Origins of the Surname WHEATON
Wheaton, Whetene, Wheten, Wheyton, Weyton, Wheton, Wheeton, Wheeten, Weeton, Weeten, Weaton, Weaten, Whetten, Whetton, Wheatin, Wheadon, Weeton, Wedden, Wheaton, Wheadon, Wheaddon, Wheydon
“What’s in a Name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” SHAKESPEARE
The name Wheaton and all its various permutations have been adopted in widely separated areas by men with no familial relationship. This has made the sorting of families more complicated than we originally anticipated.
Some commonly cited origins of the name:
“English: habitational name of uncertain origin, possibly from places in Lancashire and East and West Yorkshire named Weeton, from Old English wiðig ‘willow’ + tun ‘settlement’.”
Dictionary of American Family Names, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-508137-4
Or this at the Surname database
“This unusual surname is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and is a locational name either from Wheaton-Aston, a village north west of Brewood in Staffordshire, or from any of the various places in the north of England called Weeton or Wetton. Wheaton-Aston, recorded as “Wetenaston” in the 1248 “Inquisitions post mortem”, is believed to have as its initial element “wheten”, an adjective from the Olde English pre 7th Century “hwaete”, wheat, a derivative of “hwit”, white, because of its use in making flour, with “tun”, enclosure, paddock, farmstead.”
And for Trivia’s sake this on the origins of the Wheaten Terrier:
The Wheaten was not even recognized as a breed by the Irish Kennel Club until 1937. The breed is believed to have originated in Ireland. The name probably being used to denote color of the breed’s hair.
DNA testing and exhaustive research suggest that these definitions are over simplifications of more complex origins.
ORIGINS of the SURNAME WHEATON
The following article was researched and written originally in collaboration with John Wheaton of, Heavitree, Exeter, England in the 1977 and revised in June of 2011, September 2012, January 2013, September of 2015 & August of 2020. Permission granted for personal use with attribution. For publication please contact me.
Most of the available information about the origins of the surnames Wheaton, Wheadon, Weeton, Wetton etc. is based on the same limited research. In general it associates the surname with a place or with a connection to wheat. In England, where all known progenitors of Wheaton lines occur, there are the following place names of note:
Weeton, East Riding Yorkshire
Weeton, North Yorkshire
Wheddon Cross, Somerset
Upper and Lower Wheaton, Devon (now known as Upper and Lower Whiddon)
Through my own research and DNA testing we know that the name developed in different areas independently and likely had different meanings. In fact we have evidence that two distinct family groups separated by geography and DNA had adopted the name, specifically Wetton/Wheaton in Staffordshire and Whetene/Wheaton/Wheadon in Devon. It is also likely that the Lancashire and Yorkshire Weetons and Wheatons are of equally diverse origins. In Devon Wheadon and Wheaton are not genetically related, although they lived in close geographic proximity. In fact there is strong DNA evidence that several Wheaton lines in Devon have adopted similar names but are totally unrelated. It is likely that the names as well as their meanings had many origins and do not represent one original family but rather many. Over time the names normalized with Wheaton and Wheadon being the most common in the Southwest of England and Weeton and Wetton in much of the rest. There is however no hard and fast rule.
The earliest located record of a surname resembling Wheaton is in the year 1298. It is of a “Roger le Whetene,” recorded at the Exeter Guildhall, (From the Cartulary of St. John’s Hospital, fol. 22 Devon, England). There he witnessed two deeds as a steward and bailiff. It is assumed this is the same Roger le Whetene or Whetene that is mayor of Exeter in the years 1303, 1304, 1307, 1309 and 1320. As John Wheaton pointed out many years ago it is unlikely that Roger would have been mayor of such a large city before he was at least 45 years old so that puts his birth about 1260. Approximately 100 years after the Norman invasion. Roger le Whetene is listed in several National Archives Documents as “citizen” [merchant] of Exeter during the years 1303-1309 from the “Chancery: Certificates of Statute Merchant and Statute Staples” where he is the creditor and these documents list amounts owed him.
