West Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select West Meaning
The four points of the compass transposed in England into
surnames. Of these, West has been the most popular
by far. Wests, curiously, were mainly to be found in the east of the
country. The first West surname recorded was in fact Maurice de
West in the pipe rolls of Essex in 1152. It was not where you
were but where you had come from
that determined your name here.

West Resources on

West Ancestry

One West family in fact originated in Devon in the west country, from
Thomas West of Hampton Cantilupe in the 13th century. These Wests
gained their spurs abroad, at Crecy and at Agincourt where Thomas West
died in the battle.

“A West, a la Warr and a Pelham took
King John of France prisoner at Poitiers in 1356. The West was
knighted on the field of battle by the Black Prince and after receiving
the honor said to the Prince, “Monseigneur, c’est Ie plus beau jour de
ma vie.” The West and la Warr families were shortly afterwards
united in marriage and “jour de ma vie” was adopted as the family

Their home
later, as Barons West
and de la Warr
, was Oakhanger in
Hampshire. One line made a name for themselves in Virginia
across the Atlantic. The main line eventually became the
Sackville-Wests and numbered Vita Sackville-West of the Bloomsbury set.

Another notable West family began traces back to Edmund West, clergyman
at St. Pauls in London in the 1550’s. The Rev. Richard West
married into the well-connected Temple family and was appointed
Archdeacon of Berkshire in the early 1700’s. His children were:
Vice Admiral Temple West (from whom came a judge in Bombay and the
private secretary to Prime Minster Gladstone); Mary West who married
Admiral Hood; and the writer and minor poet Gilbert West.

One West family started with Thomas West, born in the
village of Sibsey in Lincolnshire around 1470. These Wests were
yeomen farmers in the fens. Nicholas West, the Tudor bishop and
diplomat, was born in Putney. Another family line included the
scrivener John West, born in Twickenham
near London in 1641.

The Wests/de la Warrs came to America with Thomas West, Lord Delaware,
who arrived in Virginia in 1610 but died eight years later. Later
came Colonel John West who held land at West Point along the York river
and was also, like Thomas and another brother Francis, governor of
colonial Virginia.

Matthew West was a Baptist tailor who came to New England in 1635 and
settled with his brothers in Rhode Island. Another West, Francis
West, was also in Rhode Island by this time. He had married
Susannah Soule, daughter of one of the Mayflower passengers. These
Wests became large landowners in North Kingsdown, Rhode Island.
William West was a militia general during the Revolutionary War and
later served as deputy governor of the state.

Other early Wests in America were:

  • Anthony West of Accomac county, Virginia – thought to be related
    to the Wests/de la Warrs – who arrived in
    the colony as early as 1622. His descendants were among the
    early landed gentry on the Eastern Shore.
  • and Francis West who came to Duxbury, Massachusetts in the 1630’s
    and whose son Thomas
    , a doctor, had moved to Martha’s Vineyard by the
    1670’s. This line was covered in Carlton West’s 1987 book Descendants of Francis West of Duxbury.

Lette Brock Stone’s 1928 book The
West Family Register
traced the early Wests in America.
Later West arrivals included some Wests from Germany.

John West from Scotland had come via Canada to California in 1849 in search of gold.
Finding none, he moved to Oregon where he started a sawmill. The community of Westport grew up around his
sawmill. He later started a fish cannery
there and invented an automatic can-filling machine.
His name lives on in the British company John
West Foods.

South Africa. Thomas West from
Bristol, having served the
Royal Navy, was an early arrival in South Africa, pre-dating even the
Settlers. He was resident in Cape Town
by 1796 and married Dorothea van der Schyff there a year later. Many of their children settled in Grahamstown
on the Eastern Cape.

Australia. John West came out to
Tasmania with the
Colonial Missionary Society in 1838. He
became pastor of a Congregational chapel there and, after some
experiences, became editor of the Sydney
Morning Herald

Thomas West from
Sussex came in a different capacity, as a convict sentenced to life for
burglary in 1801. Twelve years later he
received a conditional pardon in Sydney and, starting with the gift of
a cow,
developed a herd of cattle and extensive grazing lands.
On his death in 1848 his son Obed West expanded
the family’s sizeable land holdings in NSW.


West Miscellany

West, East, North and South.  The four points of the compass transposed in England into surnames.  Of these, West has been by far the most popular.  The numbers in England today are:

in England  Numbers (000’s)  Share (%)
West     57   66
North     14   16
East     10   12
South      5    6

 West and De La Warr.  Baron West
was a title created in 1402 for Sir Thomas West
of Oakhanger, Northampton.  He married
the heiress Joan de la Warr, through whom his second son eventually
Baron De La Warr.  The two titles
descended in tandem until the death of Thomas West, the 6th Lord West
and 9th
Lord de la Warr, in 1554.  Then, in 1572,
the heir male and nephew of
the co-heirs general was created Baron de la Warr, but not Baron West.

