Young Surname Meaning, History & Origin

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Young from the Middle English yunge generally described the younger of two bearers of the same name, either a younger brother or a son.   The early surname spelling in England was Yonge.  A Scottish variant has been Younger.

Young Resources on

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England.  The early spelling was Yonge (pronounced Young) and the surname was most prominent in the west of England.

Yonge. The Yonges of Bristol dated from 1385 and possibly earlier.  Sir John Yonge was courtier to Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth.  The Yonge family of Colyton in Devon is believed to have been related to this family.  Their numbers later included:

  • Walter Yonge, the Devon merchant whose diaries over the period 1604 to 1645 are now with the British Museum.
  • and Sir George Yonge, who was British Secretary at War from 1782 to 1794.

Sir George, who died in 1812, was the last of these Yonge baronets.

James Yonge was a 17th century naval surgeon from Devon who became Mayor of Plymouth.  His family lived at Puslinch in the parish of Newton Ferrers.  The naval Young family of Plymouth was related, including Admiral William Young who saw service during the Napoleonic wars.  Yonges were also at Colebrook in Devon and at Sturminster Newton Abbot in Dorset from the 1530’s.

There were Yonges elsewhere in the west country.

Thomas le Yonge of Ludlow in Shropshire, who flourished around 1380, was the progenitor of the Yonges at Caynton manor near Newport (as he had married its heiress Margaret de Caynton).  His descendant Sir Philip Yonge died while fighting on the battlefield in 1459.  Yonges remained at Caynton for centuries, although some did later settle in Suffolk,  The family built the present Caynton Hall in 1803.  Edward Yonge’s 1969 book The Yonges of Caynton described the family.

The Yonges of Charnes Hall at Eccleshall in Staffordshire also claim an ancient heritage, Reginald Yonge being recorded there in 1281.  The present house dates from about 1680 and there is a ghost story attached to it.   The Yonges remained there until 1916.

Young. The Yonge spelling persisted as a surname in England, but was generally being superseded during the 17th century by Young.  By the 1891 census, the Young name was mainly to be found, not in the southwest of the country as the Yonge name might have suggested, but:

  • in the north (one third of the Youngs)
  • and in the southeast (another one third). 

Durham (perhaps due to some spillover from Scotland) and London had the largest concentrations.

Wales.  The Yonges from Bryn Iorcyn near Wrexham in north Wales dated from the 15th century.  Sir Richard Yonge was a courtier to James I who got lucky:

“After dinner while riding on horseback, the King’s horse stumbled and cast His Majesty into the New river where the ice broke and he fell in, so that nothing but his boots was seen.  Sir Richard Yonge following alighted and went into the water and lifted him out.  There came out much water of his
mouth and body.”

Sir Richard Yonge was made a Knight of the Order of the Garter and later a baronet.  Ellis Yonge of this family was a substantial 18th century landowner in north Wales, but left no male heirs. 

Scotland.  The Young name first surfaced in Scotland in the 14th century and has been mainly found in the Lowlands and around Perthshire.

The Youngs were one of the Scottish border clans, not one of the larger ones, but a clan that could possibly muster 200-400 men at arms.  They were to be found in the Bowmont valley and at Otterburn.  After the Border pacification in the early 1600’s, many of these Youngs dispersed.

Sir John Young accompanied Mary Queen of Scots as her chamberlain on her return from France to Scotland in 1561.  He
received from her the grant of Leny manor in the Trossachs.  His grandson William, however, was a Jacobite supporter in 1715 and had to abandon these estates and flee Scotland for the Caribbean.

Sir Peter Young, born in Dundee in 1544, was appointed the tutor to Mary’s son James, later to become the Scottish and English king.  Son Patrick followed him to England in the King’s service, son John became Dean of Winchester.  Another line via his son Peter led to the Youngs of Auldbar in Angus.

Ireland.  The Rev. John Young of the Auldbar family in Scotland came to Ulster in 1615 and was granted lands at Strabane in Tyrone and Coolkeiragh in Derry.  The Youngs of Bailieborough castle in county Cavan (the Barons Lisgar) were descended from him.  Youngs continued in Strabane.

A Young family owned the Braid Water spinning mill in Ballymena, county Antrim in the 19th century and were the town’s largest employer.  The family also owned Galgorm castle and an estate of 2,000 acres.

America.   Youngs in New England had English, Welsh and Scottish heritage.

