Tate Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Tate Surname Meaning

Tate and Tait are Border names, the Tate spelling on the English side of the border and the Tait spelling on the Scottish side.

The Tate and Tait names are probably of Viking origin, deriving from the Old Norse word teitr meaning “glad” or “cheerful.” The English Tate surname may also have originated in some places from the Old English personal name Tata.

Tate Surname Resources on The Internet

Tate and Tait Surname Ancestry

  • from Northern England and Scotland
  • to Ireland, America, Caribs (Jamaica), Canada and Australia

England.  A Tate family was recorded in Coventry as early as the 13th century. They founded there a chauntry known as Tate’s chauntry.

A descendant, Sir Robert Tate, prospered in London and was its Lord Mayor in 1488, as later was his son Sir John. Sir John acquired the Delapre abbey in Northamptonshire in 1546 for his son Bartholomew following the dissolution of the monasteries. This estate stayed with the Tates until the 1750’s when Mary Tate died and her husband, Sir Charles Hardy who was to become Governor of New York, sold it.

Northern Tates. Tate as a surname, however, was more to be found mainly in the northern counties of Northumberland and Yorkshire. A Tate family lived for a long time at Bank House in Guizance, a village just outside Alnwick in Northumberland. John Tate, born in Berwick, was believed to have joined the whaling ship King George which went down with all hands on the return voyage from Greenland some time around 1827.

Notable 18th century Tates in Yorkshire were:

  • William Tate, the Barnsley-born portrait painter
  • and James Tate, the headmaster of Richmond School in north Yorkshire. 

There were also Tate glassmakers just outside Wakefield at this time. Sir Henry Tate, the founder of the Tate & Lyle sugar empire, was born in Chorley, Lancashire in 1819.

Scotland. Tayt as a surname was first recorded in Scotland in the 13th century. The name probably originated on the Scottish borders. Hemming Tait was one of the first Taits of Pirn.  These Taits, from Innerleithen in Peeblesshire, were an ancient family of Tweeddale and one of the smaller Border reiver families.

There was also a Tait family prominent in Ayr and Loudoun Hall in Ayr was built by James Tait. After 1603 the Taits were encouraged to relocate to Ulster. Their name became Tate in Antrim and Down and stayed Tait in Derry.

The Tait name began to appear in the Orkney and Shetland isles in the 16th century, probably because of their Viking heritage (the islands only became part of Scotland in 1470).

A Tait family in the 1650’s built a dam across the river Don in Aberdeenshire to provide power for a mill at Port Elphinstone. They were later farmers and lumber merchants in the area. Thomas Tait started a paper mill at Inverurie in 1852. The mill remained under five generations of the family until its sale in 1996.

Ireland. There was an interesting Tate family in Ireland. It began with Faithful Teate or Tate, a Protestant clergyman who was made rector at Ballyhaise in county Cavan in the 1630’s. Reports that he informed on the rebels during the 1641 Rebellion resulted in his house being burned down.

His grandson Nahum Tate, a Cromwell supporter, moved to England in the 1650’s and later on in his life was made England’s Poet Laureate.

America. Tate is the usual spelling in America, irrespective of whether the immigrant came from England, Scotland or Ireland.

The first Tate to arrive was probably James Tate from a Northumbrian family.  He had come to Virginia, aged 17, in 1615 and settled in York county as a planter. His grandson James, called the “Scotsman Emigrant,” was a hatter by trade and lived near Page’s warehouse in Hanover county. Later Tates of this line moved to Orange county, North Carolina. Robert Tate, a Presbyterian minister, settled in Tennessee in the early 1800’s.

The next arrival may well have been Magnus Tate from the Orkney islands off Scotland who came to Philadelphia in 1696 and made his home in Frederick county, Virginia. A later Magnus Tate was a Virginia Congressman in the early 1800’s. There was subsequently a Dr. Magnus W. Tate of Lexington, Missouri and a Dr. Magnus A. Tate of Cincinnati, Ohio.

George Tate and his brother William from Aberdeenshire came in the 1740’s.  They were among the first settlers of Hawfields in Orange county, North Carolina. George’s grandson Samuel was a farmer and merchant there in the first half of the 19th century. 

Two Tate arrivals from Derry in northern Ireland were:

  • David Tate who had come to America as a lieutenant in the British army in the 1750’s. He decided to stay after his term of service was over and ended up in Botetourt county, Virginia. These Tates were later to be found in eastern Tennessee.
  • and Samuel Tate, a Quaker. who was a ship-builder and known as “the Rock.”  He came to Pennsylvania in 1763 and later settled with his wife and family at Morgantown in Burke county, North Carolina.

Tate Families of the Southern States was published in two volumes by Ethel Updike in 1984.

Caribbean. Thomas Tate, a doctor, and his wife Mary came to Jamaica from Durham in the 1790’s. Their son Thomas Dale Tate, a plantation overseer, married into the family that owned the Orange Grove plantation in Westmoreland. He later acquired the Shafston estate and its Great House, which has remained the Tate family home in Jamaica.

