Origin, Meaning and Family History of the Whitney Name
Whitney Surname Name Meaning, Origin, History, & Etymology
This is a locational surname denoting a person from Whitney, a parish in county Hereford, England. The name derives from the Old English words hwitan or hwit, meaning “white” and eg, meaning “island”, and translates as a piece of land surrounded by streams, or a piece of higher ground in a low lying area. Alternatively, it may derive from the Old English personal (first) name Hwita, and hence means “Hwita’s Island” or “white island”. One source asserts the name derives from the River Wye that runs through the area and became a torrent when heavy rains in the mountains of Wales caused it to swell. The name was brought to England during the Norman Conquest of 1066, when a man named Turstin the Fleming, the progenitor or ancestor of the family, accompanied William the Conqueror. In Herefordshire, Harold de Whitney held the Lordship of Whitney from St. Guthlac’s Church.
This is an English name which as de Whiteney appears in county Louth as early as 1297 AD. In Ireland, in modern times, apart from Dublin, where there are a number of families of the name, it has been chiefly found in county Longford and Wexford. This name is not numerous, but has been found in east Leinster since the fourteenth century.
In the United States, the family was a prominent family known for their wealth, business enterprises, and philanthropy, founded by John Whitney (1592-1673) who came from London to Massachusetts in 1635. Their mansion, built in 1710, is known as The Elms.
Some spelling variants or names with similar etymologies include Witteneye, Witenie, Whyteneye, and others.
Popularity & Geographic Distribution
The last name Whitney ranks 934th in popularity in the United Status as of the 2000 Census. The name ranks particularly high in the following seven states: New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Washington, Oregon, Nebraska, Idaho, and Montana.
The surname Whitney frequency/commonness ranks as follows in the British Isles: England (2,665th), Scotland (5,046th), Wales (1,252nd), Ireland (1,418th) and Northern Ireland (5,630th). In England, it ranks highest in county Northamptonshire. In Scotland, the surname ranks highest in West Lothian. In Wales, it ranks highest in Radnorshire. In Ireland, it ranks highest in county Longford. In Northern Ireland, it ranks highest in Armagh.
The name is also present throughout the remainder English speaking world: Canada (2,051st), New Zealand (4,479th), Australia (1,947th), and South Africa (27,867th).
Early Bearers of the Surname
The Hundred Rolls of 1273 AD, a census of Wales and England, known in Latin as Rotuli Hundredorum lists three bearers of this surname: John de Witteneye (Suffolk) and Thomas Whytene (Nottingham). Robert de Wyttenye was recorded in the Testa de Neville, sive Feodorum, in county Hereford, during the reigns of King Henry III and Edward I of England in the fourteenth century. The Register of the University of Oxford records one Henry Whitney in Hereford in 1604 AD and Thomas Whitney in the same county the following year. Early marriages involving this surname were George Whitney to Sarah Todd at Canterbury in 1676 AD.
Whitney Family Tree & Whitney Genealogy
The progenitor of this family was Turstin the Fleming. He was born in around 1045 AD. History as identified him as one of two people: either the son of Rolf (also called Toustain fitz le Blanc) who held estates in Hereford and the Marches of Wales or son of Guy, who did not own lands. He came from Flanders and accompanied William, Duke of Normandy, during the Norman Conquest of 1066 AD. He married a woman named Agnes. His son was named Eustace. Eustace de Whitney who was born in England around 1080 AD. His son was named Robert de Whitney and he was born around 1110. He had a son named Rolf who was born in Herefordshire, England around 1140 AD. His son was Thurstin who was born around 1165 AD. Sir Robert de Whitney, known as “the Fleming”, also spelled Wytteneye, was born in England around 1224 AD. He had a son named Eustace who was born in 1256 AD. He had a son named Eustace who was born in Whitney, Herefordshire, England, around 1287 AD. He married Elizabeth Freville and had issue with her named Baldwin, Robert, and Eustace. His son Robert, the Sheriff of Herefordshire, was born around 1318. He in turn had a son named Robert who was born in 1340. He married Mary Cromwell and had the following issue with her: Perryne, Joan, Thomas, and Robert. His son Sir Robert Whitney was born in Whitney, Herefordshire around 1390 AD and he married