Tate Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Tate/Tait 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.
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/Tait Resources on

Tate/Tait Ancestry

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

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
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,
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.

century Tates in Yorkshire were William Tate, the Barnsley-born
painter, and James Tate, the
of Richmond School in north Yorkshire.
There were also Tate glassmakers just outside Wakefield at this
time. Sir Henry Tate,
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
line moved to Orange county, North Carolina.
Robert Tate, a Presbyterian minister, settled in Tennessee in
the early

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
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.

arrivals in the colonial era were:

  • George
    Tate and his brother William from Aberdeenshire who came in the 1740’s
    and 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.
  • and
    David Tate, from Derry in northern
    Ireland, who had come to America as a lieutenant in the British army in
    1750’s. He decided to stay after his term of service was over and
    up in Botetourt county, Virginia. These Tates later settled in eastern

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.

James Tait had been
recruited in the Orkneys to work for the Hudson Bay Company and joined
service in 1778 at the age of 20. Later
Taits worked for the company at the Red River settlement in Manitoba
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
  • 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/Tait 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’
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
isles, through Caithness, Sutherland, Aberdeenshire and smatterings
through to
Northumberland, Newcastle, York, Humberside, Lincolnshire and East
Anglia and

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,
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
1575.  These Taits were initially to be
found at Fetlar and Dingwall, but then spread out around Shetland.

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
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
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
to the government.  Three of his children
died of their injuries.

eldest son was also called Faithful.  He
moved to England and was
minister at Sudbury in Suffolk.  He
to Ireland in 1660
and was appointed
of St. Werburgh’s church in Dublin.  But his
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.
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.

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

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
Congress in 1815.  He lived, highly respected although having but
one ear
and a portion of another, until 1823.

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
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
verandah surrounding it on all four sides to give the maximum amount of
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
members of the Tate family.  Sir John’s
sword hangs above a mahogany archway and the house is furnished with
antique mahogany furniture, Georgian silver and Victorian china, rare
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,
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
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
Liverpool.  Ten years later, after the
death of John Wright, this sugar refinery company became Henry Tate
& Sons.


Select Tate/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.

Select Tates/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)


Select 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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