Peacock Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Peacock Surname Meaning

Both the Peacock and Pocock names derived from the peacock bird. These surnames probably developed initially as nicknames, possibly for someone who wore bright clothes or was seen as a vain strutting person. It has also been suggested that the name was occupational, describing a breeder of peacocks, or locational, describing someone who lived by the sign of a peacock. 

The Peacock spelling (which predominates) has tended to be found more in the north of England, the Pocock spelling more in the south – although there are no hard and fast rules on this.

Peacock Surname Resources on The Internet

Peacock and Pocock Surname Ancestry

  • from Northern England and Scotland
  • to America, South Africa and Australia

England.  The history here divides into Peacock and Pocock.

Peacock.   Peacock has tended to be a northern name, although there have been exceptions. Reginald Pecock, the 15th century theologian, was probably born in Wales. He was appointed Bishop of St. Asaph in 1444, but was then found guilty of heresy in 1457 and banished. Stephen Peacock of the Haberdashers’ Guild was Lord Mayor of London in 1533. He it was in his gown of crimson velvet who led Anne Boleyn on her way to being crowned Queen that year.

Generally, the Peacock name has been strongest in Yorkshire, extending north into Durham. One early mention of the name was in 1536 when Anthony Peacock, the bailiff at Arkengarthdale near Swaledale, took part in the Pilgrimage of Grace. The story did not end happily as Peacock was hanged in chains on Richmond Moor and then executed for his role in the uprising.

Peacock has been concentrated in Swaledale in this part of north Yorkshire that used to be called Richmondshire. There were 48 Peacocks living at Arkengarthdale in the 1881 census. Peacocks were also at Marrick and Reeth near Grinton. Thomas Peacock of Marrick was recorded at 102 years old on his death in 1762.

Lead mining took place in this area in the 18th century and the Peacock name was to be found in mining villages such as Thwaite and Muker. Ralph Peacock was a lead mining superintendent in Swaledale in the early 1800’s. His son Richard made his mark as a railway engineer and co-founded in 1853 the locomotive company of Beyer-Peacock.

It was clear that Peacock was a very familiar name in Swaledale as it cropped up in the local Beeth Bartle Fair ballad composed in the 1870’s.

Pocock.  The early spelling here appears to have been Pocok in Somerset and Pecok in Essex.

The Pocock name in Berkshire dates back to John Pocock who was buried at Hampsted Norris in the county in 1493. Edmund and Laurence Pocock, vicars at Chieveley and Brightwalton in the late 1500’s, were probably brothers:

  • Edmund’s son, Dr. Edmund Pocock, was the great Oriental scholar at Oxford, the first scholar of Arabic of any stature in England.
  • while Laurence’s line included the clergyman Thomas Pocock, also known as a diarist, and Sir George Pocock who had a distinguished naval career, defeating the French three times in Indian waters during the 1750’s.  “For these services he received the gratitude of the East India Company and a statue was erected of him outside India House.”  His son George was created a baronet.

The Pococks in Bristol were thought to have been related to the Chieveley Pococks in Berkshire. The first in their number was Nicholas Pocock, a respected mariner and merchant of Bristol who was made a freemen of the city in 1742.

One of his sons Isaac fought at sea and distinguished himself at the time of the American Revolutionary War; while another son Nicholas became well-known as a marine artist. The line from Nicholas extended to Isaac, also a painter, and then to Nicholas, a cleric and historical writer.

Scotland. Peacock is also a Scottish surname. The Peacock name was first found in Dumfries and later in Edinburgh and Perthshire. However, the main concentration of the name has been in the Glasgow area:

  • there is a preserved document of the last speech and confession of Alexander Peacock, shoemaker from Glasgow, who was executed in 1743 for the cruel and bloody murder of Margaret Marshall his wife.
  • while John Peacock was a rope manufacturer in Paisley in the late 1700’s. William Peacock took over another rope business there in the 1840’s and this business continued under his name until 1990.

Ireland. Peacocks in Ireland are likely to be of either Scottish or English ancestry, the former being mainly found in Antrim.

