Whitney Surname

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Miscellaneous > Whitney Surname

Samples of Whitney
Through the Years

"Witenie" (location)
Domesday Book, 1086

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"Alice de Wytteneye"
Petition, 1272

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"Rob[er]t de Whyteney"
Petition, 1378

Whitney-E 150-411-4.png

"Jacobi (James) Whitney"


The derivation of the surname is from the parish and manor of Whitney, Herefordshire, England. Some of the name are descended from the landed gentry families of WHITNEY of Whitney, or WHITNEY of Coole Pilate, Cheshire. Probably most are from undistinguished families of farmers and tradesmen who moved from that location to somewhere else about the time that the common people of England were adopting surnames (14th century). Strangely, no known WHITNEY family derives its name from the parish of Witney in Oxfordshire.

The word Whitney apparently means white island. John G. Whitney writes:

The place of that name [Whitney] appears to have existed before the family of that name and before the Norman Conquest. In other words, the place name is of Anglo-Saxon origin and was clearly not connected with any place on the continent of Europe.
The Doomsday Book (a book compiled by order of King William I of England between 1080 and 1086, listing all the findings of the Great Survey of the manors, holdings and other lands in England, giving their ownership, area and esimated value) records, "In Elsedune Hundred Rex tenet WITENIE. Aluuard tenuit tempore Regis Edwardi et poterat ire quo volebat. Ibi dimid hida geld. Wasta fuit et est.". "In Elsedune Hundred the King possessed Witenie. It was held by Aluuard in the time of King Edward, and he was able to go where he pleased. There is half a hide yielding geld. It was and is waste[land]". Melville reproduces a facsimile of this entry on page 10 of his book.
A Hundred was a district containing approximately 100 households. Elsedune Hundred was located on the River Wye, about 10 miles West of the present City of Hereford. According to an existing 12th c. deed, one Eustacius, son of Turstin of Flanders, gave some land in Herefordshire to the Diocese of Gloucester, and a 13th c. diocesan document refers to this donation by "my ancestor Eustacius, son of Turstin of Flanders". The author of the latter document is one (Sir) Eustace de Wittenie, Knight.
From around this time, and for several hundred years thereafter, there are very many records to show quite clearly that the name "de Wittenie" (to date Bill Whitney of Essex, UK and I have between us discovered no fewer than 39 different spellings of the name WHITNEY) [see below for 93 spellings] and eventually "Whitney", had been adopted as the family name for the lords of the manors of Whitney on Wye and several adjacent manors. Allan Green recently gave some details of these.
It is beyond all reasonable doubt that the Whitney family name originated from the pre-conquest place name Witenie (on Wye) in Herefordshire. By the 16th c. branches of the family had migrated to many other places in England, Wales and Ireland, and several of these (at least 15) were granted their own armorial bearings by the College of Arms. All this is a matter of existing public record.
The above summary is for the most part based on the excellent detective work carried out by Henry Melville in the 1890s while researching his book The Ancestry of John Whitney.

See also Whitney Surname Distribution.