Yates Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Yates Surname Meaning

Yates and Gates are both surnames that derived from the Old English gatu, plural of geat, meaning “gate.” Since medieval gates were usually arranged in pairs, fastened in the center, the plural name came to be used. The surname would describe a gatekeeper or one who lived by the gates of a walled town.  However, some have suggested instead a Viking origin for these names.

The Yates and Gates spellings developed separately in different parts of the country and probably reflected earlier pronunciation differences.

Yates has been more common in Lancashire and the West Midlands, Gates in East Anglia and the southeast. Overall Yates as a surname has outnumbered Gates by a factor of more than four to one in England. Yeats as a spelling spread to Scotland and Ireland.

Yates Surname Resources on The Internet

Yates and Yeats Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Lancashire) and from Ireland (Dublin)
  • to America and Australia

England. Early examples of Yates or near-Yates as a surname were:

  • Hereward de Jette in the Gloucestershire piperolls of 1198
  • Philip del Yate in the Cheshire piperolls of 1260
  • Robert atte Yates in the Norfolk assize rolls of 1344
  • and Johannes atte Yate in the Yorkshire poll tax of 1379.

The Yate name in Berkshire probably dates from about 1400. The Yate families of Lyford and Buckland were notable Catholic recusants in Elizabethan times. An early Yates family in Yorkshire began with John Yates who died in Sheffield in 1594. And another John Yates was a Norfolk minister who converted to Puritanism in the 1640’s.

However, the surname has been most common in Lancashire (almost half of all Yates in 1891), with smaller numbers in Yorkshire and Staffordshire.

Lancashire. Many of the Yates in Lancashire may have come originally from a single place-name, Yate Bank near Blackburn. W.A. Abram’s History of Blackburn cites the following:

“James Yates of Blackburn, living in the first half of the 17th century and descended probably from the older stock of Yate of Yate Bank, had two sons, James and William. James died without issue. William Yates of Blackburn, gentleman, was first noted in 1646. He married Ann, daughter and heiress of John Sharples of Blackburn.”  

These Yates extended to Sir Joseph Yates, a much-respected 18th century Manchester judge whose family had acquired the Peel Hall estate at Little Hulton in 1730. There followed four generations of Joseph Yates who were distinguished lawyers.

William Yates, the son of innkeepers in Blackburn, began in the 1760’s as a calico printer and business partner with the Haworths and the Peels of Bury. His daughter Emma married Robert Peel in 1783. William then tried but failed to start a water-powered cotton spinning factory at Eccleshill. Much later, in 1874, his descendants acquired the Boothstown cotton mill in Manchester. It stayed with the family until 1968.

Ireland.  The poet William Butler Yeats, born in Dublin, was a descendant of Jervis Yeats, a Williamite soldier who became a Dublin linen merchant. A later Yeats was Protestant rector of Drummcliffe in county Sligo in the heart of what is now known – as the poet spent much of his childhood there – as Yeats country. His father John Butler and his brother Jack were both painters, as was his daughter Anne. His son Michael became a Fianna Fail politician.

Yeates seems to have been the preferred spelling in Dublin. One line there traced back to Thomas Yeates at Balscadden near Dublin in the late 1600’s. Samuel Yeates established Yeates & Son, opticians, on Grafton Street in Dublin in 1832 which was later continued by his son George.

The store had a little note of fame when it appeared in James Joyce’s book Ulysses. The year was 1904:  “Bloom crossed at the corner of Nassau Street and stood before the window of Yeates & Son, pricing the field glasses.”  

The surname Yates was also to be found in Ireland. In 1912 twenty one Yates from Ulster – thirteen from Belfast, seven from Derry, and one from Armagh – signed the Ulster Covenant. Today the spelling in Ireland breaks down 55% Yeates, 40% Yates, and just 5% Yeats.

America. Three early Yates in America had substantial issue, first in Virginia, then in Maryland, and a third in New York.

Virginia.  The Yates genealogy in Virginia is a bit uncertain. There was a family of planters, first in Virginia and then in Georgia and Alabama. Other Yates, possibly related, have been traced to Bladen county, North Carolina. John Yates of Dan river was a tavern owner near Gretna, Virginia in the 1760’s.