New England.  John Youngs from Norfolk (of Welsh Yonge roots) came with his family to Salem, Massachusetts in 1637.  They later crossed the Long Island Sound in 1640 and founded Southold, the first permanent English settlement in New York.  John’s brother Joseph followed him there in 1649.  Young descendants were still at Southold in 1900, although a branch under Elijah Young had moved to Ohio in the 1850’s.

John Young was a New England immigrant in 1629.  His descendants moved to Hopkinton in Middlesex county, which was where John Hayden Young was born in 1763.  His ninth child was Brigham Young, the man who was to succeed Joseph Smith as the leader of the Mormon church.  Brigham himself was to marry 26 times, from whence came 62 children.

Henry Young from Scotland was shipwrecked off Cape Cod in the 1760’s.  He became the first schoolmaster on Martha’s Vineyard.

Elsewhere.  There are more Youngs in America than in the UK, with names such as the Dutch Jong and the German Jung and Junk having been Americanized to Young.

Hawaii.  John Young, a British seaman from Lancashire, was left in Hawaii when his American captain departed with their ship in 1790.  He became an important advisor to the King during the early contacts with Europeans.  He lived the rest of his life in Hawaii, dying there in 1835 at the age of 93 and leaving a large family.

Caribbean.  Dr. William Young fled Scotland for Antigua in 1715 where he started a sugar plantation.  His family prospered there and his son William, made a baronet, was the first colonial Governor of Dominica in 1770.  Two later baronets of this family
died in the Crimean War.

Canada.  Percy Young, born in Manitoba in 1888, ran a drug store there until he went broke in 1926.  He and his family moved to Winnipeg and then broke up.  From these inauspicious circumstances came Scott Young, a prolific writer of novels and non-fiction, and his son the singer/songwriter Neil Young.


Young Miscellany

Yonges of Bristol.  The first recorded Yonge was John Yonge who was bailiff of Bristol in 1385.  He was recorded as living on Temple Street.  His son Thomas was a prosperous merchant in the town and was Mayor of Bristol in 1410.

One of Thomas’s sons, John, came to London, did well and was Lord Mayor of London in 1471.  He was knighted by the king for the part he played in resisting an attack by a Kentish mob.  Other Yonge descendant lines were to be found in Devon (at Colyton) and Berkshire (at Basildon).

The main Yonge line stayed in Bristol.  Thomas Yonge was MP for Bristol from 1435 to 1451.  He later had problems with the Yorkists.  Even so, this Yonge family had become substantial landowners in Gloucestershire by Tudor times.  Queen Elizabeth stayed at Sir John Yonge’s house in Bristol in 1574.  The family later built a grander residence there, the Red Lodge, which has survived until today.  By the time of Sir John’s death in 1589, the
Yonge spelling had become Young.  Their monument in Bristol Cathedral, which survived until 1861, reads:

“Here lyeth the bodies of Sir John Young
knight and Dame Joan his wife.  By him
she had issue of Sir Robert, Jane and Margaret.”

Sir Robert Young unfortunately squandered his inheritance and later had to sell the Red Lodge.

John and James Yonge.  The records of St Saviour’s church in Dartmouth showed that John Yonge married Joanna Blackaller there in 1640.  At that time Dartmouth was a boom town because of its involvement with Newfoundland cod fishing.
This activity may have drawn John Yonge to the town as he himself went out to Newfoundland many times with the cod fishing fleets.

His son James was born in 1647 and, like his father, made voyages to the Newfoundland fisheries.  He later became a naval surgeon and a prominent citizen of Plymouth.  He died in 1721 but left a journal of his life.

The Victorian writer Charlotte Yonge may have been a descendant.  She wrote in her autobiography:

“Our tradition is that in the time of James I, when knight’s fees were heavy, a gentleman of the Norfolk family eluded the expensive honor by fleeing into Devonshire.  His son acted as a surgeon in the Cavalier Army.”

However, there is no other evidence for this Norfolk connection to John Yonge.  Another speculation is that he may have come to Devon from Ireland.

A Yonge Ghost Story in Staffordshire.  The Yonges of Charnes Hall in Staffordshire were a wealthy family with a retinue of servants to look after them.  In the late 1600’s the mistress of the house became ill and it became clear to her that she was going to die.  She expressed one wish on her death, that her favourite piece of jewellery – the “priceless” ring on her finger – should not be removed after her death.

One of the servants, a coachman, heard this request and thought it was a terrible waste.  One night he stealthily removed the lid from her coffin and tried to pull the ring from her finger.  It would not budge.  So in exasperation he took out his knife and cut the woman’s finger from her hand.

