Parker Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Parker Surname Meaning

Parker comes from the Old French parquier, meaning “keeper of the park.” Parker was also a nickname for a gamekeeper.

Parker Surname Resources on The Internet

Parker Surname Ancestry

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

England.  The earliest Parker reference was a Johannes le Parquier or Parcar from Normandy who died in England around 1136. His family line continued in Yorkshire.  It has been a surname more of northern England.

Northern England.  One Parker family has traced their ancestry back to the 13th century when they were park keepers to John of Gaunt in the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire. They appeared in the Ribble valley in the 15th century, first at Horrocksford and then at Brownsholme. The Parkers were Bowbearers of the Forest of Bowland during the 17th and 18th centuries. Their home of Brownsholme Hall, still with the Parker family, is the oldest surviving family home in Lancashire.

Robert Parker, born in the Forest of Bowland in the early 1700’s, moved across the Pennines to Halifax where he became a well-known local lawyer.  His home in Halifax was Clare Hall.

Another early Parker family was of Bulwell and Norton Lees (Bulwell in Nottinghamshire and Norton Lees on the Derbyshire/Yorkshire border). They dated back to the early 14th century.  A branch of this family subsequently moved to Park Hall in Staffordshire and prospered in the legal profession:

  • Baron Parker of Macclesfield became Lord Chancellor in 1718 but was convicted of corruption and ended his life in a debtor’s prison.
  • a later Parker of the family, William Parker, joined the Navy and was Commander of the British Mediterranean fleet in the 1840’s.

Southern England.  Southern outposts at that time were Morley in Norfolk, Great Burstead in Essex, Tenterden in Kent, and North Molton in Devon.

The Parker line from Morley included Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1559 to 1575, and supposedly Robert Parker, better known in America as the outlaw Butch Cassidy.

The Parker distribution by the 19th century still showed very much a northern bias.

Ireland. Parkers in Ireland were generally of English origin. Among the early arrivals were:

  • John Parker from Kent who was appointed constable of Dublin castle in 1543.
  • Captain John Parker from Devon who was granted land in Tipperary in 1667. His descendants, based at Castlelough, had become extensive landowners in the county by the 19th century.
  • and Michael Parker who came to Ireland with King William’s army in the 1690’s.  His descendants were Cork merchants.

America. There were early arrivals into New England.

New England. Family tradition has it that three brothers – James, Thomas, and Abraham – came to New England in the 1630’s and settled in three different places, Chelmsford, Groton, and Reading. These Parkers may have been related, but it is doubtful if they were all brothers.

James Parker made his mark in Groton, Massachusetts. One line from Thomas Parker led to the hunter Nathaniel Parker, an early settler in West Virginia and then in Tennessee; while a line from Abraham Parker is thought to have led to George S. Parker (born in Salem in 1866) who devised the Monopoly board game.  

Other early Parker arrivals in New England included:

  • another Thomas Parker, the son of a Puritan clergyman, who founded the town of Newbury, Massachusetts in 1635. He died childless.
  • the brothers Joseph and Nathan Parker, who were in Newbury by 1642 and later moved to Andover.
  • George Parker, a carpenter who had come to Rhode Island in 1638 (the year he was put in the stocks there for drunkenness). He was resident in Portsmouth until his death in 1656.
  • William Parker, who was one of the founders of Hartford, Connecticut. He later settled in Saybrook.
  • and two brothers Elisha and Robert Parker who were at Barnstable on Cape Cod by the 1650’s.

William Parker married without approval the daughter of the Earl of Derby in 1703 and they fled to Portsmouth, New Hampshire soon after. Many of their descendants were clergymen, including Samuel Parker who was appointed an Episcopal Bishop in 1804.

One line from William Parker of Hartford and Saybrook headed northward with Matthew Parker to Vermont in the 1770’s and then westward to Iowa and Wisconsin.  George Parker, born in Wisconsin, received the first patent for a fountain pen in 1888 and founded the Parker Pen Company four years later.

