkinglas was making a loss, saddled with heavy death duties and a large work force.  Areas of hill ground were sold and various ventures started.  But it was growing oysters that proved the successful venture and so Loch Fyne Oysters was born.  Johnny held Ardkinglas until his death in 2002.

Thomas Noble at Westfield, Massachusetts.  In his historical sketch of Westfield, the Rev. Emerson Davis stated that Thomas Noble’s residence in Westfield was about two and a half miles east of the present centre of the town. It was on the farm where his son, Deacon Thomas Noble, afterwards resided and which remained in the family until after the death, in 1791, of his great-grandson, Lieutenant Stephen Noble.

During King Philip’s War in 1675, Thomas Noble was very much exposed to Indian marauders.  One night during family prayers, an old Indian named Gray Lock stepped up and pulled the string and let the door swing open.  As soon as all was quiet, be would then pull the string again.

Thomas Noble was persuaded by his friends to move into town.  Gray Lock said that he had several opportunities of killing most of his children at a shot, but did not want scalps as much as captives. 

Clifford Noble of Barnes & Noble.  The booksellers Barnes & Noble began in 1886 as a small bookstore called Arthur Hinds & Company, located in the Cooper Union Building in New York City.  In the fall of 1886 Clifford Noble, a then-recent Harvard graduate from Westfield, Massachusetts, was hired to work there as a clerk.  In 1894 he was made a partner and the name of the shop was changed to Hinds & Noble.

In 1917 Noble bought out Hinds and entered into a partnership with William Barnes, son of his old friend Charles Barnes, and the name of the store was changed to Barnes & Noble.  In 1930 he sold his share of the company to William Barnes’ son John.  Clifford Noble died in 1936 at the age of seventy-two.

Noble Names

  • Hobbie Noble was the chief of a Border reiver family who was captured and executed in Carlisle in 1583. 
  • Sir Andrew Noble was an expert in gunnery who rose to become the Chairman of the Armstrong munitions company in 1900. 
  • Monty Noble was an Australian cricket captain and all-rounder of the team in the early 1900’s. 
  • Edward J. Noble pioneered peppermint candies in America in the 1920’s and later founded the broadcasting company ABC.

Noble Numbers Today

  • 19,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 17,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 16,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Noble and Like Surnames

These surnames might suggest the high and mighty of the medieval world.  Instead, they were probably the actors in a village medieval pageant who adopted the name of the character they were playing.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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