White Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select White Meaning
White in England could owe his name
from an
ancestor bearing the Old English name Hwita,
from hwit or white, or be a
for someone with white
hair or an unnaturally pale complexion. The German Weiss has a similar origin, as does
the Dutch Witt or de Witt.
White in Scotland and Ireland, if not an implant, would have
displaced the Gaelic ban or fionn, meaning “white” or
“fair.” And a number of the French Huguenots fleeing France for
in the 17th century
changed their names from Blanc to White.

Other suggestions for the origin of the White name have been:

  • from the Anglo-Saxon wiht,
    meaning “valiant,” which gave rise to both the White and Wight names
  • from atte wyte, one who
    lived by a bend in the river
  • or from Wait or White,
    a place name in Devon.

White Resources on

Select White Ancestry

England. White
appeared as a name in pre-1066 documents,
possibly to describe the pale Saxons or Vikings in contrast to the
original Celts.


in England were Walter Whyte, knighted by Henry II in 1171 and probably
the first known bearer of the White surname, and Robert Whyte of
knighted in 1303

Another Robert White was a merchant at Calais across the
Channel in the late 1400’s. These Whites
were based at Farnham in
Surrey for
several generations.
From this
family came the White landowners in Nottinghamshire.
Thomas White held Tuxford Manor in
Elizabethan times and they maintained their fortunes through propitious
marriages, with the Wallingwells heiress in 1698 and the Woollaston
heiress in

The Whites of London were early cloth merchants, most notably Sir
White who was Lord Mayor of London in 1553. He was a principal
member of
the guild of merchant taylors and helped found the Merchant Taylors’
School in
London. A Catholic, he also founded St.
John’s College in Oxford.

At the same time Thomas White, a descendant of the
Farnham Whites, was Warden of New College, Oxford and a man of
Puritan views. His nephew was the Rev.

John White who became the patriarch of Dorchester and founder of the
Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The spelling here could be either White or Whyte. The earliest
– an Uwiaett Hwite in Coldringham, Berwickshire in 1097 – may have been

White was also a semi-translation of the Highland Gaelic Mac
, “son of the fair-haired servant or youth.” And
Whyte was adopted as a name by many of the MacGregors and Lamonts when
were outlawed and had their own names proscribed.

But both White and Whyte have
been more a Lowland name. The spelling
today is about 65% White and 35% Whyte.
Robert Whytte was the first Provost of Kirkcaldy in Fife in 1658. John White began his company in Fife making
weighing machines in 1715 and it is still operating today under the

Ireland. Walter
was part of Strongbow’s invasion force in 1170 and
the Whyte name started to appear in Limerick from 1213.
branch of this family
became landed gentry in county Clare.
Father James White, who compiled a history of Limerick in 1738,
was from
this family. Simon White
was sheriff of Limerick City in 1684 and its mayor in
1696. Another White family, this time
Catholic, was based at Knocksentry in Limerick.

The Whites of Waterford first began to
appear among the list of mayors in 1414.
This family resided at Whyteshall
near Clonmel in county Kilkenny. Sir Nicholas White was Master of the Rolls in the
reign of Queen Elizabeth.

Whites in Ireland were later English or Scottish arrivals. Sir
White came to Cork in the 1660’s, having acquired land there, and his
held estates on Bantry Bay until 1913.
Scots Whites tended to settle in Ulster.

the surname is mostly found in Clare, Galway,
Limerick, Waterford and Kilkenny
. The spelling is roughly 80% White and 20%

America. The White name figured
prominently in the early English settlement of America. John
White, a
Puritan preacher in Dorchester, was the founder of the Massachusetts
Bay Colony
which sent the first large party of English people to settle in New
England in

He himself never sailed to America. Other Whites did.
William White was a passenger on the Mayflower who died during
the first
winter. But his son Peregrine White, who was the
first English child
born to
the Pilgrims in the New World, did survive. Meanwhile, John White
Somerset, possibly related, arrived in 1638 and settled in Salem,

Thomas White came to Maryland from London as a surveyor in 1720 and
later moved onto Philadelphia. There he
was the founder of what became the University of Pennsylvania. His son William was the first Episcopal
Bishop of Pennsylvania. Related Whites
in New York was wealthy merchants who as ardent Loyalists had to depart
London in 1783.

and Hugh White from Scottish Covenanter roots
had come from Ireland to Bucks county, Pennsylvania in 1722. John
born in Rowan county, North Carolina, was a captain in the county’s
during the Revolutionary War and led an expedition in 1783 into the
upper Tennessee
valley where he set his eyes on the future site of Knoxville.
Whites of this line started the White Furniture company in Mebane,
Carolina in 1881.