Elsewhere.  John Parker, born in Baltimore in 1758, was a famous frontier Ranger and early settler in Texas. He was immortalized in death when he was killed by Comanche Indians in the Fort Parker massacre of 1836. It was his granddaughter Cynthia who was taken and adopted by the Comanches and her son Quanah Parker who was to lead the tribe at their Oklahoma reservation.

Canada. Benjamin Parker, a mariner and fish merchant, left Cape Cod in Massachusetts for Liverpool, Nova Scotia in the 1750’s. His eldest son Snow Parker was to prosper there in trading, shipbuilding and privateering, which was to make him an extremely wealthy man.

Another Benjamin Parker, this time from New Jersey, came to New Brunswick in 1783 together with other Parker relatives. Some of them settled on Campobello island. Others moved to Nova Scotia. Many became fishermen. These Parkers had come from the Elisha Parker Cape Cod line.

Australia.  John Parker arrived in Sydney with his family on the Premier from Limerick in Ireland in 1840.  They settled to farm in the Monaro.  Their story was told in Dianne Snowden’s 2020 book The Parker Family on Monaro. 

Parker Surname Miscellany

The Parkers of Bulwell and Norton Lees.  These Parkers were first found at Bulwell in Nottinghamshire and later at Norton Lees on the Derbyshire/Yorkshire border.

The line has been traced back to the marriage of Sir John Le Parker, Baron Parker of Bulwell, and Lady Annie Redmayne sometime around 1325.  Their son Robert was born around 1327 and his son Thomas around 1360. It was Thomas who married Elizabeth de Gotham, the daughter and heiress of Adam de Gotham of Norton Lees, in 1385 and the family then established themselves at Norton Lees.

A branch of this family was at Park Hall in Staffordshire by the late 16th century.

Browsholme Hall.  Browsholme Hall, pronounced “Brewsom,” is an historic house and the ancestral home of a Parker family who have lived there since it was built by Edmund Parker in 1507.  Tudor in origin, Browsholme has an antiquarian collection of oak chests, furniture by Gillow, portraits, mementos of Bonnie Prince Charlie, Chinese porcelain, and arms and armor from the Civil War.

Browsholme, set in the Ribble valley in Lancashire, is still very much a family home, however.  The current owners are Robert and Amanda Parker.

Parker Distribution in England.  H.B. Guppy in his 1890 survey Homes of Family Names in Great Britain had the following to say about the Parker name distribution in England:

“The Parker name is distributed almost all over England, but absent or is conspicuously rare in the SW counties of Devon and Cornwall.  Its principal centers are in the northern half of the country, the first in the West Riding and in the adjacent counties of Lancashire, Derbyshire, and Lincolnshire, and the second in Northumberland, but it does not extend across the border into Scotland. It has also additional homes in the south of England, in Essex on the east coast, in Monmouthshire and Gloucestershire in the west, and in Hampshire on the south coast.”

Yorkshire and Lancashire had the most Parkers at that time. Today it is Yorkshire and the East Midlands..

Captain James Parker of Groton.  James Parker left his home in Wiltshire in the 1630’s and sailed across the Atlantic to set up a new life in Charlestown in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  He was apparently accompanied by his brothers. Augustus G. Parker into his Parker Family in America 1630-1910, stated that there were five Parker men in the family – Abraham, Joseph, James, Jacob and John: “Most of them were brothers, and it is believed that all were thus related.”

In 1653 James and John Parker were to be found at the new settlement of Billerica northwest of Woburn.  Abraham Parker was the first settler in Chelmsford nearby (his wife was the first woman “to bake and brew in Chelmsford”). James joined him soon after.   However, he was not to stay there too long.   In 1662 he moved to a new settlement at Groton, apparently because of some religious disagreements.