Thomas had nine children with his wife Mary and numerous illegitimate children by mulatto mistresses to whom he gave gifts of land, slaves and cattle during his lifetime.

Canada.  James Tait had been recruited in the Orkneys to work for the Hudson Bay Company and joined their service in 1778 at the age of 20. Later Taits worked for the company at the Red River settlement in Manitoba and elsewhere in Canada. Jackie Hobbs’ 2002 book Tate/Tait Family History recounted this history.

Australia. George Tate and his family left their home on the Scottish borders in 1819 as the only free passengers on the Minerva, bound for Australia. George received a land grant in Wollongong, NSW where he built an hotel and was the first recognized publican in Illawarra. He died in 1835 at the age of 41 after being gored by a bull. His son George became a cattle breeder and dealer.

Some Tait arrivels were:

  • William and Jane Tait who departed Derry with their family on the Adam Lodge in 1837. Jane died after giving birth to twins in Sydney. William remarried, to Catherine Monger.
  • A Tait family from Stow in Midlothian who came to South Australia in the 1840’s. David Tait died in 1850. His sons moved onto the Victorian goldfields.
  • John Turnbull Tait, a Scotsman from the Shetland isles, who migrated to Victoria in 1862. His five sons were all involved in theatrical and early film management in Australia for many years (a story recorded in Viola Tait’s 1971 book A Family of Brothers).
  • while the Tait winery in the Borossa valley of South Australia was founded by Giovanni Tait, an immigrant from Italy in the 1950’s.

Tate and Tait Surname Miscellany

The Meaning of Tait.  The following was the account by George F. Black in his 1946 book Surnames of Scotland.

“Tait was originally a nickname.  Bede tells us that Ethelberga, daughter of Ethelbert, King of Kent, was called ‘Tate’ (fem.) and nine individuals named ‘Tata’ (masc.) were recorded in Birch’s Cartularium Saxonicum.  The word, meaning ‘glad’ or ‘cheerful,’ appeared in Old Norse as teitr and, as a proper name, Teitr occurred several times in the Icelandic saga Landnamabok. 

Tate and Tait.  Tate is the English spelling and Tait the Scottish.  The following were the numbers in the 1891 census in England and Scotland.

Numbers (000’s) England Scotland
Tate   5.7      –
Tait   2.9    3.8

Reader Feedback – Tait/Tate Norse Origins.  Tait and the alternative Tate are definitely Norse. They are names you find adhere to the east coast of Britain – which sort of goes with the territory for Norse words and names ranging from the northern isles, through Caithness, Sutherland, Aberdeenshire and smatterings through to Northumberland, Newcastle, York, Humberside, Lincolnshire and East Anglia and down.

To me Tait comes from the Norse given male name Teitur, pronounced “Tait” as this is pronounced here + “ur” (as in slur – with lips slightly rounded and the R rolled).  It is not a name used very often these days, perhaps falling out of use some forty plus years ago.  But you find it occasionally in Iceland and Faeroe and it means “happy.”

Kind regards, Emma Blackburn (embla.0064@gmail.com) 

Taits in the Orkneys and Shetlands.  An old tradition holds that the first Tait arrived in the 13th century from Norway, having left there due to a disagreement with the local ruler on taxes.  The name William Tait appeared in Orkney in 1547 and Jacob Tait, who married Christian Edwards’ daughter, in Shetland around 1575.  These Taits were initially to be found at Fetlar and Dingwall, but then spread out around Shetland.

A Tait family were prominent merchants and drapers in Lerwick during the 19th century. Their son Reid was a keen collector of books and articles about Shetland and founder of the Shetland Folk Society.  He was also a prominent activist in the local temperance movement’s successful bid to introduce alcohol prohibition in Shetland in 1921.

The Faithful Teates.  There were two Faithful Teates, father and son.  The elder Teate was a Puritan preacher who was made rector at Ballyhaise in county Cavan.  He was forced to flee to Dublin during the 1641 rebellion when his home was set on fire and his wife and children wounded after it had been discovered that he had supplied information to the government.  Three of his children died of their injuries.

His eldest son was also called Faithful.  He moved to England and was minister at Sudbury in Suffolk.  He returned to Ireland in 1660 and was appointed rector of St. Werburgh’s church in Dublin.  But his Puritan principles would not allow him to accept the new Restoration policy on Episcopacy and he was sacked.

Whilst at Suffolk he composed in 1658 a long meditative poem Ter Tria or The Doctrine of the Three Sacred Persons, Father, Son and Spirit.  The poem enjoyed considerable success in its day.  This Faithful Teate was the father of the poet Nahum Tate.

James Tate of Richmond in Yorkshire.  The Tates had come originally from Berwick upon Tweed on the Scottish borders.  James Tate was born in Richmond in north Yorkshire.  His father and grandfather had been maltsters.  But James attended Richmond School and had an academic career in mind.

In 1796 he was appointed headmaster of Richmond School, the fulfillment of a childhood ambition. Tate was responsible for transforming Richmond School into one of the leading classical schools of its day.  Many of his scholars went on to Cambridge.  They became so “successful, admired and feared” whilst at Cambridge that they earned the title of “Tate’s invincibles.”

