Snow Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Snow Surname Meaning

The surname Snow does come from the Old English word snow meaning “snow.”  However, it did not have anything to do with snow.

Instead Snow appears to have been a nickname for someone with a very pale complexion or someone with fair or white hair.  It could therefore have been a description of a Norseman. They were rarer and thus possibly more noticeable in the south of England where the surname seems to have originated.

Snow Surname Resources on The Internet

Snow Surname Ancestry

  • from SW England
  • to America, Canada and Australia

England.  Early appearances as a surname were in the south of England – Richard Snow in Worcestershire in 1221, Robert Snow in Suffolk in 1239, Henry Snou in Buckinghamshire in 1273, and Gilbert Snawe in Essex in 1339.

Devon  Snows were to be found in sizeable numbers in Devon.  They appeared, as farmers, in Sandford and South Molton from the 1600’s.  Snows were also cloth merchants in Exeter at this time, starting with Thomas Snow and then followed by his son Simon Snow who became mayor of Exeter in 1653.

A later Snow, Thomas Snow, was a wine merchant and partner in the local bank in the early 19th century.  His son, also Thomas, was mayor of Exeter in 1863.

Dorset  Snows in Dorset included some interesting families.  The children of Lieutenant Snow of Poole, a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, included Parker Snow, the Arctic adventurer and writer, and Phillis Snow, who became a Buddhist monk.

Another Dorset family had an interesting mix of clergymen and military men until the current generation of TV presenters – Peter Snow and his son Daniel of the BBC and his cousin Jon Snow, the Channel 4 news presenter.

Yorkshire   The Snow surname also appeared in Yorkshire, although here it might have been a contraction of Snowden (a northern surname meaning “the hill where the snow lies long”).  The Snows were clockmakers near Harrogate in the 18th century and John Snow, who did pioneering work on cholera in the 19th century, was from a York family.

America.  Three Snows came early to Massachusetts.

Massachusetts.  First, Nicholas Snow arrived in Plymouth from London on the Anne in 1623, married Constance Hopkins who had come over on the Mayflower, and they settled in Eastham on Cape Cod. Nicholas was the town clerk there.  The family remained there for many generations.  Some Snows later migrated elsewhere:

  • Isaac Snow went to Duck Creek, Delaware in 1711 and his descendants were to be found in North Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama.
  • Jabez Snow settled in Nova Scotia in 1763 (his line was traced in Stanley Corey’s 1979 booklet Captain Jabez Snow and Some of His Descendants).
  • while Jonathan Snow moved to Vermont in 1791 and Nathaniel Snow was a prominent local artist and writer in that state.

Then came Richard Snow and his wife Annis on the Expedition in 1635.  They settled in Woburn.  Benjamin Snow of this family was born in New Hampshire and fought in the Revolutionary War (his line was traced in Owen Wilcox’s 1907 book History of the Family of Benjamin Snow); while later:

  • other Snows moved to Maine or crossed the border into Canada
  • and there was also a line from Becket, Massachusetts into northern Ohio.  This line produced Lorenzo Snow of the Mormons who went out to Salt Lake valley in 1848.

Lastly, there was a young west country boy called William Snow who went out as an indentured servant around 1637.  After his service ended, he settled in Bridgewater.  A descendant Thomas Jefferson Snow headed west and was a school principal during the 1840’s and 1850’s in Madisonville, Kentucky and Peoria, Illinois.

Maryland and Virginia  Justinian Snow from Staffordshire came out with Lord Baltimore to Maryland in 1634 and was one of the founders of the new colony.  He, however, died at sea four years later.

Thomas and Susannah Snow arrived in Virginia sometime in the 1680’s.  Their son Captain Henry and grandson Trooper John were born in Albemarle county.  Trooper John’s children were named (1) Frost And Snow and (2) Ice And Snow, where “And” represented their middle name.

A line from the more conventionally named Thomas Snow also had some unusual names – Early Snow, born in 1800, and his son Laten Early Snow, born in 1831, who moved to Lewis county, West Virginia where he died in 1910.

“It was normal for Laten to have a horse, two cows, sheep, hogs and chickens on his farm.  He was a competent farmer and also raised fruit trees (apples, peaches, and cherries planted on the ridges of his farm) and oats etc.  This was productive ‘subsistence’ farming.”

Canada.  Snows in Nova Scotia dated from the 1760’s when French control ended there and English settlers started to arrive.  Some came overland from America and others arrived by sea from England, mainly from Devon it would appear.

