Temple Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Temple Surname Meaning

The Temple surname is indisputably associated with the Knights Templar, crusaders of the 12th century.  Temple here could apply to a horse soldier employed as a Templar, to someone who worked at the Knights’ headquarters known as the Temple, or to someone who lived on Templar lands.

In England the surname Temple was also given to foundlings baptized at the Temple Church in London, so called because it was built on land belonging to the Templars.  The surname may also be Scottish from the parish of Temple in Edinburgh, so called because it was the site of the local headquarters of the Knights Templar.

Temple Surname Resources on The Internet

Temple Surname Ancestry

  • from England (East Coast)
  • to Ireland, America and canada

EnglandThe Knights Templar owned land throughout England and the Temple place-name was to be found in many places – for example in London (the Inns of Temple), in Lincolnshire (Temple Bruer), in Yorkshire (Temple Newsam), in Leicestershire (Rothley Temple), and in Cornwall (Temple on Bodmin Moor).

The Temples of Leicestershire claimed a pre-Norman ancestry.  Henry de Temple was the first to adopt the Temple name in the 13th century. W.H. Whitmore’s 1856 book Account of the Temple Family covered the early lineage.  The family home was Temple Hall near Wellsborough where they were to remain until the 1660’s.  Peter Temple, a staunch Puritan there, had signed the King’s regicide in 1649 and his property was forfeited on the Restoration.

However, Temples by the 1600’s had established themselves elsewhere:

  • Peter Temple leased Stowe manor in Buckinghamshire in 1571 and his grandson Thomas was able to purchase a baronetcy for himself in 1611.  The last of the Stowe line was Field Marshal Richard Temple, created Viscount Cobham, who died childless in 1749.  
  • but this Temple name re-established itself in 1796 when Richard, whose mother was a Temple, assumed the Temple name.  These Temples were 19th century British administrators in India and made baronets.  

Meanwhile Thomas Temple of the family had been made Provost of Trinity College in Dublin in 1609.  His son and grandson both lived in a city townhouse that is now part of the Temple Bar in Dublin.

Thomas was the forebear of an Anglo-Irish dynasty that included First Lords of the Admiralty, Secretaries of State, First Lords of the Treasury, and the 19th century British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston.  His name came from the family estate that is now a Dublin village.  

There was another Temple family in Wiltshire, at Bishopstrow House near Warminster.  William Temple from Devon had acquired the estate in 1635 and it remained with the Temple family until 1950.  William Temple endowed the local St. John’s church that was built in 1865.

However, Temples in the south have been outnumbered by the Temples in the north, in particular in the northeast running down from Northumberland to the Temples in north Yorkshire.

William Temple had been born in Berwick-on-Tweed, just across the border in Scotland, around the year 1650. His son George and grandson William held the post there of General Riding Surveyor and were important merchants in the town.  Later Temples of this family were:

  • the Rev. William Temple, an English cleric and essayist of the late 18th century, now remembered as a correspondent of James Boswell  
  • and the Rev. Frederick Temple who served as the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1896 until his death in 1902.  His son William Temple was also Archbishop of Canterbury, from 1942 to 1944.

Other Temples of NE England were:

  • a Temple line, beginning with Lionel Temple of Hutton Buscell near Scarborough in Yorkshire, dating from the late 1500’s  
  • George Temple, of possible Scottish origin, who married Margaret Partis in Elsdon, Northumberland in 1751.  George died there in 1815 at the grand age of ninety five.  
  • Simon Temple, father and son shipbuilders in South Shields, Durham in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
  • while Thomas Temple, born in 1797 in Skelton near York, was an ancestor of Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge. 

Scotland.  The Knights Templar were also in Midlothian in Scotland. The Temple surname in Scotland, originally Tempill, came from the Temple village there. 

Ireland.  The census of 1659 recorded the Temple name in Dublin, this being the illustrious Anglo-Irish family. Another English implant was the Temples at Tipperary and later at Cork. Captain Robert Temple departed Cork for America in 1717.

The Temple name later surfaced in Donegal.  John Magee had opened a small drapers shop in Donegal Town in 1866. His cousin Robert Temple joined the business a few years later and acquired it in 1900. Magee of Donegal, well-known for its tweeds and knitwear, is now run by the 3rd and 4th generation of Temples. 

America.  Temple descendants in America were traced in Levi Temple’s 1900 book Some Temple Pedigrees.

