Turner Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Turner Meaning
Turner is in England mainly an occupational name for a maker
of objects of wood, metal, or bone by the turning of a lathe.  It
from the Anglo-Norman French tornier.  The products of the
craft were wooden measures and a great variety of small objects used in
home, on the farm, and in industry.
Turner may in some places have been derived
from the name of the official in charge of a tournament (from the Old
French tornei);
or it may have been a nickname for a fast runner – from the fusion of the Middle English elements turnen, meaning “to turn,” plus hare or hare.
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Select Turner Ancestry

England.  There was a guild of turners in London,
starting around 1310, which still exists today.
The heyday for furniture turners was the maple period of the
late 17th
century.  There followed a decline until
the mid-19th century when there was a revival of interest in the old

The earliest references to Turner as a surname appear to have been in
Oxfordshire.  Turners were quite numerous
in Norfolk by Elizabethan times.  An early surname spelling, found in Suffolk and Essex, was Tournour.

A Turner family of Mulbarton and Keningham in
Norfolk began in the mid-1500’s with William Turner, said to have been
servant of a local landowner.  Some of
these Turners later moved to Great
Yarmouth.  But Turners were still farming
on the land there in 1900.

There were a number of other Turner families at Great

  • Francis Turner was the minister of St. George’s Chapel for
    forty eight years in the mid-18th century and was the
    first of a
    distinguished Turner family based on Bracondale Hill.
  • while James Turner was
    head of the Yarmouth Bank in the 1770’s.  His
    son Dawson was a noted antiquarian, his grandson Frank a
    poet and
    man of letters.

Turners from North Elmham near King’s Lynn dated from the
mid-1600’s.  They were country
lawyers. However, a marriage connection
with the influential Walpole family enabled Charles Turner and his
descendants at
Warham to become baronets.

Some Turners prospered in trade and were able to
purchase country mansions:

  • the Turners
    of Kirkleatham in north Yorkshire began with John Turner, a wealthy
    London wool
    merchant from Herefordshire, who had acquired the estate in 1623.  His son William, Lord Mayor of London in
    1669, endowed the local hospital and had the school named after him.
  • while the
    Turners of Ambroseden in Oxfordshire had their beginnings with Richard
    Turner of
    Sutton Coldfield in Warwickshire.  He
    came to London in the mid-16th century to seek his fortune.  His grandson John Turner, basing himself in
    the Canaries, grew rich from the wine trade; and Sir Edward of the next
    generation acquired Ambroseden in 1729 and became a baronet.

Other notable
Turner families of the 16th century were to be found in Berkshire and

Later, the Turner name became fairly widespread around the
country.  However, the largest numbers in
the 1891 census
were to be found in the north – with
Derbyshire and Staffordshire accounting for 40% of all Turners.

.  Thomas Dictas Turner was
recorded as holding
land in Aberdeenshire in 1382.  William
Turner, born there around 1645, seems to have been the forebear of
Turners who
emigrated to Maryland in the next century.

Turners in Scotland have been
associated with the Lamont clan of south Argyll and there were Turners
there in
the 17th and 18th centuries.  The Turner
name first appeared in Glasgow in the 1730’s and more Turners are to be

The best known Scottish Turner is probably Sir John Turner, a soldier
born near Edinburgh.  He was first a
mercenary, then a Royalist officer during the Civil War, and later the
of the Covenanters.

America.  John Turner was a passenger
on the Mayflower in 1620.  However,
neither he nor his two sons survived
the first winter in America.

Humphrey Turner, a tanner from Essex who arrived
with his family in 1628 and settled in Scituate, Massachusetts, did
survive.  His descendants became
long-term residents of the area.  A
branch under the Rev. Charles Turner later moved to Maine.
There is no relationship, according to the
Mayflower Society, between Humphrey and John of the Mayflower.

Robert Turner, an indentured servant from Norfolk,
arrived in Massachusetts in 1635.  His
son was Captain John Turner who prospered as a hat and shoe merchant
but died
at sea in 1680.  He left to his family his House of Seven Gables
home in Salem which
remained with the Turner family for three generations.
The house was immortalized in Nathaniel
Hawthorne’s novel of the same name and is now a town museum.

Early Turners in Virginia

  • Richard Turner who arrived
    there from England sometime in the 1680’s
  • and Terisha
    who was
    born in Virginia in 1709 and died there 92 years later.   

From Richard Turner came the line of James
Turner, Governor and Senator for North Carolina from 1802 to 1815.  James Turner himself was born in 1766 in
Southampton county where his family was briefly. Southampton county is
better known as the place where Nat Turner raised his slave rebellion
1831.  Nat Turner had been born on the Virginia farm of Benjamin
Turner in

Turner was a slave on the Port Royal plantation in Virginia in the
1820’s.  His son Alexander escaped and
emancipation moved north to Maine and later to Vermont

Canada.  Robert Turner from Bracondale in Norfolk came to Canada in
the 1830’s.  A wealthy lawyer, he built
his Bracondale Hill home in the
fashionable outskirts of Toronto.  The
house survived until 1937.


