Pratt Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Pratt Surname Meaning

The Old English praett, meaning trick or cunning, became a nickname for someone who was cunning or played tricks. The earliest citing of this name was Lefwinus Prat around 1080.

Pratts Bottom is a village in the London borough of Bromley, on the border with Kent. Often the butt of jokes, the village was named after the family of Stephen Prat who lived in the valley in the 14th century. Some Pratts did not like its derivation and preferred its origin from the latin pratum, meaning “clearing”  or “meadow.”

Pratt numbers in Britain declined by about 20% over the course of the 20th century, maybe because some did not like the name.

Pratt Surname Resources on The Internet

Pratt Surname Ancestry

  • from England (East Coast), Ireland and Scotland
  • to America, Canada, South Africa and Australia

England.  The Pratt name in early times was mainly to be found in and around East Anglia. It cropped up later in Devon and in Staffordshire and the Yorkshire dales.

Suffolk.  Wilfric Prat was documented in the Seals of Suffolk in 1179. Walter Pratt of Baldock in Hertfordshire was born in Mildenhall, Suffolk in 1390. Pratt families were local gentry in Norfolk, at Hockwold from the time of Henry VIII and also at Downham.

Sir Roger Pratt of the latter family, who became a leading architect in Restoration England, built Ryston Hall for his own account in 1672, a manor which has stayed with the family to the present day. Sir Roger also built Coleshill House in Berkshire, the property of Pratts who had become wealthy cloth merchants in London.

Devon.  The Pratt name was and is to be found in the west country, in Devon. One early sighting was in Kentisbeare. Another Pratt family from this area made it in the legal profession in London, rising to be Earl Camden in the 18th century.

Staffordshire.  Thomas Pratt, who died in 1739, started a long line of Pratt potters at Fenton near Stoke.

Yorkshire.  The little village of Askrigg in Wensleydale can boast the 18th century jockey and horse breeder John Pratt and the early 19th century clockmaker James Pratt.

The Pratt name also cropped up in Swaledale, beginning with Thomas Pratt in 1630. Poorly educated, these Pratts worked at the Old Gang lead mines on Gunnerside and were converts to Methodism. However, these mines closed down in the 1840’s and the Pratts left the area. The Rev. John Pratt was posted to Newfoundland in 1873. His son was the poet, E.J. Pratt. The family heritage was traced by daughter Claire in her 1971 book The Silent Ancestors: the Forebearers of E.J. Pratt.

Ireland.  A Pratt family had arrived in Ireland from Leicestershire in 1641 and acquired land in Meath and later in Cavan. They held onto Cabra castle in county Cavan until 1964. Other Pratts took land in Youghal, Cork and county Laios at this time (John Pratt was known as “Cromwell Pratt” in Laios).

Scotland.  The Pratt name appeared at Nairn in the Scottish Highlands during the 13th century. They became a sub-sept of the Grant clan. They showed up in numbers first in Fife and later in Aberdeen.

America. Phineas Pratt was probably the first Pratt arrival in America, coming to Massachusetts Bay with Thomas Weston in 1622 and helping to establish the Wessagusett plantation. Forty years later as an old man, he wrote an account to the court of Massachusetts of the colonists’ early struggles. He lived onto the ripe old age of ninety.

Other early Pratts in New England were:

  • Joshua Pratt who arrived at Plymouth on the Anne in 1623 and Matthew Pratt who came in the 1630’s and settled in Weymouth. Matthew’s line was covered in Francis Pratt’s 1890 book The Pratt Family.
  • while John and William Pratt were Puritans who had settled in Hartford, Connecticut in 1636. From this lineage came Jared and the Mormon Pratts. There are, because of multiple wives, a staggering 30,000 descendants of the 18th century Jared Pratt.

Massachusetts later produced one remarkable Pratt family. Henry Pratt was born in Wrentham in 1771, the son of Noah and Hannah Pratt. He became the famous New England organ builder of his time. His son Addison was first a Yankee whaler and then a Mormon missionary in the Pacific islands. His wife Louisa Barnes Pratt, from whom he was later separated, became better known to the wider public after her memoirs of missionary work and pioneer life was published.

Philadelphia.  Captain Henry Pratt, the son of London pewterer Henry Pratt, would sail regularly between London and Philadelphia in the 1680’s at the time of William Penn’s first arrival there. He too made his home in Philadelphia. A descendant, also named Henry, became a successful merchant trader in the city in the years following the Revolutionary War. He built his home, the Lemon Hill Mansion, in what is now Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park.

Virginia and the South.  Virginia received one notable Pratt. A son of Charles Pratt, Earl Camden, was said to have had difficulties at Oxford University. He therefore decided to emigrate to America rather than to embarrass his father.