Half of the present grammar school at Richmond, opened in 1850, was built as a Tate memorial.  There is a bust of Tate in plaster in the scientific library at Richmond. And his portrait by Pickersgill, which was engraved by Cousins, was left with the Rev. James Tate, the rector of Bletsoe in Bedfordshire.

His story was told in L.P. Wenham’s 1991 book James Tate of Richmond School.

Reader Feedback – John Tate and the King George.  The whaling ship King George must have sunk with all hands prior to 1827.  John Tate’s wife had received a Settlement Examination in January of that year, by which time she was already a widow.  The story goes that the King George helped another whaler which was in difficulties but then did not make it back to England itself.

It seems that the one person who knew the full story emigrated to the United States and may have died since that person posted a note online.

Regards, Julia Greenwood (j.j.greenwood@talk21.com)

Magnus Tate’s Loss of Ear.  Magnus Tate of Virginia, born in the late 1750’s, was a man whose subsequent life made up in a great measure for his youthful follies.

He appeared in the Frederick county records quite early as a fighter.  One of the first references to him is in consequence to a fight he had with some other young tough.  One of the items in the proceedings as recorded in the justices’ order book recites that Magnus Tate appeared before the magistrates and lodged complaint against a party for biting off his ear.  Two witnesses testified to the fact.  The “biter” was held for trial and the ear retained as proof of the charge.

Magnus Tate afterward became sheriff of Berkeley county, one of its most respected magistrates, and was elected to Congress in 1815.  He lived, highly respected although having but one ear and a portion of another, until 1823.

Reader Feedback – Samuel Tate from Derry.  I am a direct descendant of Samuel Tate of Londonderry and his wife Betsy Caldwell who immigrated to the British colonies in North America during the first half of the 18th century.

William Jarrett (ulsterscotsman@hotmail.com)

The Tates and Their Great House in Jamaica.  The descendants of Thomas Dale Tate continue to own and manage the Tate Shafston estate as a cattle and pimento plantation and still live in the 18th century Tate Shafston Great House to this day.

The Great House, which was built in the 1750s from cut-stone, mahogany and cedar, is a typical old-fashioned Jamaican colonial plantation home.  It is a long, rectangular building one-storey high, slightly raised up on a stone basement, with the usual wide pillared verandah surrounding it on all four sides to give the maximum amount of shade from the sun.  The interior plan is also very typical with a central drawing room and dining room flanked on both sides by bedrooms. There are no ceilings and the lofty rooms are all completely open to the underside of the roof, exposing the heavy wooden beams.

The walls are hung with ancestral portraits, oil paintings of Sir John and Lady Moore and Victorian photographs of various members of the Tate family.  Sir John’s sword hangs above a mahogany archway and the house is furnished with Jamaican antique mahogany furniture, Georgian silver and Victorian china, rare and valuable items that have been inherited and lovingly passed down from generation to generation as treasured family heirlooms.  The panoramic views from the verandah of the Great House are said to be amongst the most beautiful in Jamaica.

Thomas Dale Tate was the son of Thomas and Mary Brown Tate, who migrated to Jamaica in the 1790’s. Thomas Tate Snr was a doctor and Mary his wife was previously married to Lieutenant-General Sir John Moore, the victor of the Battle of Corunna during the Peninsular Wars.

Sir Henry Tate’s Background.  Henry Tate was the son of Rev William Tate, a Unitarian Minister of the Dissenters’ Chapel in Chorley, Lancashire and a teacher of poor children. He learned much from his father, including a concern for others, hard work and an enquiring mind.  The house where he was born in 1819 on Terrace Mount still stands.

In 1832 at the age of 13 he entered the grocery trade in Liverpool and served his apprenticeship for seven years.  He then bought a grocery business in Liverpool and begun to acquire other stores in the city.  But he sold these shops in 1859 when he became a partner in John Wright & Co, sugar refiners at Love Lane in Liverpool.  Ten years later, after the death of John Wright, this sugar refinery company became Henry Tate & Sons.

Tate and Tait Names

  • Nahum Tate was an Irish poet who became England’s Poet Laureate in 1692.
  • Sir Henry Tate was the founder of the sugar firm Tate & Lyle in 1869. He also started the Tate Gallery in London.
  • Archibald Tait was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1862 to 1882.
  • Maurice Tate, known as “Chub,” was the leading bowler of the English cricket team in the mid/late 1920’s.
  • John Tate was briefly world heavyweight boxing champion in 1979.

Tate and Tait Numbers Today

  • 29,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 25,000 in America (most numerous in Tennessee)
  • 18,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Tate and Like Surnames 

The border between Scotland and England was a lawless area for well over three hundred years and the subject of many stories and hearsays.  Families on both sides of the border took part in the raids, attacking villages and stealing cattle on the way.  Eventually, following the unification of the Scottish and English crowns in 1603, the area was pacified.  There were mass executions and banishments, many to the new Protestant colony in Ulster.  These were some of the prominent Border family surnames at that time that you can check out.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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