Robert White, also from
a Covenanter family, was the progenitor of a distinguished White
family of Virginia and West Virginia. He had resigned his
position in the
Royal Navy in England and set off for America in the 1720’s because his
sweetheart was there. He became one of the first settlers of
county, Virginia. He built his home White Hall there and
physician’s practice.

Another Virginia White family began with the marriage of
James Taylor White and Elizabeth Powe in Orange county around the year
1730. They moved to the Carolinas in the
1750’s. Their son James was in
Mississippi (Natchez) in 1782 and his line was later to be found in
and Texas.

James’s son Martin White,
who crossed into Spanish
Texas in 1822, was a Texas pioneer.
Taylor White, probably related, arrived in Texas in 1828, also
Louisiana. He was a cattleman and came
to be known as the “Cattle King of SE Texas.”
cattle brand, the “crossed W”
inherited from his father in 1806, continued to be used by later Whites

James White and his wife Sarah from Somerset arrived
in Sydney in 1826 and acquired land in the Hunter valley district of

  • their eldest son James, born in 1828, grew up
    to be a well-known racehorse owner and breeder
  • son William became an Archdeacon and
    son Edward a cattle rancher in the
    Hunter valley
  • but it was another son
    Francis who was to have the most famous offspring.
    His son James was
    well-known breeder of Aberdeen Angus cattle, his
    grandson Patrick White became Australia’s most renowned author.

and George White
were early settlers in South Australia in 1836


White Miscellany

The Whyte Family in Ireland.  The Waterford & S.E. Ireland Archaelogical Society Journal had the following entry about the Whytes:

family of Whyte held a distinguished position in Wales in the reign of
II, where Ethebert Whyte governed the southern province as Justiciary
Proconsul.  His son Chevalier Gautier (Walter) Whyte and his
brothers assisted
Strongbow, Earl of Pembroke, in the invasion of Ireland.
The Whyte family established themselves in
county Waterford and in different parts of Ireland.
Sir Nicholas White was Master of the Rolls in
the reign of Queen Elizabeth and owner at that time of Duncannon

Abbe MacGeoghegan remarked that the Whites
were to be found in the counties of Kilkenny, Wexford, and Down. Among
different families of the Whites, “that of Lexlip was the most
celebrated for
its opulence, magnificence and illustrious alliances.”
Leixlip lay outside Dublin and had been
acquired by Sir Nicholas White in 1567.

Early Whites in England.  Walter Whyte, knighted by Henry II in 1171, was the first known bearer of the White surname in England.  He was one of the soldiers of fortune who
accompanied Strongbow to Ireland in 1168.  He
died in the year 1188 and was buried at the Abbey of
Greyfriars in

Robert Whyte of Egton in the
North Riding was recorded as a knight in Yorkshire in 1303.  His line has been traced in Yorkshire through
the 14th century.   Johannis White was an
alderman of York in 1394.  His son of the
same name, then living at Cilyngham in Nottinghamshire, was named in
the list
of landed gentry in 1428. 

The Whites of Farnham.  The first sighting of this family was in Yateley in Hampshire and Robert White, recorded as a wool merchant there.  He may have been the mayor of Sandwich in the 1430’s.  He died in 1467 and his son John
died in 1469 two years later.

John’s son was the Robert White who made the
family fortune as a merchant in Calais.
During his lifetime Robert acquired estates at Farnham in Surrey
South Warnborough in Hampshire.

Robert died in 1518.  Eight sons were
mentioned in his will:
Robert, Henry, Thomas, William, John the elder, John the younger,
Leonard and
Eustace.   John the elder was the
Bishop of Winchester, John the younger the future Sir John White, MP
and Lord
Mayor of London in 1563.  The line
meanwhile from the eldest son Robert descended to Sir Thomas White of

John the Bishop and Sir Thomas had strong Catholic tendencies.  John the Bishop was described as follows:

of austere life, eminent for piety and learning, an eloquent orator, a
divine, a nervous preacher, and a tolerable poet for the time.”