To his horror Mrs Yonge then sat bolt upright in her coffin and gave out the most terrifying of screams as the finger was finally cut free. The now petrified coachman quickly fled, still holding tight to the ring finger and running away from the vault in pure horror.

Mrs Yonge managed to clamber from her coffin, blood still pouring from her badly severed hand.  She then made her way across the grounds to the Hall where her husband sat.  There he saw the ghostly apparition of his dead wife tapping on the window and crying out into the cold night air ‘let me in, I’m terribly cold’ ‘let me in dear husband, let me in I pray.’

Mrs Yonge did recover from this most terrible ordeal in the next few days and went on to live for many years to come.  However, this was only the beginning of this most gruesome of tales.  Some years later when Mrs Yonge finally was laid to rest in Eccleshall churchyard, the locals claimed a ghost with a severed hand still wandered the area, seemingly still searching for her lost ring on the stroke of midnight.

The Youngs of Auldbar.  Auldbar castle lay on the right bank of the South Esk river near Brechin and had been acquired by the Young family of Seton in the 17th century.  Notable Youngs of Auldbar were:

  • the Rev. Alexander Young who was made Bishop of Edinburgh.
  • the Rev. John Young who went to Ulster and was
    granted lands at Coolkeragh in Derry.
  • and Mary Young who fled Scotland with her husband John Lamont after the Lamont massacre by
    the Campbells.  They found a haven in
    county Antrim in Ireland and never returned to Scotland.

The Youngs held Auldbar for less than a
hundred years.  On the death of David
Young in 1743 the estate was sold to relatives, the Chalmers family.  Auldbar castle, a four-storey tower, was
demolished after a fire in 1965.

The Young Surname in the 1891 Census

Youngs (000’s) Numbers Percent
Durham    4.3     9
Yorkshire    3.8     8
Lancashire    3.8     8
Elsewhere    3.5     7
Total   15.4    32
London    7.8    16
Elsewhere    8.2    17
Total   16.0    33

Henry Young Shipwrecked Off Martha’s Vineyard.  Henry Young from Edinburgh had joined and served four years in the British Navy when his ship was wrecked off the US East Coast near Martha’s Vineyard.  He swam ashore and married Lydia Ross the daughter of a ship owner there in 1766.  They lived at Tisbury.  He built and taught in the only school on Martha’s Vineyard.  He was drafted into
the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War but was soon released as he
was the only teacher available on the island.

After the war Henry moved to Fenner near Rochester in upstate New York in 1803.  His great grandson Alonzo Young
took the family west to Illinois in the 1850’s.

John Hayden Young, the Father of Brigham Young.  In 1769, at the age of six, John lost his father when he was killed after being hit by a falling tree.  He and his younger brother were bound out to a neighbor in Hopkinton
who, it was said, treated them very cruelly.
John took it for five years and then ran away and
joined the Continental Army.

After the War was over, John married.  In the
winter of 1801 he and his wife and their eight children set off on a hundred mile trek from Hopkinton, Massachusetts to Whitingham, Vermont where they were
to construct ar new home in the wilderness.
The ninth child Brigham Young was born during their first year
in Vermont.

His children used to relate this story about him:

“One Sunday he was walking in the woods with one of his neighbors, when his dogs began barking and
he found they had ‘treed’ a very large black bear. He tried in vain to get his neighbor to stay and keep the bear up the tree, but his neighbor departed to get a gun.

He then decided to cut a hickory sapling to poke at the bear.
Down came the bear.  His dog caught him by the end of the nose, causing him to open his mouth.  Thereupon Young pushed his sharp stick down his throat and killed him.  When his
neighbor returned, he found to his surprise the bear nicely dressed and ready for roasting.”

John later moved his family to upstate New York where
in 1831 he first heard the preachings of the prophet Joseph Smith.  Three years later he was ordained as a
patriarch of the Mormon church.  He died in 1839.


Young Names

  • Arthur Young was a writer on rural affairs in England during the 18th century.
  • James Young was a 19th century Scottish chemist whose method of extracting paraffin from coal earned himself the nickname of “Paraffin” Young.
  • Brigham Young led the Mormons to Salt Lake City.
  • Cy Young was an early baseball pitcher after whom the Cy Young award in baseball is named.
  • Loretta Young was a well-known American actress.
  • Andrew Young was one of the leading civil right activists in the 1960’s.
  • Neil Young is a distinctive guitarist and singer-songwriter from Canada.

Select Young Numbers Today

  • 132,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Essex)
  • 176,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 107,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)



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