Charles and his brother John settled in Virginia in the 1790’s, acquiring estates in Caroline County. Martha Pratt returned from Virginia to England with her husband in the early 1800’s. But she left a painting of herself at the Shirley plantation manor.

“Family descendants noticed an unusual property of the painting. Whenever Aunt Pratt’s painting was removed from its spot on the second floor, the frame would start shaking violently. In 1974 the Virginia Tourist office put the painting on display in Rockefeller Center. It caused a sensation with its constant vibrations.”

Daniel Pratt made his mark in the South in the years prior to the Civil War. He had moved to Alabama from New Hampshire in the 1830’s and was really the South’s first industrialist in what was then mainly an agricultural economy.

Heading West.  Pratts also headed West, in particular to Kansas. The most celebrated was Caleb Pratt, a young Civil War officer who died in the conflict and after whom Pratt, Kansas is named. Other Pratts in Kansas were:

  • Ephraim Pratt and his wife Betsy who came to farm in Neuchatel, Kansas in 1869 (after he lost his animals in a prairie fire he became a preacher)
  • Alfred Pratt who arrived from Indiana in 1876 and was one of the first settlers in Hamilton county.
  • and a Pratt family from Yorkshire which came to Kansas in 1878 and built the Cottonwood Ranch (which stayed in family hands for almost a century).

Canada.  Newfoundland can boast not only the poet E.J. Pratt, but also the painter and printmaker Christopher Pratt. He designed the flag for Newfoundland which was adopted by the provincial legislature in 1980.

Pratts arrived elsewhere in Canada as the 19th century proceeded:

  • Alexander Pratt from Scotland operated a grist mill in Cobourg, Ontario in the 1870’s.
  • Robert and Henry Pratt were early settlers in the 1890’s on the Canadian Pacific Coast side, at Kamloops in British Columbia.
  • and Ralph Benjamin Pratt arrived from Sydenham in Kent in the 1890’s as well and became an architect for the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railways.

South Africa. James Pratt is the forgotten man in South African history. He was an early explorer in the Witwatersrand. owning what is now prime Johannesburg land. But he fell foul of the Boers in Transvaal who confiscated this land. He returned to England a broken man.

Australia.  William Pratt from Devon was transported to Tasmania in 1825 for burglary, became a printer, and on his release in 1859 served the local Methodist Church. His son and grandson were both prominent Methodists, first in New Zealand and then in Australia.

Richard Pratt was born Ryszard Przecicki of Jewish parents in Poland but changed his name on arrival in Australia in 1938. He became known as “the cardboard king” for his packaging company and was one of the richest men in Australia on his death in 2009.

Pratt Surname Miscellany

Sir Roger Pratt.  Sir Roger Pratt became one of the leading arbiters of architectural taste in Restoration England, introducing and establishing the astylar ‘double-pile’ house style, which became the norm during the reign of Queen Anne.  The first house constructed in this style was Coleshill House in Berkshire for his cousin Sir George Pratt.

Pratt was also a consultant on the rebuilding of St Paul’s Cathedral and the redesign of the City of London after the Great Fire of 1666.  His services were rewarded iby a knighthood, after which he built himself a house at Ryston, retired from architectural work, and spent the rest of his life living as a country gentleman.

Pratt Ware.  One of the oldest Staffordshire pottery works was that of Felix Pratt at Fenton, which was in operation continuously from 1775 to 1885.

Of the many different kinds of pottery made by Pratt and his successors two types are especially popular with present-day collectors. The attractive and colorful cream-tinted earthenware jugs and mugs with relief decoration have long been known as Pratt ware, although they were also made elsewhere in Staffordshire.

The distinguishing features of this early Pratt ware is the modeled relief decoration and the zigzag and acanthus-leaf borders.  The relief designs were painted under the glaze, and brilliant orange, green, cobalt blue, black or brown, and sometimes purple is characteristic of the ware.  In its deep, strong, and vibrant color it resembles the finest old Italian majolica.  The subject matter on these jugs includes scenes of the sea, hunting scenes, busts of national heroes, genre scenes, and caricatures of the headdresses of the period.

John Pratt from Wensleydale.  John Pratt is best remembered for being painted by George Stubbs on the peerless horse Eclipse, a picture which now hangs in the Sheldonian Museum in Oxford.  He was a famous jockey of his day, said to have ridden eleven races in one day at Newmarket, and one who got rich as a result.   He was later one of the founders of the Jockey Club.

In 1767 he built from his winnings a house and stables in his home village of Askrigg.  The house, now the King’s Arms, was part of his stud farm and there was a yard at the back where he kept his hunters and a pack of hounds.