He was also a resolute pursuer of heretics during
Queen Mary’s reign. Afterwards he was
briefly imprisoned, deprived of his see, and soon died.
His nephew Sir Thomas then died.  An
ex-Marian priest was charged in 1567 with
having buried him “with tapers and other papistical ceremonies.”

Peregrine White, First-Born in New England.  The name Peregrine is derived from the Latin word peregrinus, meaning
“pilgrim.”  He was the second
son of Mayflower Pilgrim William White and his wife Susanna.  Susanna was pregnant during the Mayflower
voyage and gave birth to Peregrine in late November 1620 while the ship
was at
anchor at Cape Cod.

Peregrine is thus believed to have the distinction of being
the first known English child born in America.
Hall in fact owns and exhibits the cradle of Peregrine White.  His
father did not survive the first winter and his
mother remarried in the first wedding to take place in New England.

settled in Marshfield north of Plymouth with his older brother Resolved
1636.  He died there in 1704 at the age of
83.  We have not much idea of his
character, but certain traits reported about him suggest a possible
youth (at least in terms of the Puritan norms):

  • in 1648 Peregrine and his wife
    Sara were fined for fornication before marriage
  • in 1649 Peregrine and William
    Halloway were cautioned for fighting
  • in 1696 Peregrine White, “the first born
    child of New England” was finally admitted into the Marshfield church
    at the
    age of 78.
  • in 1704, on his death it was said that “although he was in
    the former
    part of his life extravagant, yet was much reformed in his last years
    and died

His descendants remained in Marshfield until the
War.  Whites later migrated north to Maine.

Martin White, Texas Pioneer.  Martin
White, born in Louisiana, came early to
Texas.  He moved to Sabine, Texas in 1822
his mother and his brother Benjamin, having received a land
grant from
the Mexican government.  Their family was
listed in the 1835 census for Sabine.  As
was required by Mexican law, the religion of all of them had to be
shown to be

1836 Martin joined Sam
Houston’s army fighting for independence and was involved in the
Battle of San Jacinto.  For his service
he received a bounty land grant.

In the
following years, Martin and his brother Benjamin moved around various
places in
East Texas.  Benjamin served as a sheriff
of Trinity county and Martin died at Alabama Creek in the same county
in 1861. 

Early White Settlers in South Australia.  Two brothers, John and George White from Worcestershire, were early settlers in South Australia, arriving at Port
Adelaide on the Tam O’Shanter in 1836.

was a building contractor and a man of some means.
He had brought with him a large load of
building materials, as well as nine laborers and their families. John
pre-purchased town acres and a section of land in Reedbeds on which he
established the Fulham Farm suburb of western Adelaide.
His son Samuel developed some reputation as
an ornithologist.

his younger brother George was a carpenter who
experienced some financial problems early on in the colony.  He recovered and settled with his wife Mary
Ann and family at Scotts Creek in the foothills of the Lofty Ranges
Adelaide.  He lived there until his death
in 1863.


Select White Names

  • John White of Dorchester was the founder of the Massachusetts Bay
    Colony which sent the Pilgrims to America.
  • James and Ellen White were the co-founders of the Seventh day Adventist Church in the 1840’s.
  • Stanford White was a well-known American architect, sensationally murdered in 1906.
  • Harry Dexter White was an economist and Treasury official who was the prime mover behind the 1944
    Bretton Woods agreement.
  • Patrick White was the award-winning Australian novelist who won the 1973 Nobel Prize for Literature.
  • Barry White was an American soul singer from Texas.

Select White Numbers Today
  • 182,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Yorkshire)
  • 239,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 120,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select White and Like Surnames

Nicknames must have been an early feature of medieval life in a family or community as these nicknames later translated into surnames.  People then lived a more natural life than we do today and the surnames have reflected that.

They could be about color (Brown, Gray, Green etc), whether of hair or complexion or other factors; mood (Gay and Moody are two extremes); youth (Cox and Kidd); speed of foot (Swift and Lightfoot); and actions (such as Shakespeare and Wagstaff).  Then there were likenesses to animals (notably Fox and Wolfe but also Peacock) and to birds (Crowe and Wren for example).  And then there were some extraordinary nicknames such as Drinkwater and Wildgoose.

Here are some of these nickname surnames that you can check out.




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