ABCs & Our Family Trees: The Letter C


I have always been fascinated by language, specifically where it originates and how it adapts, mutates, and relates to other languages. That is why I found the recent series of blogs by Andrew’s Kindred so intriguing. It combined my love of etymology with my love of genealogy.  I was so inspired, in fact, that I decided to try my hand at chronicling the origins of our families’ surnames.

This is the third installment of a series of posts documenting the etymology of many of our families’ surnames (recent and distant, direct and indirect.)

Now that the B names have been documented (Finally, hallelujah!), next up is the letter C. Thankfully, there are way fewer C surnames in our families, so here goes:

rose_capital_c_monogramCaimi  (my spouse’s father’s paternal line)
Italian—Although the family with surname came from the Lombardy region of Italy, the origin of this surname does not appear to be Italian. In Portuguese or Spanish, this surname is roughly translated into cai, meaning falls, and mi, meaning me. In Romanian, this surname is exactly translated into cai, meaning horses, and mi, meaning my or ca, meaning like, and imi, meaning me.

Cain  (my mother’s paternal line)
English/Welsh—This surname might be of Old French origin and is either a nickname for a tall, thin man; a metonymic occupational name for someone who gathered reeds, used as floor covering and for weaving small baskets; or a topographical name for someone who lived in a damp area overgrown with reeds. This surname derives from the Middle English/Old French word cane, meaning cane or reed. Next, it might be a Norman locational name from the town of Caen in Normandy. Finally, it might be of Welsh origin from the Welsh word cain, meaning beautiful.

Cameron  (my mother’s paternal line)
Scottish—This surname has two origins. As a Highland clan name, it represents a nickname from the Gaelic word cam, meaning crooked or bent, and the word sron, meaning nose. In the Lowlands, it is normally a locational name from any of the various places, all of which show early forms, such as Cambrun from the Gaelic words cam and brun, meaning hill.

letter-c-with-little-angelCampbell  (my mother’s paternal line)
Scottish—This ancient surname has its origins in a Gaelic nickname Caimbeul, meaning wry (or crooked) mouth, from the word cam, meaning bent or crooked, and the word beul, meaning mouth. It was originally a nickname can be seen by a charter of 1447, which records Duncan le Cambeli, the first Lord Campbell, the “le” being the Scottish word lie, meaning so-called or known as.

Camper/Kemper  (my spouse’s father’s maternal line)
German—This is a German status name denoting a peasant farmer or serf, an agent noun derivative of Kamp. In German and possibly Dutch, this was a habitational name from any of the 12 places named Kempen in the Dutch-German border area. In Dutch, this surname is also a derivative of the surname Kemp, an occupational name for someone who grew, processed, or utilized hemp.

Carminow  (my mother’s maternal line)
Cornish—This surname is taken from Carminow, a manor and barton in the parish of St. Mawgan in Meneage, Cornwall. The name is derived from the words car and minow, meaning either the little rock or the little city (there is some disagreement on the precise meaning). Also, there is a place in Gunwalloe called Carminnow.

letter-c-medieval-manuscriptCarpenter/Zimmerman/Zimmermann  (my father’s paternal line)
German—This is an occupational name for a carpenter, originating from the Middle High German word zimbermann (a compound of the words zimber or zim(m)er, meaning timber or wood, and the word mann, meaning man.

Caton  (my father’s paternal line)
English—This surname of Medieval English origin is locational from places in Derbyshire and Lancashire. The derivation of the former is the Old English personal name Cade, a survival from a Germanic root meaning lump or swelling, which might have been applied to a large person.

Catron  (my spouse’s father’s maternal line)
German—In ancient Anglo-Saxon England, the ancestors of the Catron surname lived in or near the settlement of Catterall, which is located between Preston and Garstang in the county of Lancashire. It has also been suggested that the surname Catron might be derived from a pet form of the name Caterin, which is a form of the personal name Catharine, which became popular following its importation in the 12th Century. This surname is also the Americanized form of the surname Kettering. Finally, it might be a French surname, from a pet form of the personal name Catherine.

PSX_PEB2015Chamberlain/Chamberlin  (my mother’s maternal line)
English—This surname is of Old French origin and is an occupational name for a chamberlain, the official in charge of the private chambers of his master. This term was later a title of high rank. The derivation of this name is from the Old French and Anglo-Norman French words c(h)ambrelain, cambrelane, and cambrelen(c), meaning chamberlain. The Italian cognate camerlengo was given to a manager of a pontifical court.