Gwenllian Oldcastle and had two issue with her: Eustace and Perin (Cheyney). His son Sir Eustace was born in Herefordshire around 1413 AD. He married Juliane Trussell and had two issue with her: Eleanor and Robert. His son Robert was born in 1440 and he married twice: to Constance Tuchet and Elizabeth Alice Vaughan. He had the following issue: Elinor, Joan, Ellen, and James. His son James Whitney was born in the same town in 1472. He married Blanche Milbourne and had the following issue with her: Watkin, Robert, James, Elizabeth (Morgan), Anne, and Eustace. His son Robert was born around 1490. He married Margaret Wye and had a son with her, also named Robert. This Robert was born in Herefordshire, England in 1525 and he married twice: Sybil Baskerville and Mary Berkeley Johnes. He had two sons: Eustace and Robert. His son Eustace in turn had a son named Thomas. This son Thomas died in 1637. Thomas Whitney was born in Lambeth Marsh, Surrey, England around 1560. He married Mary Bray and had numerous children with her as follows: Margaret, Thomas, Henry, Arnwaye, John, Nowell, Meliora, Francis, Mary, Alice, Thomas, Robert, and Robert. His son John was born in St. Margaret’s, Westminister, London, England prior to 1592. He went to colonial America and died in Massachusetts. He had married a woman named Elinor and later Judah Clement. He fathered the following children: Mary, John, Richard, Nathaniel, Thomas, Mary, Jonathan, Joshua, Caleb, and Benjamin. His son Joshua Whitney was born in Watertown, Middlesex County, Massachusetts Bay Colony. He married three times: Lydia, Mary, and Abigail Tarbel. He had the following children: Joshua, Sarah (Jewell), Abigail (Hutchins), Eleanor (Woods), Mary (Pierce), William, Cornelius, Hannah, David, Martha (Williams), Elizabeth (Farnsworth), and Eleanor. His son Colonel David Whitney was born in Massachusetts around 1682. He married Elizabeth Warren and had two sons: Josiah and Solomon Sr. His son General Josiah Whitney was born in Stow, MA in 1731. He married Sarah Farr and later Sarah Dwelly, and had the following children: Josiah, Elizabeth, Steven, Margaret Hannah (Lucas), Sarah (Burgess), Oliver, Artemus (Whitney), Susanna, Dwelly, Lemuel, Daniel, John Hancock, and Moses Gill. His son Josiah Jr. was born in Harvard, MA around 1753. He married Anna Scollay and had a son with her named Stephen. This Stephen Whitney was born in the same town in 1784. He married Mary A. Burgess and had a son with her named James Scolly Whitney. James was born in South Deerfield, MA in 1811. He married Laurina Collins and had one son and one daughter with her: William Collins and Susan Collins (Dimock). His son William Collins Whitney was born in Conway, Massachusetts in 1841 and he married Flora Payne in Ohio in 18649, fathering three children with her: Henry Payne, Pauline (Paget), and William Payne. His son Henry (Harry), a horse breeder by trade, was born in New York City in 1872. He married Gertrude Vanderbily and had three issue with her: Flora Payne Vanderbilt (Miller), Cornelius, and Barbara. His son Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney was born in Roslyn, Nassau, New York in 1899. He married Eleanor Fenner and later Marie Norton. Prior to his death in 1992, he had the following issue: Harry Payne II, Nancy Marie (Morgan Herd Lutz), and Gail Vanderbilt (Stur). His son Harry II was born in Manhattan, New York City in 1924. Prior to his 1985 death in Maine, he had son named Gifford C. who was born in the 1950s.
Early American and New World Settlers
Joseph Whitney, age 35, came to New England aboard the Elizabeth & Ann in 1635. His wife Ellin (age 30) and children, Joseph (age 11), Richard (age 9), Nathaniel (age 8), Thomas (age 6), and Jonathan Whitney (age 1), came with him. Other early settlers in colonial America bearing this surname include Samuel Whitney (Boston 1765), Robert Whitney (New York 1795), and David Whitney (New York City 1797).
In Canada, some of the earliest settlers bearing this name came in 1783, including Hannah, Betty, Huldah, John, and Josiah Whitney, who were United Empire Loyalist (Americans who remained loyal to the British Crown during the American Revolution) that settled in New Brunswick. In Australia, some of the earliest bearers were William (age 36), Elizabeth (age 31), William (age 36), and Elizabeth (age 9) who came to Adelaide aboard the Marion in 1849. A one John Whitney, age 34, came to South Australia aboard the Shackamaxon in 1853. In New Zealand, Ellen Whitney came to Auckland in 1864 aboard the Owen Glendowner and William Whitney came to Wellington in 1879 aboard the Lorraine.