America. The Peacocks in America may have English, Scottish or Irish origins. Perhaps the first to arrive was William Peacock from England who came on the Hopewell in 1635 and settled in Roxbury, Massachusetts. He had one son. John Peacock, also from England, came to the New Haven colony in Connecticut in 1638. But he had no male heir.

Later arrivals were:

  • John Peacock from Scotland who came in 1714 and made his home in Burlington county, New Jersey. There are a large number of Peacocks in New Jersey descended from John Peacock.
  • and Thomas Peacock from Ireland who came to Long Island in the 1760’s. He fought in General Washington’s army during the Revolutionary War and afterwards settled in Newburgh, New York. He died in 1828 at the advanced age of 98.

Peacocks in the South. The earliest arrival may have been Thomas Peacock from Scotland who came to Maryland sometime in the 1730’s and whose descendants settled in Loudoun county, Virginia. Peacocks from Virginia and North Carolina spread across the South. Many of these Peacocks are covered in the Peacock Family Association of the South – which began life after the publication of John J. Pierce’s 1979 book The Children of Levi Peacock.

The Rev. Levi Peacock, born in Wayne county, North Carolina in 1756, served in the North Carolina militia during the Revolutionary War and settled down around 1800 in Georgia. Simon and Zilpha Peacock lived in Wayne county also at this time. Their son Robert came to Georgia a little later and there are a large number of his descendants today in Thomas county.

South Africa.  Richard and Maria Peacock from Kent were part of the Wilson party among the 1820 settlers to South Africa. They made their home at Somerset East in the Eastern Cape. Some of the later Peacocks moved to Queenstown where Alfred Peacock served as mayor.

Australia and New Zealand.  John Jenkins Peacock had been born in Sydney of convict parents in 1798. An enterprising young man, he acquired a master’s ticket and involved himself in coastal trading where he worked hard and became very successful. However, in 1843 he over-extended himself and was forced to sell off almost all of his assets.

He and his son John moved to New Zealand the next year. They made their base in Lyttelton, South Island. Son John proved himself a successful merchant who managed to hold onto his money and retire early.

Another Peacock family made good down under was begun by William Peacock from London, an early settler in South Australia in 1838. He started a tannery and wool-brokering business which was carried on by his sons Joseph and Caleb. Caleb was mayor of Adelaide from 1875 to 1877.

Peacock Surname Miscellany

Peacocks as Lead Miners.  The Peacock name is associated with Swaledale in north Yorkshire and the lead mining that went on there.  The hey-day of lead mining was probably the 18th century.  However, this occupation was hard and very dangerous, not least because of the lead poisoning.  Most lead miners died at a relatively young age as a result.

The forebear of one family was Thomas Peacock from Thwaite who died in 1753 at the age of sixty or so.  That was not a bad age for those times.  But then the lead mining took its effect.  His son Ralph died in 1763 at the age of fifty and his grandson Mark died in 1796 not quite making his 40th birthday.

The Tombstone of Thomas Peacock in Swaledale.  Grinton is a parish on the banks of the Swale river in Swaledale.  At its church of St. Andrew, there is a tombstone that reads as follows:

“In memory of Thomas Peacock of Marrick who died on December 4, 1762 at the age of 102 and Dorothy his wife who died on December 6, 1710 at the age of (left blank).Also in memory of Simon, their son, of Reeth who died on July 14, 1767 at the age of 58 Ann his wife who died on June 30, 1797 at the age of 78 and Catherine Orton her sister who died on March 24, 1811 at the age of 99.  Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord.”

Thomas Peacock was probably no lead miner! 

Reader Feedback – Peacocks from Suffolk.  My Peacock family research starts in Suffolk in the early 1700’s. But nothing before that. Where did they come from? Alan Peacock (

Dr. Edmund Pocock the Great Orientalist.  Edmund’s father, named Edward, was a clergyman and had been the vicar of Clievely in Berkshire before moving to Oxford where Edmund was born in 1604.

Edmund became a scholar at Corpus Christi. Early during that time he made contact with some English merchants then active at Aleppo in the Levant.   So fascinated was he by his exposure to the Oriental world that he travelled there in 1630, meeting up with the Turkish and Arabic people based in Aleppo and procuring many religious and other documents in their language.  He managed to obtain an Old Testament document that was written in Arabic; and Arabic became the subject of his greatest industry and application.