In the 1327 Lay Subsidy Rolls for Codecombe (aka Cutcombe), Somerset (adjacent Wheddon Cross) is Waltero (Walter) de Wheddene. It is assumed that Wheddene must have been an early place name that later became Wheddon Cross.
Records in Exeter mention a “Gilbert le Whetene” in 1323 and a “John le Whetene” in 1346 becoming freemen. The 1332 Subsidy Rolls for Devon include the following spellings: le Whetene, Wettene, De Wottone, atte Wettene, Whetena, Whetene and possibly the first instance of Wheadon as Weydon.
In the year 1353 and again in 1367 a John Whetene is mayor of Dartmouth, Devon, England. The next record is of a “John Whetene” in the Dartmouth Archives in 1409 and 1410, as a previous landowner mentioned in two deeds. Interestingly the deed dated 19 March 1410 “in Dartmouth in which John Lande and Luke Pottter now live called Whetene place.” There is a farm near Dartmouth called Wheatland today. Whether this is the earlier Whetene Farm is not known.
By the year 1524 the Devon Subsidy Rolls list twenty three “Whetons” (Whetton) in Exeter and surrounding parishes. And in 1569 the Devon Muster Roll mentions fifteen “Wheatons”. In a period of 370 years the name “le Whetene” changed to “Whetene”, “Wheton”, and then to its present day “Wheaton” and “Wheddene” becomes “Wheddon” and “Wheadon.” It is still in the range of possibilities that names as distinct as Wooten and Wheddon were at one time used interchangeably with Wheaton and Wheadon thus confounding our efforts to sort them out. In the counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire the name is most often seen as Weeton whereas in Norfolk Weedon or Wheddon.
From The History of Family Names in Great Britain by Henry Brougham under the chapter titled Devonshire “Peculiar Names” (confined mostly to this county) is found Wheaton and Wooten. And from the same source “Wheaton was a frequent Exmouth name in the 17th century and it still occurs in the town….. Also amongst the old Devonshire knightly families now scantily represented in the county is that of Wyddon of Chagford in the 16th and 17th century.” To date Whyddon is often written Whiddon, but presently there are no DNA matches with any of our Wheatons or Wheadons of Devon. It is likely the place name Whiddon Down northwest of Exeter is related to the early Wyddon family.
Other places of note are the previously mentioned Whetene place near Dartmouth. Wheddon Farm in Wheddon Cross in the Exmoor Forest and Wooten Courtenay in North Somerset adjacent North Devon. And Upper and Lower Wheaton near Beaworthy that have morphed into Upper and Lower Whiddon today.
More on the specifics of spelling. “The early records of Devon are fraught with so many different spellings sometimes its hard to recognize the same name. Apocopation, the dropping of the last letter or syllable, is widely observed in Devon and lists with consecutive individuals of the same name will often show these truncations. So John Wheten Sr. would be followed by Jon Whet Jr. In addition “many of the difficulties of derivation arise from irregular interchange of consonants, particularly of single vowels, semi-vowel and diphthongs.” (Ewing p7-8) Examples might include:
wh=w, t=d , t=tt and vowels showed much interchange such as e=ea, e=ee, e=y or e=o.
What kind of name is “Wheaton”? Where did it come from and what was its meaning? Starting with the earliest form, “le Whetene” and “de Wheddene” are decidedly Norman, but are they French? “le” is the French word for “the”, but the letter “W” did not exist in the French language at the time (and only later in borrowed words from other languages). What if the “W” was originally a “V” making it “le Vhetene.” Unfortunately, there are no words in the French or English language beginning “Vh”. The French words for wheat being ble or fromune which bear no resemblance to Whetene. If not a French surname was it English and why the French trimmings? Further DNA evidence suggests that the name may have a Flemish-Norman connection and come from the dutch “wheten.”
The first usage of surnames in Norman France began about the year 1000. In 1066 when “William the Conqueror” invaded England, he brought with him the custom of adopting surnames. However it took over 250 years before the practice became widespread in England, especially among the middle and lower classes. According to Ewen in Early Surnames of Devonshire, surnames in Devon, as elsewhere in England, became prevalent in cities and towns sooner than in rural areas. In general they were used in the East and South of England before the North and West. By the year 1332, about 40% of Devon had NOT adopted hereditary surnames (p.4). We have 1 de Wheddene in the 1327 Lay Subsidy Rolls of Somerset and 6 Whetene or similar surnames in Devon in the 1332 Lay Subsidy Rolls.