At Groton, James was important in early civic affairs.  He was “a moderator of most of the town meetings, a member and chairman of all important committees.”  During the 1670’s he was captain of the local militia and active in defending his community against Indian attacks.  He was called into service again in 1694 when another Indian attack came and James himself lost two sons.

James was in his seventies by this time, but took unto himself a new wife.  In 1697 he sired a new child, his first offspring since Eleazer had been born 37 years earlier.  But four years later he was dead.  There is a marker today in Groton for Parker House, where his home was.

William Parker and Zerviah Stanley.  Tradition has it that Mrs. Zerviah Parker was Lady Stanley, a daughter of the Earl of Derby, and she had married William Parker in England without the consent of the Earl. She thereupon abandoned her claims to nobility and in 1703 fled to the New World with her husband.  Interestingly there is no trace of her in the Stanley family ancestry.  Her name was either suppressed, changed, or she was not of regular descent.

Portsmouth in New Hampshire was to be their place of refuge.  Her husband William Parker was a gentleman of education.  But after arriving in this country he found it necessary for him to support himself and worked at a tan yard near their home.

Both feared the father’s vengeance.  He was an arbitrary and vindictive man who might readily take up legal proceedings.  She herself would often suffer great periods of distress, knowing that she would be disinherited and that her children would be cut off from her father’s house.  She lived just fifteen years in Portsmouth and died in 1718.

But the Parker family did prosper in Portsmouth. 

Snow Parker’s Years of Privateering.  Snow Parker’s father Benjamin, a mariner and fish merchant, had come to Nova Scotia from Cape Cod in the early years of the Liverpool settlement.  Though most if not all of his five sons also earned their living from the sea, it was Snow who laid the basis for a spectacularly successful career in trading, shipbuilding, and privateering which was to make him a wealthy man.

Snow Parker came to manhood in the shadow of the American Revolutionary War when rebel privateers cruised in Nova Scotia waters and sometimes raided coastal settlements.  He was only 18 when the ship on which he was travelling from Halifax to Liverpool was intercepted by a privateer.  Taken prisoner, he was carried to Port Mouton and only released after paying a ransom.

Snow began his business life as a coastal trader and began to acquire ships.  It  was these vessels, built or sailed as privateers, that made his fortune. The outbreak of war with France in 1793 and with the United States in 1812 had raised once again the specter of privateering.

Liverpool was the centre of privateering activity in Nova Scotia between 1793 and 1815 and Snow Parker was its leading exponent.  He built, owned, financed, and acted as agent for several privateers, but did not sail them himself. The cargo of captured vessels could be speedily condemned in the Vice-Admiralty Court at Halifax, acquired cheaply at auction, and then retailed at a handsome profit.  Moreover, the prizes themselves could be purchased, refitted, and then sent out as privateers or trading vessels.

In the heyday of privateering Parker was reputed to be the richest man in Liverpool.  His fortune declined with the years so that at the time of his death he was apparently worth no more than £1,500. However, he lived onto the age of 80, a respected man in the community.

Parker Names

  • Matthew Parker was Archbishop of Canterbury in 1559 and a leader of Anglican thought in his time. He was called “Nosey Parker” because he kept poking his nose into matters that should not concern him.
  • Quanah Parker was in the 1870’s the last of the Comanche war chiefs.
  • George and Charles Parker founded their board game company Parker Brothers in 1888.  Their best-known game was Monopoly which came out during the Depression.
  • George S. Parker founded the Parker Pen Company in 1892.
  • Dorothy Parker, born Dorothy Rothschild, was an American writer and critic noted for her acerbic wit, associated with The New Yorker and the Algonquin Round Table.
  • Bonnie Parker was the Bonnie in Bonnie and Clyde, the 1930’s outlaws later portrayed in film.
  • Charlie Parker was the great jazz saxophonist, a founder of be-bop in the 1940’s.
  • Alan Parker is a British film director.

Parker Numbers Today

  • 110,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 124,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 46,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Parker 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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Written by Colin Shelley

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