New England.  The first Temple in America was Abraham Temple who had come to Salem, Massachusetts in 1636, but died four years later.  His origins are uncertain (although he has been linked with the Stowe Temples).

One son Richard made his home in Concord, another son Robert Temple departed to Saco, Maine. However, after Robert’s death in 1675, the family reassembled in Massachusetts.  His eldest son Richard was the forebear of the Temples of Reading, Massachusetts.

Captain Robert Temple arrived in Boston from Ireland in 1717 and immediately started plans for a Scots Irish settlement in Maine.  Several hundred immigrants arrived at Temple Bar (now Bath in Maine). But the settlement was not a success and the immigrants dispersed.  Captain Temple returned to Boston and acquired the Ten Hills farm on the Mystic river.

Virginia.  William Temple came to Virginia sometime in the 1680’s.  His line was covered in Lucy Temple’s 1978 book William Temple of Prince George County.

Joseph Temple, the son of a Bristol merchant, arrived in 1722 and started the Pres’quile plantation in King William county.  His son Benjamin inherited the estate and later fought in the Revolutionary War.

“Benjamin Temple fought on the American side in the Revolutionary War, even though his cousin George Grenville had been the British Prime Minister who had been the author of the odious Stamp Acts.  Benjamin forfeited his rights to titles and estates which might have come to him from England.”  

Elsewhere.  George Temple had arrived in Maryland in the mid-1700’s.  He purchased land in Queen Anne’s county that came to be known as Templeville. His grandson William became Governor of Delaware in 1846 at the young age of thirty two.

Alexander Temple came to upstate New York from Aberdeenshire in Scotland sometime in the 1780’s. His son Robert, who based himself in Pennsylvania, was a drummer boy in the War of 1812. A descendant was Shirley Temple, the famous child actress of the 1930’s.

Heading West.   Jonathan Temple from Reading, Massachusetts departed first for the Hawaiian islands and then came to Los Angeles while it was still Mexican territory in 1828. Known as Don Juan Temple, he became a leading merchant there and was one of its earliest developers.

The momentum was continued by his younger half-brother Pliny Fisk Temple who arrived from Massachusetts in 1841.  The Temple and Workman families, connected by marriage, were prominent in Los Angeles’s later development under the US flag. 

Canada.  Two Temples came to New Brunswick in the early 1800’s in different guises.

William Temple arrived in St. John from London in 1820 and soon established himself as one of the leading Methodist ministers in the Maritime provinces.  Thomas Temple meanwhile came with the British army in the 1830’s.  He later was a prominent businessman and political figure in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

Temple Surname Miscellany

Whu Were The Knights Templar?  The Knights Templar, also known as the knights of St. John, were a crusading order named because they claimed the right to occupy the site in Jerusalem of the original Christian temple.   Templar knights in their distinctive white mantles with a red cross were among the most skilled fighting units of the Crusades.

The order was founded in 1118 in France and grew rapidly in membership and power throughout Europe.  It soon became one of the wealthiest and most powerful orders in Christendom. They were particularly prominent in Christian finance.  Non-combatant members managed a large economic infrastructure, developing innovative financial techniques that were an early form of banking.  They were also major landowners.

The order flourished for two hundred years.  However, when the Holy Land was lost, support for the order faded. Rumors about the Templars’ secret initiation ceremony created distrust.

King Philip IV of France, deeply in debt to the order, took advantage of the situation to gain control over them. In 1307 he had many of the order’s members in France arrested, tortured into giving false confessions, and burned at the stake. Pope Clement V suppressed the order as being heretical in 1312 under pressure from King Philip. The abrupt reduction in power of a significant group in European society gave rise to speculation, legend, and legacy around the Knights Templar through the ages.

With their military mission and extensive financial resources, the Knights Templar had funded a large number of building projects around Europe. Many of these structures are still standing.  Many sites also maintain the name “Temple” because of a centuries-old association with the Templars.

For example, some of the Templars’ lands in London were later rented to lawyers which led to the Temple Bar gateway; while two of the four Inns of Court which may call members to act as barristers are the Inner Temple and Middle Temple.

The Temple Surname in Scotland.  George Fraser Black in his 1946 book The Surnames of Scotland had the following to say about the Temple surname.