In the year 1298 our first Roger “le Whetene” appears not surprisingly in the large city of Exeter. Ewans writes:
“Another distinguishing mark of [Devon] County nomenclature is the relative use of the definitive article le and la….Long after the Norman-French language had fallen into desuetude the article remained.” (p.4)
Of the 1,600 Devon Entries in the 1332 Lay Subsidies only 2% retained the article “le” of “la” and these occur mostly in East Devon. (p.4)
“Le” was generally an occupational article as in Roger “the” wheat farmer or wheat merchant. Also in 1332 we find a Roger atte Wettene. This Roger was more likely “of” or “at” Wettene which may have been a reference to a “wet place” or near a stream or river (p.13). “Atte” was found in 8% of the Devon names in 1332 (p.4). Furthermore the most common preposition in Devon was the use of “De” at 29% as in Gilbert de Wootone and yet another Roger: Roger de Weydon. “De” was used more than twice as much in the North than in the south—perhaps indicating a connection of Gilbert de Wootone to the village Wooten Courtenay in the north of Somerset. (p.4)
In the original version of the article I wrote: “It is probably impossible to know if the original ‘le Whetene’ was an Englishman, a Norman or perhaps of mixed heritage. He could have been a Norman who adopted the name in England or an Englishman who took the name for himself. We do know that the word ‘wheat’ from which the name was derived was not Norman, therefore it is not a ‘Norman’ name.” This statement was written pre-DNA testing and we now know that the Wheaton name in Devon represents very different ancient origins as do the men that bore the name.
A History of Devon states:
“The county boundaries do not seem to have been much of a hindrance to prehistoric man. The whole peninsula was open to influence and perhaps invasion from the sea, more readily so than much of the rest of the country. The result was a diversity of people’s and cultures, some with Clear connections with the rest of the country, and some with obvious links across the seas. In contrast, the peninsula, and even the county, we’re large enough and divided enough by rivers, valleys and hills to create further diversity, so that there seems little overall uniformity in, for instance, burial customs, or in the building of hill-forts. ” (Stanes p. 17)
Perhaps this helps to explain the diversity in naming patterns, names, and the very different origins of DNA. There are several possibilities for the original meaning of Whetene. First is the “name” likely of English origin although the recording of it shows Norman influence. The English word for “wheat” comes from the Middle English “whete.” “Whete” is derived from the Anglo-saxon word “hwaete.” The “wh” is a respelling of the old English “hw.” It is interesting to note that the word “wheat” is strictly a Germanic word and is not found in any of the other Indo-european languages (including Norman French). Both “whete” and “weizen” originating from the Indo-european base “kweit.” Kweit meaning: to gleam; bright; white. Wheat was named for its white seed. The English word “white” comes from the same root “kweit”.
However, Ewans introduces one other possibility and this one likely refers to the earliest spellings beginning “We” rather than those beginning “Wh.” As was common during this period when surnames were beginning to emerge a man might take his name from either his occupation or the place where he lived or came from. About half the early surnames in Devon are derived from localities or topographical features. That being so, Wettene meaning spring or stream; literally a wet place. This may point to the possible origins of some of the Devon Wheatons but also those of Staffordshire: Wetton or Wetten, Yorkshire: Weetons and Lancashire: Weetons.
Before DNA testing showed that there are at least 5 different DNA Wheaton lines I wrote:
“The most likely meaning was from an association with “wheat.” Interestingly the Latin “tene” to hold and the English use of the suffix ton or tone were used at this time to denote a farm or land holding. So should the name have been written Whete + tene = Whetetene becoming Whetene, meaning a Wheat farm? This would have meant the dropping of the repeated middle syllable…Gilbert le [the] Whetene, should read Gilbert de [of] Whetene. The suffix “ne” may have been used as a possessive adjective to emphasize the possessor rather than the thing possessed(common in Scotch Gaelic or Finnish usage). Thus Whete + ne = Whetene, meaning the possessor of wheat. So Roger, if he was the first to adopt the surname Whetene, may have been literally le + Whete + ne = Roger the owner of “whete.” This would be consistent with our previously mentioned occupation of Roger as a merchant. Since Exeter, as a prosperous port city, was engaged in wheat trading during this time period this would make perfect sense.