Maryland.  The second line began with George Yates, from Lyford in Berkshire, who arrived in America in the early 1660’s and settled in Maryland.

Three generations later came Dr. Michael Yates, a Revolutionary War veteran who moved his family to Kentucky in 1788. The next generation migrated further west to Illinois in 1831 where Richard Yates rose to become Governor of the state at the time of the Civil War. He was a stout supporter of Abraham Lincoln. His son Richard followed him into politics and also became Governor, in 1901.

New York.  Joseph Yates arrived in New York at or somewhat after the Dutch surrender of the city to the English in 1664. He served as a soldier in the upstate Albany garrison and later worked as a blacksmith. Sons Christoffel and Joseph followed at their father’s smithy. Christoffel, known as Colonel Stoeffel, distinguished himself during the Revolutionary War. A number of the next generation in Schenectady educated themselves and became lawyers.

Robert Yates was a prominent politician and judge, known for his anti-Federalist views; his son John Van Ness the New York Secretary of State from 1818 to 1826. Peter Waldron Yates was a delegate to the Continental Congress of 1786; while Joseph Yates was briefly Governor of New York in 1823.

Australia. Edward Yates, born in Shropshire, was possibly the first Yates to arrive in Australia, being transported to Tasmania in 1816 after having been found guilty of forging bills of exchange. But he soon received his conditional pardon and he ran the Government flour mill and then his own mill on the island.

George Yates had started a seed business in Manchester in 1826 and his grandson Arthur took it to Australia in 1893, launching there his range of packet seeds for suburban home gardeners. He released Yates’ Gardening Guide as an annual publication and this and the seed company (albeit under different owners) have continued until the present day.

Yates and Yeats Surname Miscellany

Reader Feedback – Origin of Yates.  I believe the surname Yates, Gates Yeats, Geats, Yeates, Geates were devolved from a place-name that was not referring to a gate.

Geatland and the Geatish people were chronicled as early as the saga Beowulf as a Viking peoole present in Scandinavia in the vicinity of Sweden and Denmark. Further, the largest concentrations of English with these surnames coincide in regions of the country invaded and settled by Vikings. Finally, modern DNA mapping seems to plot those same regions with high concentrations of genetic markers for Danes and Swedes. Just a theory.

Adam Yates (adamfujis@gmail.com).

The Yates of Lyford and Buckland in Berkshire.  The Yates of Lyford and Buckland in Berkshire were notable Catholic recusants during Elizabeth’s reign.

Some have traced the Yate name in Berkshire back to William Yate living at Charney around 1400.  Richard Yate had married Joan Ashenden in Lyford in 1477 and later Yates were resident at Lyford Grange, a moated manor near the Ock river.  John Yate of Lyford became a Jesuit missionary in Brazil.  Francis Yate, the owner of Lyford Grange, spent time in prison in the 1580’s for refusing to conform to Anglicanism. During his absence the Catholic priest Father Edmund Campion was captured in a secret chamber at the manor by priest hunters.  He was later tried and executed in London.

These Yates of Lyford were related to the Yates of Buckland Manor who lived just four miles away.

The Buckland Yates were also actively supporting the underground Catholic clergy during the later Elizabethan period.  In 1577 Buckland Manor was raided by a priest hunter.   Father William Hopton, who lived with the Yates, hid in a priest-hole and only narrowly avoided capture.  John Yate senior died less than a year later and his eldest son Edward inherited Buckland Manor. Like his father, he had been a student at the Middle Temple and the authorities had noted his absence from Anglican services.

Yate Bank.  Yate and Pickup Bank is a township in Whalley parish, Lancashire, some four miles southeast of Blackburn. There were some 200 houses there in the 19th century and a population of just over 1,000.  It had some small cotton mills, a large reservoir, and a national school. Yates was the number two surname in Yate Bank at the time of the 1881 census.

William Yates and His Calico Printing Business.  Jonathan Haworth had ventured to London to learn the trade and on his return became the first calico printer in Lancashire.  The story goes that the secrets were learned from a Dutchman named Voortman who had settled in London to print cloth for the East India Company.