Early Americans Bearing the Whitney Family Crest
Charles Bolton’s American Armory (1927) contains one entry for this surname:
1) Azure a cross chequy or and gules. Crest: a bull’s head couped argent. The arms differ from those of the Whitneys of Co. Hereford Bookplate Margaret F. G. Whitney. B. G. Goodhue, des. 1902. J. W. Spenceley, sc. Also Eli Whitney, engr. by Hopson, 1903. Also Stephen Whitney. On automobile Nelson Whitney, 26 Braemore Road, Brighton, Mass., but with 2 feathers for crest (?) Bookplate Eleanor Whitney Davis in a lozenge. W. S., 1900.
2) Paly of 6 or and gules a chief sable. Crest: a bull’s head couped sable armed or. Framed water color, by Mrs. Mary Lovering Holman. Owned by Mrs. Susan Cotton Tufts, Brookline, Mass.
Crozier’s General Armory (1904) contains four entries for this name:
1) John Whitney of Watertown, Massachusetts, 1635, from Middlesex, England. Paly of six or and gules, a chief vert. Crest: A bull’s head couped sable armed argent the point gules. Motto: Foriter sustine.
2) Henry Whitney, 1649, Connecticut, from North Church, Hertsfordshire, England. Azure, a cross componee or and gules. Crest: A bull’s head couped sable, armed argent, the points gules. Motto: Magnanimiter crucem sustine.
3) Drake Whitney, Esquire, Niagara Falls, New York. Same arms as Henry Whitney of Connecticut.
4) Joseph Cutler Whitney, Esquire, Milton. Same arms as John Whitney, Watertown, MA.
Matthew’s American Armoury (1907) and Bluebook contains one entry for this name:
1) Drake Whitney was born in Niagara Falls, New Yoek in 1843. He attended Troy Polytechnic and Goethingen University. In 1896, he married Grace Virginia Oatman. Arms: Azure, a cross chequy or, and gules. Crest: A bull’s head couped sable, armed or, the points gules. He was the son of Major Solon M.W. Whitney and Francis E. Drake. He descended from John Whitnet of Isleworth, Middlesex (born 1589). He also descended from Eustace de Whitnet of Whitnet-on-the-Wye who lived in 1200 AD.
I have identified two Whitney family mottoes:
1) Volens et valens (Willing and able)
2) Magnanimiter Crucem sustine (Sustain the cross)
3) Foriter sustine (Wait strongly (?) )
We have 9 coats of arms for the Whitney surname depicted here. These 9 blazons are from Bernard Burke’s book The General Armory of England, Ireland, and Scotland, which was published in 1848. The bottom of this page contains the blazons, and in many instances contains some historical, geographical, and genealogical about where coat of arms was found and who bore it.
There are hundreds of notable people with the Whitney surname. This page will mention a handful. Famous people with this last name include: 1) Eli Whitney (1765-1825) who was an American inventor from Westborough, Massachusetts who is best known for the cotton gin, considered one of the key inventions of the Industrial Revolution, 2) Charlotte Anita Whitney (1867-1955) who was a political activist, suffragist, and member of the Communist party who was born in San Francisco, California, 3) Elizabeth Ann Smith Whitney (1800-1882) who was the wife of Newel J. Whitney and was an early leader in the church of Latter Day Saints, born in Derby, Connecticut, 4) Henry Melville Whitney (1839-1923) who was an American industrialist born in Conway, MA who founded the West End Street Railway Company and the Dominion Coal Company, 5) Mary Watson Whitney (1847-1921) who was an American astronomer born in Waltham, Massachusetts who was the head of the Vassar Observatory for over two decades, 6) Richard Whitney (1946) who is an American painter of portraits who was born in Vermont, 7) Willis Rodney Whitney (1868-1958) who was an American chemist and founder of the research lab of General Electric and was born in Jamestown, New York, 8) Ryan D. Whitney who is a retired American hockey player in the NHL who plated for four different teams from 2004-2015 and was born in Scituate, MA, 9) William Collins Whitney (1841-1904) who was an American political leader and financier who served as the 31st Secretary of the Navy from 1885-1889 under the Grover Cleveland Administration, and 10) Josiah Dwight Whitney (1819-1896) who was an American geologist and professor at Harvard, having been born in Northampton, MA.