Taylor Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Taylor Surname Meaning

The occupational name for a tailor comes via the French tailleur from the Latin tailare, to cut.   It would seem that tradition has dictated that the spelling of tailor refers to the trade of tailoring, while the Taylor spelling is the surname form.  Early spelling versions of the name in England were Tailour, Taylard, and Taylerfer.

Taylor Surname Resources on The Internet

Taylor Surname Ancestry

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

England.  The first evidence of its use as a surname in England appears to have been in Somerset in the 1180’s.

Early Taylors.  Adam de Tailour, recorded in Nottinghamshire in 1282, appears to have been the forebear of a Taylor family who held lands in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.  One Taylor line in Nottinghamshire began with Richard Taylor, born around 1510.

Hanger Taylerfer held estates in Kent in the 1200’s and from him the Taylors of Shadoxland were descended. They became baronets in 1665 and Sir John Taylor was MP for Maidstone in 1690.

Walter Taylard, born in the latter part of the 14th century, was the forebear of the Taylards of Huntingdonshire. This family was well established at Diddington by Tudor times.  Their name became Taylor in London in the late 1500’s. 

The Taylor name was also to be found in the south Suffolk wool towns.  Rowland Taylor, the Protestant martyr burnt at the stake in 1555, had been a resident of Hadleigh in Suffolk (although he had been born in Northumberland).  Jane Taylor, who lived at Lavenham nearby, composed the childhood song Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.

Later Taylors.  By the 19th century, a larger number of Taylors was further north, in Lancashire and Yorkshire (35% of the Taylors in the 1891 census). 

Red House had been built in Gomersal in Yorkshire by William Taylor in 1660.  It was home to a Taylor family who were cloth merchants and manufacturers.  Mary Taylor of this family was friend to the writer Charlotte Bronte.  The Taylors remained there until 1920.

Taylors of Harrogate is a family tea and coffee merchant company begun in 1886 by Charles Taylor; while Timothy Taylor founded an independent brewery in Keighley in 1858.  One family line in Lancashire started with Roger Taylor who married Ann Winrow in Wigan in 1792.   These Taylors were house painters by trade.

Scotland.  Scottish Taylors were to be found in Lanarkshire, Ayrshire, and Aberdeenshire.

Some Taylors could trace their name from the nickname taillear dubh, meaning “black tailor.”  Tailiear dubh natuaighe (Black Taylor of the battleaxe) was a legendary follower of Cameron of Lochiel in the 16th century.   These Taylors were to be found in the Cowal peninsula in Argyll in the Scottish Highlands.

Ireland.  The Taylors of Swords in county Dublin are said to have dated back to the early 1300’s when the progenitor of the family arrived from Yorkshire.  Francis Taylor was mayor of Dublin in 1595 but later died in prison because of his Catholic faith.  

Thomas Taylor arrived from Sussex in the 1650’s to oversee the fiscal expenditures of Cromwell’s campaign in Ireland.  His descendants established themselves as baronets at Kells in Meath.  For some reason the surname spelling changed to Taylour around 1760.

Another Taylor family from the 1650’s was to be found at Castle Taylor in Galway.  The castle remained in Taylor hands until the death of General Sir John Taylor in 1843.  Ownership then passed to the Shawe-Taylors.

The principal Taylor numbers in Ireland have been in Ulster, and the largest number there in county Down.  Jeremy Taylor, who arrived in 1658, was the Protestant Bishop of Dromore until his death in 1667.  

America.  Early Taylors came to New England and Virginia.

New England.   According to family lore there were two Richard Taylors who left London on the Truelove in 1635 and both of them settled in Yarmouth on Cape Cod.  One was a tailor and the other was known as “Rock” because there was a big rock by the side of his house.  The rock still exists, with a plaque on it, across from the Taylor-Bray farm.

John Taylor from Suffolk arrived in Windsor, Connecticut in 1639 and was said to have operated a ferry service there.  He died in 1646 when he was making a return visit to England.  But he did leave family.  Later Taylors moved in the early 1700’s to Deerfield, Massachusetts where Samuel kept a tavern and Thomas unfortunately drowned in the Connecticut river.

Virginia.  A number here were descended from the Protestant martyr Rowland Taylor via his son Thomas.  Colonel James Taylor, whose family also claimed a family descent from the Cumbrian Earls of Pennington, had come to Virginia from Carlisle in Cumberland around 1660:  

“A ring seal of his family was brought to the colonies by James and is said to be still held by present members of his family.  The seal bears the crest and Taylor arms bestowed by the King when a Taylor knight slew a wild boar while on a hunt with the king.”

His descendant Zachary Taylor of Orange county, born in 1707, was:

  • the grandfather to US President Zachary Taylor
  • and the grand-uncle to another US President, James Madison. 