An Excise officer who had to visit Voortman’s premises to stamp the printed pieces observed how carved blocks of wood left an indelible mark if applied to cloth previously treated with the salts of iron. The secret was to fix colors by using iron acetate as a mordant with the help of hot calendaring.  The Excise officer was later to stay at the Black Bull Inn in Blackburn tenanted by John Yates.

In 1764 Jonathan Haworth, his brother-in-law Robert Peel, and John Yates’s son William, then aged just 24, established the firm of Haworth, Peel & Yates. This firm went from strength to strength in a short period of time.  With the help of the Hargreaves spinning jenny their plant at Brookside produced an improving quality of cloth which they printed themselves.  They became the fathers of the printing trade in Manchester.

However the partnership did not continue for long.  Tragically in 1768 the machinery of the firm at Brookside was destroyed by mobs indignant at the progress of technology and the factory system.

Reader Feedback – William Yates of Blackburn.  I’m afraid the early Yates families in Blackburn are a bit of a headache to sort.  I’m almost continually researching to find documentary evidence which would get me back another couple of generations.

I am descended from William the calico printer.  His father was a John Yates, innkeeper of the Old (or Black) Bull, the principal inn in Blackburn.  John’s father was another William Yates who was again an innkeeper.

Best wishes.  David Yates (davidjyates@talktalk.net)

Yates Mill at Boothstown.  The Yates cotton firm had been begun by John Yates in 1793 in partnership with the Peels of Bury.  William Yates, born in 1816, took over the running of the company later and oversaw the acquisition of the Boothstown mill in 1874.  Changes were made in 1910 when the old Lancashire looms were scrapped and 320 of the automatic shuttle changing American Northrop looms were installed.

During the Second World War, Yates Mill made officer shirting material, and pyjama cloth for the South African navy.  In 1946 all machinery was converted to electric drive, the mill lodge was filled, and a massive new weaving shed was erected.  When fully equipped the mill held 460 of the Northrop automatic looms.

By the 1950’s the mill was one of the most modern in the country. Yet – despite Yates having a good reputation for cloth and as an employer – company reorganization led to the closure of the Boothstown mill in 1968.

The Yeats Family of Dublin.  Jervis Yeats who died in 1712 was a citizen of Dublin whose origins are obscure.  A supposition that he may have come from Yorkshire is supported by the fact that in his will he bequeathed sums of money to two aunts in Yorkshire.  Jervis was a wholesale linen merchant in Dublin, a man apparently of some substance.  Benjamin, his son, was apprenticed to the linen trade under his widowed mother’s care.

However, it was his son Benjamin who really prospered, marrying into the well-to-do Butler family.  And it was his son John who was able to attend Trinity College in Dublin He took orders with the Protestant Church of Ireland and was appointed as rector to Drummcliffe in county Sligo.  His son William – grandfather to the poet William Butler Yeats – also became a rector, this time at Portadown in county Down.

Joseph Yates, Early New York Governor.  Joseph Yates was born in Schenectady in upstate New York, the son of Colonel Stoeffel Yates, a prominent fighter on the New York frontier during the Revolutionary War.  Joseph grew up in peacetime and advanced in New York politics, becoming successively the mayor of Schenectady, state senator, state Supreme Court justice, and in 1823 the seventh Governor of New York.

In the course of his days he took three wives: the first was for love: Ann, the widow of James Ellice; the second was for money, Maria, the daughter of John Kane; the last was for clout, as he required it to further his ambitious political career, and it was Elizabeth De Lancey, the daughter of the influential John De Lancey.

The home he inhabited in Schenectady while the state’s chief executive still exists on Front Street in the city’s Stockade District.  As Governor, Yates sat for a portrait by John Vanderlyn, famed for his rendition of such eminent historical figures as George Washington and Andrew Jackson.  The painting is owned by the City of New York.

Yates Names

  • The Rev. John Yates was a radical Puritan preacher from Norfolk in the 1640’s and 50’s.
  • Richard Yates was a popular 18th century English comic actor.
  • Richard Yates was Governor of Illinois during the Civil War and one of President Lincoln’s most prominent supporters.
  • William Butler Yeats, born in Dublin in 1885, is considered Ireland’s greatest poet.
  • Paula Yates was a British media personality who died from a drug overdose in 2000.

Yates Numbers Today

  • 25,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 23,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 13,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


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Written by Colin Shelley

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