Turner Miscellany

Early Turnours as Turners.  The Turnour spelling was evident in the 15th century
but it seemed to have mainly died out by the 16th:

  • William
    Turnour was rector of Rayne in Essex
    in 1440.
  • the
    birth of Henry Turnour was
    recorded in Haverhill, Suffolk in 1478.  But
    two generations later the spelling was Turner.
  • while
    William Turnour, a merchant of
    Scotland, was granted a safe conduct to travel into England in 1473.  The same name appeared in Edinburgh records
    in 1481.

However, one legal family of Suffolk and Essex did
seem flexible between the Turnour, Turnor, and Turner spellings in the
century.  This family later held estates
in Galway. 

The Turners of Mulberton and Keningham.  The first recorded of this line was William Turner who
died in 1547 and was a servant of Sir John Robsart of Stanfield Hall
nearby in
Norfolk.   Either
William’s son, Thomas or, according to Blomefield’s History
of Norfolk
, his son John bought
Keningham Manor from Sir Thomas Gresham in 1570.  The
estate included about 500 acres of
land.  How the Turners were able to make
this step into land ownership is not known.

Turner family remained associated with
Keningham estate for several generations.
Many of their names were recorded on the Turner memorials in the
church.  John Turner, listed as owner of
Keningham and yeoman in White’s Directory
of 1845, eventually sold the estate in 1861.
It did in part come back to the Turners in 1886 through John
who was married to a Turner.

Howard Turner compiled a history of the family in his 1907 book The
Family of Mulbarton and Great Yarmouth

Turners in the 1891 Census

Turners (000’s) Numbers Percent
Lancashire    12    15
Yorkshire    10    13
Staffordshire     5     6
London/SE    20    26
Elsewhere    30    40
Total    77   100

The House of Seven Gables.  The earliest section of the House of the Seven Gables was
built in Salem, Massachusetts in 1667 for Captain John Turner.  It remained in his family for three
generations, descending from John Turner II to John Turner III.

Facing south towards Salem Harbor, it was
originally a two-room, two-story house with cross-gables and a massive
chimney.  This portion now forms the
middle of the house.   In 1692, John
Turner II added a new north kitchen ell to the rear of the house, as
well as
the famous “secret stairway” within the rebuilt main chimney (built
at the time of the Salem witch trials).
About 1725 he remodeled the house into the new Georgian

After John Turner III lost the family
the house was acquired by the Ingersoll family in 1782.
One of their relatives was Nathaniel
Hawthorne who often stayed there when he was a child and later
immortalized the
house in his works.  It was described by
Hawthorne and, hence his fascination, as “a
rusty, wooden
house, with seven acutely peaked gables, facing towards various points
of the
compass.  And a huge clustered chimney in
the middle.”

Terisha Turner in Virginia.  Terisha Turner’s life span was long.  He was born in Hanover county, Virginia
around the year 1709 and died in Amherst county in 1801 at the age of ninety
two.   His name was probably
Terrisha, since his nickname was Terry.

earliest land record of him showed that he patented 200 acres of land
on the
south side of the James river in 1749.  He married Sarah Wimpey
who died
in 1806.   They had eight children.  He
appeared on the 1783 tax list of Virginia
with five in his family and twelve slaves.
Old Terisha died in 1801 owning several thousand acres, not only
Virginia but in North Carolina as well. He called himself ‘ancient’ in
his will
which had been written in 1793 and proven in 1802.

descendants followed a classic migration
route – from Virginia to North Carolina, then through Tennessee to
Missouri, Illinois, and points further west.
Toby Turner’s branch came to Texas after the Civil War. 

Robert Turner and Bracondale Hill.  Robert Turner was a wealthy lawyer in Toronto in the 1840’s who lived with his family in what was called “one of the fashionable houses of
York.”  He then purchased
land in the outskirts of the town.  From the
finest five-acre section, the site of the ancient oak forest on the
crest of
Davenport hill, he carved out his estate.

This estate included several buildings, an
orchard, a large market garden, stables and a Georgian-style home he
named Bracondale Hill after his home in
Norfolk back in England.  Robert and his
family moved there when all was completed in 1847.

was undoubtedly relieved
to move his family to the countryside.  Typhoid
was rampant in the city and in 1849 the downtown core of Toronto was
by fire. Early settlers believed in the health-giving properties of the
air up
Davenport hill.

village of
Bracondale sprang up around the original estate, taking its name from
Turner home.  In 1880 Robert’s son Frank
the Bracondale Post Office.  Bracondale
itself was boarded up in
the 1930’s and then demolished by the city in 1937.


Turner Names

  • J.M.W. Turner was an early 19th century English Romantic landscape painter.
  • Nat Turner led the largest slave rebellion in the antebellum South in 1831.
  • Frederick Turner, an American historian, is best known for his work, The Significance of the Frontier in American History. 
  • Lana Turner was a glamorous  American actress.
  • Ted Turner was the pioneer developer of CNN, the cable news show.
  • Tina Turner has been called “the queen of rock and roll.”

Select Turner Numbers Today

  • 125,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Yorkshire)
  • 125,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 61,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


Select Turner 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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