Chandler  (my spouse’s mother’s paternal line)
English—This is an occupational name for a maker or seller of candles. It is derived from the Middle English word cha(u)ndeler; from the Old French word chandelier; the late Latin word candelarius; the word candela, a candle; and the word candere, to be bright, along with the suffix -er, one who does or works with (something).

Chapline/Chaplyn  (my father’s paternal line)
English—This surname is of French and English origin, deriving from the old Norman French word caplain and the Old French and Medieval English word chapelain, meaning a charity priest, who was endowed to sing mass daily on behalf of the souls of the dead. Hence, the name is an occupational name for a clergyman or perhaps a servant of one.

16th-Century-letter-cCharnock  (my mother’s paternal line)
Welsh—This is a locational surname name from either Heath Charnock or Charnock Richard in Lancashire and are derived of the Welsh word carn, meaning rock or stone.

Chesney  (my mother‘s paternal line)
English/French—A locational name referring the village of Le Quesnoy in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie region of France. The name originates from the Latin word casnetum, which became the French word chesnai, meaning a dweller by the oak grove.

Chevillon  (my father’s paternal line)
French—A locational surname derived from Chevillon, the name or partial name of the following communes in France: Chevillon, Haute-Marne; Chevillon, Yonne; and Chevillon-sur-Huillard, Loiret.

cecfee4f00a07c2fad43e4c2b11f0162Chilton  (my spouse’s mother’s paternal line)
English—This is a locational surname from any of the several places thus called in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Durham, Hampshire, Kent, Shropshire, Somerset, Suffolk, and Wiltshire. It derives from the Old English pre-7th Century word cild, meaning child, (frequently used to describe a youth of noble birth), and the word tun, meaning a settlement or enclosure. In Somerset, this surname gets its first element from the Old English word cealc, meaning chalk or limestone. On the Isle of Wight, this surname derives from the personal byname Ceola from the word ceol, meaning ship.

Christian  (my mother‘s paternal line)
English—This surname is of Old French origin, deriving from the personal name Christian, which comes from the Latin word Christianus, meaning follower of Christ. This male given name was introduced into England following the Norman Conquest, especially by Breton settlers. It was also used in the same form as a female name. In some cases, the surname may be metronymic in origin.

Chudleigh  (my mother’s maternal line)
English—The name is Old English pre-7th century and means Cedda’s leah (farm), with Cedda being an early personal name of uncertain origin or meaning. For more than 700 years, this locational surname has been found in county of Devonshire, specifically from the villages of Broadclyst, Ashton, and Chudleigh. The village of Chudleigh was first recorded in 1259 as Cheddeleghe and in 1290 as Chuddlegh.

42930c9f22d753adafe97eb6c296e0f6Church  (my brother-in-law’s maternal line)
English—This surname, with variant forms Churcher and Churchman, derives from the Old English pre-7th Century word cyrice, meaning church. It was ultimately from the Greek word kyricaon, meaning house of the Lord. This surname was originally given either as a topographical name to one resident by a church or as an occupational name to an official in charge of a church. Finally, the name might be locational from Church, a village in Lancashire.

Clémenceau/Clement  (my mother’s maternal line, two different branches)
French and English—The surname Clémenceau originated in Poitou, France and is derived from the popular French given name Clement, which is derived from the Latin word clemens, meaning mild or merciful. An early saint who was a disciple of St. Paul bore this name, and it was selected by a number of early popes; in fact, there were at least 11 Clements elected by the year 1046. Although predominantly a male name, many nameholders do originate from the female Clementia, meaning mercy.

Clugston  (my stepfather’s maternal line)
Scottish—This is a habitational surname from the barony of Clugston in the parish of Kirkinner, Scotland. The name is found several times in the records of Cupar Angus Abbey. It might be from the name of a place from the past in that area.

Headpiece for the letter C 1834 - Landais, NapoléonCoffin  (my mother’s maternal line)
English—This surname, which is of Norman French origin, was introduced to England after the Norman Invasion of 1066. It is a medieval descriptive nickname, developed from the Latin word calrus, meaning bald, then through the later French word chauf, plus the diminutive ending -in, a short form of the word kin. This nickname, therefore, means the son of the bald one.

Cole  (my mother’s maternal line, two different branches)
EnglishThis English, Irish, and occasionally Scottish surname is generally accepted as deriving from the personal name Nicholas, itself of Ancient Greek origin. It might also have derived from the Old English pre-7th century byname Cola, meaning black. This presumably denoted one of dark or swarthy appearance and possibly might have described a Dane or Anglo-Saxon.