These Snows were to be found on the South Shore, Eastern Shore, Cape Breton, and Yarmouth.  One Yarmouth family began with Joseph Snow, a late 19th century shipbuilder.  His son Alfred was a well-known sea captain.

There were also Snows in Newfoundland.  In fact this is where Snows are mostly to be found in Canada today:

  • John Snow was reported in Newfoundland as early as 1708.  He is believed to have been the forebear of the Snows in Conception Bay.
  • the Harbour Grace Methodist church parish register recorded the children of Edward and Frances Snow being born between 1785 and 1798.
  • while the lives of one Snow family of Salmon Grove in Port de Grave ended tragically in 1833.

Snow in Canada could be of Indian origin.  Joseph Snow, who appeared with his family in the 1861 and 1871 censuses for Tuscarora, Ontario, was listed as an Onondaga chief.  His Iroquois name of “Drifted Snow” translated into English as Joseph Snow.

Australia.  John Snow came to Ballarat in Victoria at the time of gold fever in the 1850’s.  He built up a successful drapery business in the town. His son Sidney, later knighted, became even more successful as a retailer in Melbourne.

Jon Snow’s Family Ancestry

The newscaster Jon Snow has an ancestry that goes back to the Salisbury clockmakers in the early 1600’s and later to clergymen and army men.

Just click below if you want to read more about this history:

Snow Surname Miscellany

Simon Snow, Merchant of Exeter.  In Exeter the cloth merchants would meet at the New Inn in the High Street.  The earliest mention of this hostelry was a lease in 1456 and by 1554 it accommodated the Merchants Hall.  On the corner of Gandy Street stood the house that was built by merchant and mayor Simon Snow who represented Exeter in the 1640 Long Parliament.  Later, it was for a long time the home of The Flying Post, the local newspaper.

Simon Snow prospered as a merchant and civic dignitary.  He supported the Parliamentarian side during the Civil War and benefited by acquiring the building materials from the dismantled houses of the cathedral clergy.  He benefited as well from the will of his uncle Robert Vilvayne who left him a brewhouse and a malthouse.  In 1653 he was mayor of Exeter.

John Snow of Market Lavington.  John Snow the lantern clock maker worked in Market Lavington in Wiltshire from at least the 1620’s and died there in 1658.  He was probably related to the brothers John and Nicholas Snow of Salisbury, who started making lantern clocks there from about 1630.

Another clockmaker in Market Lavington was Robert Sainsbury.  Although no clocks are known by him, he is thought to have made clocks as well as guns.

The Snows in Vermont.  According to his grandson Alonzo, Jonathan Snow arrived in 1791 on horseback when only five families were settled in the town of Montpelier, Vermont.  He located and cleared 160 acres of heavily timbered land and build a log house near a spring, raising potatoes and wheat.

He then returned to Salem, Massachusetts and moved back to Montpelier in the winter of 1792 with his wife and baby on an ox sled with all their clothes and dishes packed in a small chest. Jonathan rode ahead on horseback, the oxen following him, as he broke the path, guided much of the way by marked trees.  Their nearest neighbor lived three miles from where they settled.

Eight of the twelve children of Jonathan and Lydia Snow were born and lived in the log house on the top of Snow Hill.  The farm remained in the Snow family until 1904.

Jabez Snow and His Family in Nova Scotia.  Captain Jabez Snow from Cape Cod in Massachusetts had given extensive service in the colonial troops under the command of General Amherst during the French wars and was granted land in Nova Scotia upon his discharge.

He had been stationed with his troops at Annapolis Royal in 1760 and moved to Granville nearby with his family three years later. He died there at the age of 88 in 1812.  Jabez and many other of the Snows are buried at the Stoney Beach cemetery in Granville.

His eldest son Josiah, born in 1755, married Elizabeth Shaw in Granville in 1781 and they raised a family in Wakefield, New Brunswick. The following story was recounted about Elizabeth when young by her grandson:

“My grandmother Snow was sent with her little brother Moses to get a piece of tobacco. Their path led through woods and while they were there they wandered off too far and got lost. They were found three days later, frightened and starved, on a mountain by an old hunter.  He managed to get them down and safely into the arms of their anxious parents and neighbors who had been searching in vain for them those three days and nights.”

Elizabeth was a remarkable woman who married at 17, raised thirteen children, but went blind later in life (her compensation was a wonderful singing voice).

A Tragedy in Newfoundland – John and Catherine Snow.  John Snow, a farmer and fisherman of Salmon Grove, Port de Grave, and Catherine Mandeville had lived together for about twelve years before they married in 1828.  They already had three children by that time. Why the marriage had been delayed is not clear.  It could have been because it was a mixed marriage or simply the distance to the nearest Catholic church.

