Snow Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Snow Meaning
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

Resources on

Snow Ancestry

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 family, starting with the Rev. George
D’Oyly Snow of Langton Lodge in Blandford Forum, has an interesting mix
of military men and clergymen 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.

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
  • 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

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
  • 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
Kentucky and Peoria, Illinois.

Maryland and
  Justinian Snow from Staffordshire came out with
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
county.  Trooper John’s children were
named (1) Frost And Snow and (2) Ice And Snow, where “And” represented
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

“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
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
    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
    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.

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.


Snow 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
was mayor of Exeter.

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
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.

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

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
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
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.”

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

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

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.


Select 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.

Select 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)

Select 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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