Salter finds its origin from one of two sources. The first is from the medieval English word “sealt” meaning salt. The name in this context would have been occupational as it would have applied to a merchant or seller of salt, a role of vital importance. Salt throughout history has played and intricate role in everything from religion to politics and was used as actually currency in some cultures. During the Roman empire period, a soldier received a portion of his pay, in salt. The expression we know today as being, “Someone not worth their salt.” Comes from this time period. Because of physical need for salt for dietary reasons coupled with the relative scarcity of salt, in medieval society someone who was in charge of the salt supply in a castle was considered a person of very high status. Oftentimes this position was an actual duty of the Seneschal or governor/manager of a castle or estate. Seneschals usually came from knightly or even noble houses themselves. The second source was from the old French “saltere” or”sautere” which translates to psalter. A psalter was a medieval stringed instrument not unlike a harp.
Various spellings of the name can be found in the medieval and ancient records, a fact which is attributed to a lack of guidelines used for spelling at that time and the fact that a large number of the scribes charged with record keeping, spelled phonetically. What may have sounded on way to one person may have sounded different to another. Some of the early variations include; Salter; Salt; Saltman; Salterman; and Sulter among others. One of the earliest records of someone bearing a variation of the name, Robert le Salter, can be found in the Somerset tax rolls dated 1243. The tax rolls, were a series of census and tax records kept by the English Treasury by order of King Henry III, with the oldest dating back to the 12th century. These documents are considered the oldest concentric set of records documenting English governance in the United Kingdom spanning a period of over seven centuries, these records have proven invaluable to researches over the years.
The use of surnames did not come into vogue in England until after the Norman invasion. Most residents in the small settlements and villages which existed during earlier eras across most of the British Isles, found little need for surnames as everyone within these communities knew each other and a given name would usually suffice. However, as communities grew and people began to migrate on a larger scale, the Norman aristocracy's penchant for using surnames seemed to serve at least two practical purposes; it allowed for the distinguish of individuals who shared common given names, and it gave governments a reliable way to track people for tax and census purposes.
Those not of the noble class would often be identified by their given name plus their occupation while others may have been identified by their given name and one of their parent's names. There was almost a limitless supply from which surnames could be formed. In addition to the use of patriarchal or matriarchal names or reference to the individuals occupation, there were things such as defining physical traits, a familiar geographical location or a topographical landmark found near the individual's home or birthplace, the name of the village in which the person lived, and so much more. Over the course or time, surnames came to represent not just individuals but whole families.
With the discovery of America, and the addition to the British Commonwealth of countries such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, immigration to these new worlds was inevitable. One of the first recorded immigrants to America bearing the surname or any variation of the spelling were John Salter who arrived in 1634 and settled in Virginia. One of the first settlers to Canada was Malachy Salter who settled in Nova Scotia in 1749. Some of the early settlers to Australia were William and Annie Salter and their son William who arrived and settled in Adelaide in 1837. Thomas Salter was one of the early settlers to New Zealand, arriving in Wellington in 1859.
Worldwide, the highest concentration of people with the surname Salter are found in Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the United States, and Ireland. State by state, the largest percentile of those with the surname Salter is in Vermont, Alabama, New York, and North Dakota.
There are many notable people named Salter. Lewis Salter was from America and was a noted physics professor and theoretical physicist. He was a Rhodes Scholar and attended the University of Oxford where he received his master's and doctorate degrees in theoretical physics.
After graduating from Oxford, Salter was a faculty member at Wabash College. He also established a research theoretical physics program at Bandung Institution of Technology in Indonesia. Salter became dean Knox College in 1967. Throughout his career, Salter also worked as a consultant to various private sector and government offices regarding science education.