His reputation in England grew.  Support came from William Laud, the Archbishop of Canterbury, which whom Pocock corresponded regularly.  However, these were dangerous times.  The Civil War was raging, the Parliamentarians were gaining the upper hand, and Laud himself was executed in 1645.   Pocock was deprived of his Oxford tenure at Christ Church.

It was not until the Restoration in 1660 that this tenure was restored to him.  That year he published his Arabic version of Hugo Grotius’s treatise concerning the truth of the Christian religion.  It had a wide circulation.  Edmund Pocock lived on another thirty years.   During that time he travelled and corresponded widely, cementing his reputation as the great Orientalist. 

Peacocks and Pococks in the 1891 UK Census

Peacocks (000’s) Pococks (000’s)
Yorkshire    2.4 London    0.8
London    1.4 Berkshire    0.5
Durham    1.2 Sussex    0.3
Lancashire    0.8 Kent    0.3
Sussex    0.4
Kent    0.3
Cheshire    0.3
Elsewhere    3.7 Elsewhere    1.4
Total   10.5 Total    3.3

Peacocks outnumbered Pococks by more than three to one.  The Peacock name, although concentrated in the north, did spread across the country.  Pocock was largely a name of London and the southeast. Sussex and Kent seemed to be ambivalent as whether they liked Peacock or Pocock.

John Peacock in New Jersey.  Stealing children, or “kidnapping” as it was called, to send them to America where they would be sold to planters, was a common practice in the 17th and 18th centuries.  It was encouraged by the captains and owners of the vessels who would derive profit from this slave trade.

Family lore has it that John Peacock from Glasgow was kidnapped by his guardian uncle and sold off as an indentured servant. On his arrival in America in 1714, John, at the tender age of sixteen, was sold again to a mill-owner, John Gosling, who lived at Medford in Burlington county, New Jersey. John learnt to saw logs.

In time, after he paid off his passage, he became a free man. He remained on good terms with John Gosling. Squire Gosling in fact presided over his marriage to Elizabeth Prickitt in 1723. He and his wife developed several sawmills and, on his death in 1759, John had become a man of considerable property. 

John Jenkins Peacock and the Convicts.  John Jenkins Peacock, the son of a convict, had done good in colonial Australia.  The money he made from his merchant and shipping enterprises enabled him to build a fine Georgian stone farmhouse in the Hawkesbury district of NSW in 1826. This house became known as Peacock’s.

Five years later, he and his family endured a frightening home invasion.  One evening three runaway convicts entered their home, put the family under guard, and plundered the house for an hour, taking cash and anything movable.  After releasing the family, the convicts requested and received refreshments before leaving with their plunder in Peacock’s boat.

Early the next morning, Peacock set off with a posse and tracked the convicts to a cave where they were regaling themselves on his stolen wine, bread and meat.  Guns were fired and one convict was shot in the arm (which later had to be amputated), whilst the other two seemed to think better of it and surrendered.  Peacock was able to recover his stolen goods and his boat.

Peacock Names

  • Reginald Pecock was a leading English theologian of the 15th century who in later life was banished for heresy.
  • Dr. Edmund Pocock pioneered Arabic studies in England in the 17th century.
  • Thomas Love Peacock was an English novelist and poet of the early 19th century, a close friend of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Peacock Numbers Today

  • 25,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 7,000 in America (most numerous in Florida)
  • 9,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Peacock and Like Surnames

Nicknames must have been an early feature of medieval life in a family or community as these nicknames later translated into surnames.  People then lived a more natural life than we do today and the surnames have reflected that.

They could be about color (Brown, Gray, Green etc), whether of hair or complexion or other factors; mood (Gay and Moody are two extremes); youth (Cox and Kidd); speed of foot (Swift and Lightfoot); and actions (such as Shakespeare and Wagstaff).  Then there were likenesses to animals (notably Fox and Wolfe but also Peacock) and to birds (Crowe and Wren for example).  And then there were some extraordinary nicknames such as Drinkwater and Wildgoose.

Here are some of these nickname surnames that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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