Coleman  (my spouse’s stepmother’s family)
English/Irish—This surname has a number of possible origins. The first is of both Irish and English origin from the Old Irish personal name Colman, derived from Columban, a compound of the Gaelic elements colm, meaning dove, and ban, meaning white. This name was adopted by Scandinavians as the Old Norse Kalman and was introduced into Cumberland, Westmoreland, and Yorkshire by Norwegians from Ireland. The second source is of Anglo-Saxon origin and was given as an occupational name for a burner of charcoal or a gatherer of coal, from the Middle English word coleman, derived from the Old English pre-7th Century word col, meaning (char) coal and mann, meaning man. This source of the surname is the same as that of the surname Collier. Another possible source is also of English origin from an occupational name for the servant of a man named Cole, Middle English a personal name derived from the Old English byname Cola from the word col, meaning coal and used to describe someone with a dark or swarthy complexion.

cherubsColles  (my mother‘s paternal line)
English—This surname is a variant of the medieval surname Cole or Coll from Colin, a short form of the personal name Nicholas. The derivation of the name is from the Greek name Nikolaos, composed of the elements nikan, to conquer, and laos, people. Nicholas and its variants and diminutives was a popular name in the Middle Ages, partly due to the fame of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children and sailors. Coliln as a surname can also derive from the Old Scandinavian personal name Kollr, Koll or Kolli, an example of this source is found in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Col and later (1204) as Colle, Colls, Coules, and Cowles are the patronymic forms of the name, the final “s” being a reduced form of son of.

Comyn  (my mother’s paternal line, three different branches)
Scottish—The Comyn surname is of Norman or Flemish origin. The surname is either a place-name, possibly derived from Bosc-Bénard-Commin, near Rouen in the Duchy of Normandy, or from Comines, near Lille, France. It might also be derived from the Breton/Celtic element cam, meaning bent or crooked.

Connell  (my mother‘s paternal line)
Irish—This surname is widespread in the Auchry area of Aberdeenshire and in the Province of Ulster. It is an Anglicized form of the old Scots Gaelic names Siol Cuin or Con, meaning the seed or race of Con. It could also be a byname from the Gaelic word con, meaning hound.

65373_letter-c_mthContee  (my spouse’s father’s maternal line)
French—Contee is a French variant of the Conte or Conté surnames. This surname is from the noble title conte, meaning count (derived from the Latin words comes or  comitis, meaning companion. This was a medieval personal name; as a title, it was no doubt descriptive of someone who worked in the service of a count or for someone who behaved in a pretentious manner.

Corbet (my mother‘s paternal line)
Scottish—This Anglo-Scottish surname is of Norman-French origin. It comes from the French word corbet, meaning little raven. In heraldry, the raven is highly respected and known for its ferocity.

Cornwall  (my brother-in-law’s maternal line)
English—This surname is either a locational name from Cornwall in Oxfordshire from the Old English pre-7th Century word corn, a metathesized form of cron or cran, meaning crane, plus the word well(a), meaning spring or stream. It could also be a regional name from the county of Cornwall, from the Old English pre-7th Century tribal name Cornwealas. This is from Kernow, the native name that the Cornish used to denote themselves of uncertain etymology, perhaps connected with a Celtic element meaning horn, meaning headland, compounded with the Old English pre-7th Century word wealas, meaning strangers or foreigners.

william-morris-letter-c copyCouwenhoven/Van Couwenhoven  (my mother’s maternal line)
Dutch—This surname has been a more difficult one. Although a neighborhood named Couwenhoven exists in Zeist, Netherlands, this is a recent location. Since this is too recent to be the inspiration for a locational surname, I decided to research to see how the components of this surname translate in the Dutch language. Couwen is the Middle Dutch word meaning to chew. It is derived from the Old Dutch word kiuwan, itself derived from the Proto-Germanic word kewwaną, also meaning to chew. Hoven means courts in Dutch. It is the plural form of hof, coming from the Old Dutch word hof and the Proto-Germanic word hufą, meaning house, hall, or estate.