Pratts from Swaledale

Born Place Died Place
Thomas 1630 Grinton 1689
Anthony 1659 Grinton
Michael 1661 Grinton 1717
Anthony 1698 Healaugh 1762 Grinton
William 1741 Grinton
James 1747 Grinton 1824 Reeth
James 1771 Grinton 1839
William 1779 Grinton 1824 Gunnerside
James 1792 Muker 1858 Gunnerside
James 1800 Grinton 1867 USA (Iowa)
Thomas 1805 Swaledale 1875
Christopher 1819 Grinton 1903 Undercliff
Metcalf 1826 Gunnerside 1891 USA (Nevada)
William 1828 Gunnerside
John 1839 Gunnerside 1904 Newfoundland
Thomas 1843 Grinton 1918 New Zealand

Reader Feedback – Kentibeare Pratts from Devon.  My husband’s family.  A researcher traced the Pratt name to Normandy and they came to England in 900. My husband had his DNA done as well he is on gedmatch. We would love to share the information.

Patricia Pratt (

Daniel Pratt: Alabama’s First Industrialist.  Daniel Pratt helped provide cotton gins for Alabama’s predominant antebellum economic activity, founded Alabama’s most prominent early industrial town, and helped lay the foundation for postbellum development in manufacturing and railroad transportation.

In 1831 Pratt left his home state of New Hampshire for Alabama where he was to bring cotton gin manufacturing to cotton fields.  He purchased land on Autauga Creek in 1838 and it was on that land that he built Prattville as the site for his enterprises.  He established a cotton gin factory, a cotton mill, a grist mill, a woollen mill and a foundry, which employed more than 200 people.

Later, Pratt’s gin business grew so large that he contracted with mercantile firms in six different cities to sell his gins; and, after the Civil War, he was shifting his reliance from the cotton economy to the new industrial order of iron and railroad transportation.

The Cottonwood Ranch in Kansas.  The Cottonwood Ranch State Historical Site preserves the story of one family’s settlement on the Kansas Plains.

It is the story of an English family, the Pratts, who immigrated there in 1878.  Abraham had sold his interests in England and eventually settled in the area just south of the present Cottonwood Ranch. The elder Pratt convinced his two sons to move there as well and they settled on adjoining tracts.  John Fenton Pratt would eventually build what would become known as the Cottonwood Ranch and constructed this stone ranch house which has now been restored and converted into a museum.

In 1888 John felt prosperous enough to send for his fiancee in England to join him there.  Jennie Elizabeth Place was said to have cried when she first sighted the edifice.  It obviously didn’t match her expectations!  On several occasions she started on foot for the nearest rail station, only to be persuaded to return.  With the birth of her first daughter Hilda, she felt compelled to settle into the ranch lifestyle.  But she vowed that she would never be buried in the Kansas soil.  When she passed away in 1959, the family complied with her wishes.  She was cremated instead and her ashes were scattered over the ranch.

The Cottonwood Ranch is so called because of the grove of cottonwood trees that had been planted near the house.  The ranch is such a well preserved treasure because John Pratt’s family was the only family to live there.   Hilda who never married lived on the ranch until 1978.  In 1982 the state bought the house, outbuildings, and 23 of the surrounding acres.

Robert Pratt in British Columbia.  Robert Pratt came out from England to Canada around 1890.  He had apparently jumped off a military ship in eastern Canada that was bound for the Far East.  After that desertion Robert settled well away from the eastern shore of Canada at Upper Campbell Creek in British Columbia.  He contacted his brother Henry who joined him in 1894.

Robert married a local widow and he and his family ran a successful farm at Barnhartvale.  His log cabin and the apple trees in his orchard can still be seen today.  His apples were to win a gold medal at an international fair in England in 1911.  He delivered his prize apples there personally and, while there, visited his family in England for the first time in twenty years.

Robert’s eldest son was James.  In 1911 James took part in the last long cattle drive in British Columbia – from Ashcroft to Prince George – at the time the railway lines were being built in that area.

Pratt Names

  • Charles Pratt, who became the 1st Earl Camden, was Lord Chancellor under Pitt and a proponent of civil liberties.
  • Rev. Josiah Pratt was the first secretary and part-founder of the Church Missionary Society in the early 1800’s.
  • Francis Pratt founded with Amos Whitney in 1860 the company Pratt & Whitney to manufacture machine tools and precision instruments (and later jet engines).
  • Charles Pratt was one of the pioneers of the US petroleum industry. His Brooklyn oil refinery later became part of Rockefeller’s Standard Oil empire.
  • E.J. Pratt from Newfoundland was one of the foremost poets of Canada in the first half of the 20th century.
  • William Pratt from London changed his name to Boris Karloff on emigration to Canada. He became well-known for his acting in horror films, in particular in Frankenstein.
  • Hugo Pratt was an acclaimed comic book creator. His grandfather was English (and related to the actor Boris Karloff), but he was Italian in nationality.

Pratt Numbers Today

  • 14,000 in the UK (most numerous in West Midlands)
  • 23,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 17,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Pratt 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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