Their marriage, however, ended in tragedy. John disappeared on the night of August 31, 1833 and Catherine was accused and subsequently convicted as an accomplice in his murder.  She was three months pregnant at the time.

No matter.  The local newspaper commented: “The most tragic execution to take place in Newfoundland was the hanging of a forty year old mother of seven children.”

Reader Feedback – Snows in Nova Scotia.  My grandfather came from Whitehead in Nova Scotia. Do you have any information?

Everett Smith (

Reader Feedback – Snows in the Canadian Army and Later.  I would like to know if you have any information on a John Jack Snow who served in the Canadian Army and Snow R.C.M.P, his father William and grandfather John did as well in the 1800’s.

My grandfather John Jack Snow was born in the early 1900’s (like 1903 or 1904) and moved from Canada to the United States in the late 1940’s, residing in the Fort Meade area.  I believe he was still military but got a civilian job in Washington D.C.

In Canada he had a family – he and Auldis McDonald Snow from Halifax, Nova Scotia – and they had four children (Helen, Beatrice, William and Donald).  Auldis became ill and later died.  He had a live-in lover and/or maybe wife (I’m not sure), a Margaret Woodworth who had a son Weldon.  She and my grandfather had three daughters, including a set of twins, Jacqueline, Joan and Jean.  All these children were born in Canada or near Canada.  It was before they moved to Fort Meade.

Suzie Snow Harris (

Parker Snow’s Time in Australia.  In 1839 Parker Snow married a London housemaid Sarah Williams which caused him to be ostracized by his family. Consequently he and Sarah decided to emigrate to Australia.

Parker kept a diary of their voyage.  By the time they came on board later in the year, Sarah was nursing a new baby.  Parker succeeded in obtaining a small private cabin for her next to the ship’s hospital, although he himself was forced to sleep in steerage.  He recorded his 22nd birthday as they sailed out from Plymouth.

When they arrived in Melbourne they soon found work.  He and his wife were engaged as storekeeper and housekeeper at the Yarra Yarra Steam Packet Hotel.  He soon was to prosper as these were gold rush times.

Many years later, in 1853, he decided to sink the money he had made in Melbourne into a private expedition to search for the lost explorer Franklin.  He bought a 16 ton cutter, The Thomas, and, despite the handicaps of exorbitant prices and shortage of labor, he fitted out the vessel in Melbourne for an Arctic expedition during the continuing frenzy of the gold rush.

After calling at Sydney, The Thomas started north but encountered a series of violent winter gales that damaged her severely and forced Snow to seek shelter in the mouth of the Clarence river in northeast New South Wales. By the time the storm damage had been repaired, all but two of Snow’s men had deserted. Still in hopes of trying again, Snow sailed his cutter back south to Sydney and there finally abandoned the vessel.  His was one of the more bizarre episodes of the Franklin search.

Phoebe Snow and the Railroad.  Phoebe Snow was a fictional character created in America in 1900 to promote travel on the railroads.  At that time rail travel was not pleasant.  After a long trip on a coal-powered train, travelers would frequently emerge covered in black soot.

The exception to that rule were locomotives powered by anthracite, a clean-burning form of coal.  And the Lackawanna railroad owned vast anthracite mines in Pennsylvania and could legitimately claim that their passengers’ clothes would still look clean after a long trip.

To promote this fact, their advertising department created Phoebe Snow, a young  New York socialite and a frequent passenger of the Lackawanna.  For reasons never explained Miss Snow often traveled to Buffalo, always wearing a white dress.

The first ad featured the image of Phoebe and a short poem:

  • ‘Says Phoebe Snow about to go
  • Upon a trip to Buffalo.
  • My gown stays white from morn till night
  • Upon the Road of Anthracite.”‘

The campaign became a popular one and Phoebe was soon one of the United States’ most recognized advertising mascots.

Snow Names

  • John Snow is considered one of the founders of epidemiology for his work in discovering the causes for the cholera outbreak in England in the 1850’s.
  • Edgar Snow was an American journalist best known for his articles and books covering China, Mao Zedong and the Communist Party during the 1930’s.
  • Hank Snow, the Singing Ranger, was a country star of the 1950’s.  He grew up in Nova Scotia.
  • CP Snow was an English physicist and novelist best known for his lament on the arts/science divide – The Two Cultures – in his 1959 lecture.
  • Jon Snow has been the long-time presenter of Channel 4 News on British TV.

Snow Numbers Today

  • 7,000 in the UK (most numerous in Hampshire)
  • 17,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 14,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Snow 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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