Also in this line, from the family’s Midway plantation in Caroline county, were the following:

  • first General James Taylor.  He moved from Virginia to Kentucky in the 1790’s, founded the town of Newport, and was a wealthy early settler in the state. 
  • then a later line led to the Rev. Howell Taylor who moved his family from Virginia to Tennessee in 1817.  They established their roots with a homestead and Methodist church in Haywood county.  There are reunions of descendants each year at the Tabernacle camp near Brownsville.
  • and another longer line went from Virginia to North Carolina and then onto Indiana and Illinois before Francis Taylor, an art dealer, moved to London in the 1920’s.  London was where his daughter Elizabeth Taylor the famous actress was born. 

A separate Taylor family in Virginia began with Joseph Taylor who moved to North Carolina in 1756 to take up a land grant there.  His son Joseph, a Revolutionary War veteran, also migrated to Kentucky.  Among his children was William Taylor, one of the Mormon pioneers.

Irish Origins.  George Taylor, the son of an Ulster clergyman, emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1736.  His wife was also named Taylor, but from an English Quaker Taylor who had come to Pennsylvania in 1684.  George was a successful ironmaster and was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Five brothers by the name of Taylor – George, James, William, John, and Caufield – came from Armagh and settled in Rockbridge, Virginia in 1760.  They invested their money in land and slaves.  John was killed in battle in 1778, Caufield taken prisoner but liberated at the end of the war. The four surviving brothers lived out their lives there.

Canada.  Matthew Taylor was an Irishman from Derry who had emigrated to New Hampshire and then to Nova Scotia in the 1750’s.  His son James was a successful lumber merchant.  Other early Taylors in Nova Scotia were Loyalists.  William Taylor had arrived there in 1783 from New Jersey.  His son and grandson were merchants in Liverpool, Nova Scotia and active in local politics.

George Taylor, born at Berwick on the English-Scottish border, joined the Hudson Bay Company in 1786.  He was at Sloop Cove in Manitoba no less than a year later (carving his name on the rocks there).  He married an Indian woman and they had nine children.  But in 1818 he abandoned them all and returned to England.

John Taylor from Staffordshire and his brothers Thomas and George arrived at the newly-created town of Toronto in 1834.  They were to be pioneers in Toronto’s emerging pulp and paper industry along the Don river.

Caribbean.  Simon Taylor, born in Jamaica in 1740. was the son of Patrick Tailzour from Scotland and his wife Martha Taylor.   He became a sugar planter and was reputedly the richest man in Jamaica when he died in 1813.   Within twenty years his wealth had been squandered by George Watson-Taylor who had married into his family.

Australia.  Robert Taylor was originally from Wigan, a mill town in Lancashire.  In 1819 he was convicted of larceny and sentenced to transportation to New South Wales for seven years.  He was freed in 1826 and subsequently became a businessman and landowner in Sydney.  Located on Robert Taylor’s land and named after him is Sydney’s iconic Taylor Square.

Taylor Surname Miscellany

The Taylards of Huntingdon.  The original progenitor of the family, according to the Visitation of the County of Huntingdon in 1613, was Walter Taylard who lived in the early part of the 15th century.  He was described “of Wrestlingworth in Bedfordshire” and possessing estates in the county of Huntingdon.

A later William Taylard established himself at Diddington (sometimes spelt Doddington) in Huntingdonshre.  He died in 1505 and an elaborate monument, containing effigies of himself and his wife, was built for him in Diddington church.

These Taylards were country gentlemen and not in trade.  The Visitation did allude to the fact that the Taylard heir in the fourth generation married a tradesman’s daughter and that, by the sixth generation in the late 1500’s, two of the younger sons were in trade themselves.

It was at this time that Taylard was becoming Taylor.  A will in 1579 began: “Philip Taylor, citizen and draper of London, and son of Sir Lawrence Taylard,” although the spelling was still quite flexible at that time.

Sir Lawrence himself died in 1584 and his sole inheritor was his young grand-daughter Catharine.  She must have been quite a catch.  She did in fact marry Robert Brudenell at the tender age of fourteen and he was able to gain access to the Taylard estates.  The Taylards’ home at Upwood in Huntingdonshire was sold to Oliver Cromwell’s family in 1605.

Reader Feedback – Taylerfers in Kent.  My family believe they can trace the Taylor name back to 1066 when the Norman minstrel to William the conqueror Ivo? Taillefer was killed in the Battle of Hastings. Taillefer means “hewer of iron” in French. His descendant, Hanger Taylerfer had estates in Ospringe, Kent in the time of Henry III.

Richard Taylor (richard.spencer.taylor@gmail.com)

Rowland Taylor the Martyr.  The narrative of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs described Rowland Taylor’s return to Hadleigh to meet his death as follows:

“The condemned man is conducted by slow steps to his beloved Hadleigh. He is placid and even merry to the last.  He jests upon his burly and corpulent frame and holds that the worms in Hadleigh churchyard will be deceived, for the carcass that should have been theirs will be burned to ashes.  He asks to be taken through Hadleigh.  The streets are lined with his old parishioners.  He could see them.  But they could not look upon his face which had been covered through his journey with a hood, having holes for the eyes and mouth.”

