They were often based on an occupation (Baker, Miller, Smith), a characteristic (Redd, Little, Brown), a patronymic taken from a father’s name (Williams, Johnson), or a place.
In fact, some of the earliest surnames were simply references to places. So John who lived by the stream crossing might be John Ford, while John who had place on the lake came to be called John Atwater. Other people might adopt the name of a town or village.
Which Middleton Is Kate’s Middleton?
Which got us thinking: Kate Middleton’s surname obviously has its roots in a place once called Middleton (or Middle Town). Maybe she had an ancestor who lived near a Middleton or came from one. The problem is, there are about 47 Middletons in England. So which is it?
Records get spotty the further back you go, so we may never be sure, but two of the Duchess’s ancestors may provide a clue.
Kate’s Middleton Heritage
Family historians at Ancestry have traced Kate Middleton’s ancestor back more than 250 years in England. (OK, that’s still a long way from the Middle Ages, we know, but keep reading). Kate’s 4th great-grandfather, John Middleton, was christened on July 3, 1757 in the ancient parish of Warmfield, Yorkshire. His parents were Robert Middleton and Ann Wade.
Her earliest known Middleton ancestors are Robert Middleton and Ann Wade, who were married in Ann’s native Wakefield, Yorkshire, in 1748. (Kate’s 5th great-grandparents). The city of Wakefield is plenty old, dating back to 1086.
South of Leeds?
Middleton means “Place in the Middle,” which could refer to any number of places—or places named or once called Middleton—in England. But take out a map. You’ll find Wakefield about 11.5 miles south and a little east of Leeds. It’s still a good-sized city in Yorkshire. Warmfield is about 3.5 miles to the east. But look to the north and a little west, and you’ll find a Middleton only 6 miles from Wakefield and 8.5 from Warmfield.
Could that town be Kate’s Middleton namesake? Without more records, we may never be able to say for sure, but for now… The town might want to start rooting around the local archives.
Are you wondering what your last name has to say about you? Plug it into the surname widget on Ancestry. Or if you’re ready to start tracing your own roots—royal or otherwise—sign up for a free trial.