Cox  (my mother’s maternal line, my mother’s paternal line, and my spouse’s mother’s paternal line)
English—This surname has several possible origins. First, it might have been a nickname—rooster, deriving from the Old English pre-7th Century word cocc, applied to a young boy who strutted proudly like a cock. But as cock became a common term for a boy, it may also have been used affectionately as a personal name. The nickname might also have referred to a natural leader, an early riser, or an aggressive individual. It might also have derived from the Old English personal names Cocc or Cocca, found in placenames. The third possibility is that it might be of topographical origin for a dweller by the hill, deriving from the Old English word cocc, meaning haycock, heap, or hillock. In London, it probably originated from the sign of a house or inn.

Craft/Kraft  (my spouse’s father’s maternal line)
German—This is a nickname for a strong man, from the Old High German word kraft, meaning strength or power. The Swedish name probably originated as a soldier’s name. In part, the German and Danish names possibly also derive from a late survival of the same word used as a by-name, Old High German Chraft(o) or the Old Norse Kraptr.

bloomCrichton (my mother’s paternal line)
Scotland—This surname is of Scottish and English origin and is locational from a place near Utloxeter in Staffordshire and Crichton near Edinburgh in Scotland. The derivation of Creighton (in Staffordshire) is from the Old Welsh pre-7th Century word, creic, meaning a rock, and tun, meaning a farm or settlement, thus a place built on a ridge. However, the placename in Scotland is derived from the Gaelic word crioch, meaning a border or boundary and the Old English pre-7th Century word tun, meaning a farm on a boundary.

Crossman/Croasmun  (my spouse’s mother’s paternal line)
English—This is a topographic name for someone who lived by a stone cross, from Old Norse word kross, meaning cross, and the Middle English word man, meaning man. In German, the surname is spelled as Crossmann or Crössmann. The first might be a habitational name from any of several places called Crossen in Saxony, Brandenburg, and East Prussia or derived from Grossmann. The second is possibly from the Middle Low German word kros or krüs, meaning pitcher, and hence a metonymic occupational name for maker of these. Alternatively, it might be a metonymic occupational name for a butcher, from the Middle High German word kroese, meaning tripe.

Culatina  (my spouse’s father’s paternal line)
Italian—Discovering the origin of this surname has proved very difficult. I can only postulate some possible origins. First, the feminine singular form of the Italian adjective calatino is calatina. Calatina is a person of or from Caltagirone, a town in Sicily. However, as the Culatina (with a “u”, not an “a”) family is based in the Lombardy, a northern region of Italy, and Sicily is a large island at the southern tip of Italy, locationally this might not be feasible. Second, in Italian, cu is the name of the letter Q, and latina is the feminine singular version of latinus, meaning a speaker of Latin. In the Greek Hesiod’s Theogony, Latinus was the son of Odysseus and Circe who ruled the Tyrsenoi, presumably the Etruscans, with his brothers Ardeas and Telegonus. Latinus is also referred to, by much later authors, as the son of Pandora II and brother of Graecus. In the Roman Virgil’s Aeneid, Latinus/Lavinius, was a king of the Latins. He is sometimes described as the son of Faunus and Marica and father of Lavinia with his wife, Amata. He hosted Aeneas’s army of exiled Trojans and offered them the chance to reorganize their life in Latium. Finally, this surname might be a combination of the Romanian word culă, a semi-fortified building found in the Oltenia region of Romania, and Tina, a village in the Livezi commune of Vâlcea County, Romania, also in the Oltenia region.

ornateltrc-lgCuntze/Koontz  (my spouse’s father’s maternal line and my father’s paternal line)
German—This surname (in its many variations) was first found in Bohemia and Silesia, where the name was an integral part of the feudal society.  The name originated as a shortened form of Konrad, meaning bold adviser.

Curtis  (my mother’s paternal line)
English—After the Norman Conquest, many French words appeared in the English vernacular. Such is the case with this surname, which was derived from the Old French words Corteis or Curteis meaning refined or accomplished, and was originally given as a nickname to a man of good education.

That’s it for Cs, folks! Stay tuned for the D surnames in our families…

For more information on the origins of many surnames, check out Almwch Data, Behind the Name, Irish Origenes, Surname Database, Surname Meanings and Origins, Surname Web, and Wiktionary.

#etymology     #familytree     #surnames

Categories: Caimi-Culatina Line, Cole-Marriner Line, Harwick-Bush Line, Spangler-Kenney Line, Surnames from A to Z, Taylor-Thomas Line, Watts-Stark Line | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “ABCs & Our Family Trees: The Letter C

  1. For another blogger’s C surnames, check out Amanda Bradburn’s post:


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