“The Temple surname came from the village of Temple in the parish of the same name in Midlothian, formerly the principal place of residence of the Knights Templars in Scotland.  The preceptories or priories of the Knights Templars were often called Temples and even manorial residences and estates belonging to them obtained the same appellation.

The name consequently passed to the tenant or bailiff of such a property.   Agnes de Tempill held land at Elstanfurd in Haddingtonshire in 1429.   William Tempill, canon of the Collegiate Church of Holy Trinity in Edinburgh, appeared frequently in records in the first half of the 16th century.”

Legend has it that, when the Knights Templar were dissolved in 1312, their treasure was secretly removed from Paris, to be hidden at Temple in Scotland.  A local rhyme goes:

  • “Twixt the oak and the elm tree,
  • You will find buried the millions free.”

The Temples in Leicestershire.  The family of Temple was, according to various genealogists, descended from a younger son of Leofrick, the Saxon Earl of Mercia.  His wife was the Godiva who had ridden naked through the streets of Coventry.  He himself died in Coventry in 1057.

From this family came Henry del Temple who lived in a manor near Bosworth in Leicestershire.  The family took their name from the manor of Temple which the Earl of Leicester had given to the Knights Templar and they to Henry.  The family home there became Temple Hall.

Temples in North Yorkshire.  The 1851 Census listed 96 individuals with the surname Temple in north Yorkshire, with 49 of these living in just six locations – Cayton, Ebbertson, Raskelf, Sawdon, Scarborough and Snainton.

Taken as a whole, the Temples were spread along the North Sea coast from Redcar to Scarborough and through the southern edge of what is now the North Yorkshire Moors National Park.  It seems likely that many of these families stemmed from the same ancestry.

Robert and Richard Temple in Massachusetts and Maine.  Robert Temple was born in 1639 in Salem, Massachusetts, the son of immigrant Abraham Temple. At the age of twenty one he was fined in Salem for wearing silver lace when he was thought not to have property sufficient to sustain such expense.

Perhaps because of this affront, he departed for Saco, Maine soon after.  He was a constable there in 1671 and a selectman in 1672.  Tradition is that he was killed by Indians at Biddeford, Maine during Philips War in 1675.

His wife and family then returned to Massachusetts. The eldest son Richard, born in 1668, was the forebear of the Temples of Reading, Massachusetts.

Don Juan Temple in California.  Jonathan Temple – who styled himself Don Juan Temple – was a Yankee who did very well in Mexican California. He had arrived at the Pueblo de Los Angeles in 1828 and opened the settlement’s first store there. Two years later he married Rafaela Cota, a good marriage for him as she was connected to nearly every prominent family in California.

In 1843 he purchased the Rancho Los Cerritos from his wife’s relatives.  His adobe survives as part of National Landmark site there. Temple created a thriving cattle ranch and prospered, making him one of the wealthiest men in post-statehood Los Angeles county.

His marriage to Rafaela was quite fortunate, as she was connected to nearly every prominent family in California.

One contemporary Horace Bell remarked that Temple was at one time the richest man in Mexico.  He almost owned the whole Mexican government; foreclosed a mortgage on the Mint at Mexico City; and coined money on his own account.  He recollected:

“John Temple used to bleed this county at the rate of about $100,000 a year.  This was, money received from his immense sales of cattle, all of which he would carry to Mexico City for investment.

Dave Brown and two other men were determined to waylay Temple on his way to San Pedro, murder him if necessary, but without fail to secure his bags of gold.  Temple would start out in the morning about sunrise.  The arrangement was that Brown and co. would leave town during the night and lay in wait in the high mustard down about Florence, stop Temple and rob him, convey the cash to the river bed and bury it in the water and sand, and wait and take their chances.

Fortunately or unfortunately, as the reader may choose to regard it, about twilight on the eve of the contemplated robbery, Dave Brown accidentally let his revolver go off on the sidewalk in front of the Bella Union and shot himself in the foot, a circumstance well remembered by many pioneers. A lucky shot for old John Temple, surely.”

Temple Names

  • Henry Temple, better known as Lord Palmerston, was a British statesman who dominated its foreign policy in the mid-19th century and twice served as its Prime Minister. 
  • Jonathan Temple was a prominent early merchant and developer of Los Angeles in the mid-19th century. 
  • Shirley Temple was an American actress who was Hollywood’s number one box-office draw as a child actress in the late 1930’s.

Temple Numbers Today

  • 7,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 8,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 4,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)



Written by Colin Shelley

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