In the case of the Weetons and Wettons of the north The Domesday Book lists the original spelling as Witetune or Widetune. As previously mentioned “t” and “d” being interchangeable. Some have interpreted this as wide-tun suggesting a wide village but I tend towards the alternative wheat enclosure or village. An equally compelling case may be made for Wheaton being associated with a wet place. Ewans associates these names with a spring or stream: Wettene, (Wooten?), Weye and Wille. And from Wiktionary:
As to spelling, the name has been spelled in many ways: le Whetene, Whetene, Wheten, Wheyton, Weyton, Wheton, Wheeton, Wheeten, Weeton, Weeten, Weaton, Weaten, Whetten, Whetton, Wheatin, Wheadon, Wheddon,Whedon.Weeton, Wedden, and of course Wheaton. All the above having sounds of either Wee-ten, Way-ton, Wi-ten or Wi-don, We-don or Way-don depending on local dialect and time frame. We do know of the existence of a branch of the Wheadon family in early America changing their name to Wheaton. It is clear that making assumptions based on location or spelling have long led researchers astray.
So DNA is proving to break down our long held theories and over simplifications. The origins of surnames like that of families is much more complicated than we may have imagined. I now posit that the names represented in Devon in 1323 are actually representative of different origins, possibly different meanings, and different family lines. Over the course of time the names became unified into several spellings which may or may not be reflective of their origins. In addition the inconsistency of spellings and differences in pronunciation have also muddied the waters. If that is not enough name adoptions and other forms of non-paternal events bring our obsession with names into question.
Parallels Between the Spelling of the Words “Wheat” & “Wet”
1000-1200 hwaete, hwaete, wǣtan,
1200-1300 wete, hwaete, qwetene, wetene, wett, weten
1300-1400 whete, quhet, huetene, wet, wette
1400-1500 whette, whete, whetyn, wet, wot
1500-1600 wheat, wheton, wheaton, wheaten, wet, whit
Dolan, J.R., English Ancestral Names: The Evolution of the Surname from Medieval Occupations, New York, Clarkson N. Potter Inc., 1972
Ewan, C. L.’Estrange Early Surnames of Devonshire from the Exchequer Subsidy Roll, 1332 Paignton, Devon 1947
Guppy, Henry Brougham, Homes of the Family Name of Great Britain, Harrison & Sons, London, 1890
Oxford University, The Oxford English Dictionary Vol. XII, Oxford England, Oxford University Press, 1933
Pei, Mario, The Story of the English Language, Philadelphia and New York, J.B. Lippincott Co., 1967
Pine, Leslie Gilbert, The Story of Surnames, Rutland VT.,Charles Tuttle Inc., 1966
Stanes, Robin. A History of Devon. Phillimore & Co. Chichister, Sussex, 1986
University of London Centre for Advanced Study: Institute of Historical Research, Centre for Metropolitan Research Annual Report for 1998-9. “Metropolitan Market Networks” 1999
Williams, Joseph M., Origins of the English Language: A Social and Linguistic History, New York, The Free Press, 1975
Univ. of London http://www.history.ac.uk/cmh/arpt98.html#mkt2 “The spreadsheet compiled from the Exeter series alone, which covers the period 1316-1640, contains over 6,000 price entries for wheat.” “Devon’s trade networks do not appear to have been undermined by the activities of Londoners. Indeed, the prosperity of the county and its leading town, Exeter, may have derived in part from an apparent decline in engagement with London- focused networks, as its merchants established or consolidated independent overseas trading contacts.””Prices at Exeter and London move closely together in the earlier fourteenth century, but the correlation breaks down in the 1360s.”
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