In America Thomas West, the 12th Baron de la Warr, is
usually named in history books as Lord Delaware.  He
served as governor of the Jamestown colony.  The Delaware bay,
Delaware river, and the state of Delaware were named
after him.

John and Francis West of Twickenham.  The Wests had come originally from Guildford in Surrey.  Edward West, described variously as a weaver
and a yeoman, had married in Guildford in 1584 and again there in 1605.  He and his family moved to Twickenham a few
years later.  At
a Court of the Manor of
Isleworth held in early 1611 he was admitted to “one cottage with
appurtenances, lying and being in Twickenham.”

four generations of this West family supplied churchwardens to
the Twickenham parish over the course of the 17th century.
A branch of the family moved to Hampton,
remaining there until the early 1700’s.

best-known of these Wests was Edward’s grandson, John West, born in
in 1641.  He became a scrivener (scribe)
and an extremely
wealthy one.  He and his wife Francis
were public benefactors.  And they are
remembered today.  “West Day” is an
annual event held by the John and Francis Family Group to celebrate the
of this family and its descendants.

Early Wests in America.  Lette Brock Stone’s 1928 book The West Family Register traced the early Wests in America.  These Wests included:

  • Captain
    John West, Governor of Virginia, and his descendants, among whom was
    the noted
    Antarctic explorer, Richard E. Byrd
  • Anthony
    West of Accomac, Virginia, who was said to have come to the colonies in
    the James
    in 1622, and his descendants
  • Joseph West
    of Prince Georges county, Maryland and his descendants elsewhere in
    and Kentucky
  • Sir
    Stephen West who
    settled in Prince Georges County in 1700 and his descendants
  • Ignatius West of Chatham county, North
    Carolina and his descendants
  • William
    West, also of Chatham County, who later relocated to Kentucky
  • Francis
    West of Duxbury, Massachusetts
  • Caleb
    West of Philadelphia
  • Benjamin
    West the artist, his English
    ancestry and American descendants
  • the
    West families of Stafford, Prince William, and Fairfax counties Virginia
  • William
    West from Sligo in Ireland and his descendants
    in Pennsylvania and Maryland
  • Robert
    of Sussex county, Delaware
  • Walker
    of Garrard county, Kentucky
  • William
    and his descendants of Norfolk and Princess Anne counties, Virginia
  • and
    various other miscellaneous West families.

The Wests on the Eastern Shore.  The Wests were part of the early landed gentry on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.  John West had married Matilda Scarburgh – the daughter of Colonel Edmund Scarburgh, a leading figure in the area.  The Wests lived on Onacock Creek.

Calvin West described a visit to that area in the 1930’s:

found the old homestead
located on the shore of Deep Creek, an arm of
Bay, on
land that had been in the family since their arrival on the Eastern
Shore.  The old English colonial house,
with the ends
of brick and the front and back of hewn timbers, still stands but,
unoccupied, shows neglect.

A few feet
from the southwest corner of the house is the family burying ground,
several generations lie buried.  The
marble headstones were brought from England.”

Thomas West of Martha’s Vineyard.  Thomas West
was evidently a man of education and superior ability and, arriving on
Vineyard in the early 1670’s, was its first known practitioner of
medicine and
surgery.  He also prosecuted the first
trials for murder on the island.

had the further distinction of being a
member with his wife Elizabeth of the Third Sabbatarian (Seventh Day)
Baptist Church.  He was elected ‘townsman’
of Tisbury on
Martha’s Vineyard in 1678 and was on a committee to make rates the

But he was also indicted and fined in
1678 for ‘unsavory speeches,’ sued for defamation in 1687, and in 1702
from his church for disobeying the tenets of the communion (although
his wife
and other members of his family continued in good standing).

He died in 1706, aged sixty.  His son
Thomas was a seaman and pilot at Martha’s Vineyard, his
grandson Thomas a clergyman there.


West Names

  • Nicholas West, sometime Bishop of Ely and chaplain to Catherine of Aragon, served as an English diplomatic envoy in the early 16th century.
  • Thomas West, Baron de la Warr, was captain general in Virginia in 1610. The state of
    Delaware was named after him.
  • Captain John West was a Scottish emigrant to Oregon on the West Coast who started the canning
    and exports of salmon. His name has continued in the John West Foods brand.
  • Vita Sackville-West was an English author and poet, part of the Bloomsbury set.
  • Rebecca West, born Cicely Fairfield, was an English writer and journalist.
  • Mae West was an American actress and sex symbol of the 1920’s and 30’s.

Select West Numbers Today

  • 57,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Lincolnshire)
  • 71,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 23,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)



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