On February 9, 1555 Rowland Taylor was burned at the stake at Hadleigh.  His wife Margaret was there with three of their children and ran to him to say goodbye.  According to Foxe, Rowland addressed his last words to his young son Thomas, aged just six at the time.  This Thomas is thought to have been the forebear of the James Taylor who came to Virginia in 1650.

Inside the 13th century St. Mary’s church at Hadleigh today is a chapel honoring his memory.  A stained-glass window depicts his trial and martyrdom.  In the chapel is an ancient bronze plaque commemorating his death.

The Line of Zachary Taylor.  Zachary Taylor and his wife Elizabeth were buried at Meadowfarm in Orange county, Virginia, the Taylor cemetery being located a mile and a half out of Orange.   A plaque on the wall inside the cemetery reads:

“In Memory of the first Master and Mistress of Meadow farm who are buried here:

  • Zachary Taylor 1707-1768, son of James Taylor II of Bloomsbury, knight of the Golden Horseshoe,
  • and Elizabeth Lee 1709-1753, daughter of Hancock Lee of Ditchley and granddaughter of Richard Lee.

They were the grandparents of President Zachary Taylor, the great aunt and uncle of President James Madison, and the great grandparents of Sara Knox Taylor, wife of President Jefferson Davis of the Confederacy.”

Another historical marker in Orange marks the location of his father’s plantation:

“A mile north is Bloomsbury, estate of the pioneer, James Taylor, ancestor of Presidents James Madison and Zachary Taylor.  He was a member of Spotswood’s expedition over the mountains in 1716.”

Spotswood’s expedition was in fact called the Knights of the Golden Horseshoe expedition across the Blue Ridge mountains. James, born in 1675, had grown up in New Kent county, Virginia where his immigrant father James had held land.

Joseph Taylor’s Antecedents.  Joseph Taylor who moved to North Carolina in 1756 to take up a land grant there was the forefather of William Taylor, one of the Mormon pioneers.  Just where the Taylor line ran before that is not quite clear.

The Pleasant Green Taylor family paid a professional genealogist to investigate just who “Mr. Taylor,” the father of Joseph Taylor, was.  He concluded that “Mr. Taylor” was Richard Taylor, son of Richard and grandson of Richard who lived at the junction of Julian Creek and the southern branch of the Elizabeth river in Norfolk county, Virginia.  However, the evidence he found, though comprehensive, was circumstantial.

Other digging has uncovered some more evidence, but still circumstantial, that supported this Richard theory.  It is speculated that the first Richard Taylor might have come from London.

Taylors in the 1891 Census

Taylor (000’s) Number Percent
Lancashire    41    22
Yorkshire    24    13
London    21    11
Elsewhere   100    54
Total   186   100

Mary Taylor – Victorian Feminist.  Mary Taylor, born in 1817 into a woollen merchant’s family at Gomersal in Yorkshire, was to flout the accepted norms for women in 19th century Victorian society.

She became a friend and inspiration to the writer Charlotte Brontë, encouraging her to venture abroad.  Later she herself travelled.  Challenging the strictures of her time she taught boys in Germany, she emigrated alone to Wellington in New Zealand in 1845 (when that country was still new to colonization), she ran a shop there, and she wrote three books.

When Mary returned to West Yorkshire in 1860, Gomersal Lodge was built as her home.  There she wrote articles for the magazine The Victoria.  In these articles she would outline her feminist views, such as calling on women to earn money to look after themselves so that they would not be so dependent on men.
Joan Bellamy’s 2001 book More Precious Than Rubies is a biography of her life.

Taylor Names

  • Rowland Taylor was the Protestant martyred by Queen Mary in 1555.
  • Robert Taylor was an early 19th century English Radical who challenged the Established Church.
  • Zachary Taylor was in 1849 the 12th President of the United States.
  • F.W. Taylor was a pioneer in the study of scientific management.
  • Guy Baker Taylor was the inventor of nylon.
  • A.J.P. Taylor was a distinguished British historian.
  • Elizabeth Taylor was the many-married British-born actress and celebrity.

Taylor Numbers Today

  • 458,000 in the UK (most numerous in West Midlands)
  • 268,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 165,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Taylor is the #3 ranked surname in the UK.

Taylor and Like Surnames   

The various medieval trades and occupations were a source of surnames as John the baker would over time would become known as John Baker.  Some skilled craftsmen – such as chandlers, fletchers and turners – were able to form guilds, protective organizations, and style themselves Worshipful Companies.  These are some of the occupational surnames that you can check out.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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