Surname Origins

Home Surname Origins Distribution Notable Twymans Name Index Newsletters Facebook Page Forum

One question that I am very often asked with connection to the Twyman surname is that of the origin of the name.  Naturally there is interest in the initial roots of the line, and ultimately when going back the question of origins is going to come up in everyone's mind sooner or later.  Unfortunately in this case, the answer is not as clear-cut as one might hope, and instead of having a definitive answer what we are left with are a number of theories each with it's own merits and downfalls.  I intend and hope here to expound the details of there theories:

  1. The first of these theories is one of a spelling mutation, with the Twyman surname being a metathesized form of a similar surname.  To explain, within Hampshire there is a town now known as Christchurch.  However in the past this town has been known as Twinham. This has over the years lent itself to what is known a relatively uncommon surname deriving from the place name...the Twynam surname, which differentiates itself visually from the more common Twyman spelling simply in the respect that the N and the M have switched places.  There is also a theory that is pretty much the same as this, only differing in the respect that the origins of the name can be found in the town of Twinehame is Sussex and that the Twynam surname had developed in the same way as seen in Hampshire.  Certainly from the Victorian era onwards as the census, vital record registration, and improved education became the norm, it is more common to see the two surnames merge together as the phenomenon of surname variation that impacts upon all family history research makes it's presence felt.  It is quite common at this time to see Twynam mistranscribed as Twyman, and vice versa.  Just how much this was true before 1837 is debatable, but it is perhaps important to note that the Twynam variant [for want of a better term] is to be found mainly in the north of England and in the Hampshire area...whereas the Twyman spelling was and indeed still is found in it's greatest abundance in Kent.  I believe it is conceivable that some of the Hampshire branches are indeed descendants of the Twynam family, but I question the validity of the claim that this is the case for all Twymans.

  2. The second theory is simply one of language, based on the theory that the similiar Twyford surname reportedly has connections with area in which the town's river had been bridged twice in that area.  The theory goes along the lines that the surname connects to the Twymen...or two men.  Perhaps indicating a set of brothers, most likely involved in trading in a given area.  This at least would be supported by the fact that the earliest Twymans in Kent can be found in the costal ports in Thanet, which is where you'd expect traders to settle before anywhere else.  Personally, though, I dislike this theory, and there is perhaps a more plausible explanation once again connected to this matter of language.  It has been suggested that Twyman is a corruption of Twineman, and the name is descriptive of the trade of those with the surname.  Certainly this would be accurate and appropriate at least in part, as a notable early branch of the Twymans in Kent were involved in the textile and woollen trade.

  3. The third theory builds on the previous, and I believe is at least slightly more plausible.  The suggestion is that the Twyman surname derives from the Old English word "teowingmann", which was often the name given to the chief man of a tithing (that is a settlement consisting of ten householders).  This would certainly be an interesting and somewhat unique theory, but sadly one that would make tracing the origins of the surname a touch more difficult.  While I certainly can't find fault in this theory directly, one can't help but wonder why the Twyman surname is so relatively uncommon today given just how many settlements of ten householders must have once existed...and obviously just how each of these settlements would have had a chief.  In a similar vain to how Smith is such a common surname, I'd expect there to be far more Twymans if the name derived from the simple fact that one person in a branch happened to be in charge of a settlement.

  4. The fourth, and I believe most interesting, theory picks up from this connection to the woollen trade.  It is of note that involvement in the woollen trade was remarkably common amongst settlers from continental Europe around the 16th century, which is when you see some of the earliest known Twymans in Kent.  At the time there was certainly a great influx of settlers in England, fleeing religious persecution in Europe due to the conflict between the Catholic status quo and the newly developing Protestantism.  Interestingly, a lot of family stories that have been reported in the course of my research have maintained a connection between the Twymans and what is now Belgium and the Netherlands, and it is perhaps noticeable that some of the earliest appearances of something resembling Twyman is the parish registers in Kent read as "Twimà" and/or "Thw˙man".  I'm a little unsure how, if at all, the pronunciation of these spelling "variants" differs from that we know today, but they do perhaps indicate a potential original spelling and origins of the surname.  Certainly I have heard reports from many families about how the tradition has been that their line descends from the continent, but there is an issue in that I have seen so many different and conflicting reports...from the afore mentioned concept of Huguenot ancestors, to the original "Twyman" coming over with William of Orange, through to the original Twyman having been part of the Norman invasion under William the Conquerer.

  5. What is also interesting to note is that the areas which even today show the highest population densities for the Twyman surname are those of the Isle of Thanet and the Isle of Wight in Hampshire.  The historical interest therein comes in the fact that back at the time of the influx of the Anglo-Saxon people's into England, these areas were predominately occupied by the Jutes.  While this may simply be coincidental (and indeed there is evidence that the Jutes in Hampshire were wiped out, as implied by Bede in his writings), it would be interesting to think that the predominance of the surname in these areas could be connecting to a potential Jutish root.  The only problem therein though lies in the fact that the Jutes would have long pre-dated the emergence of surnames, and certainly there exists no evidence of any appearance of the surname before the 16th Century.

Whichever of the theories is true, the suggestion seems to be that while Kent may today house the vast majority of the Twymans in the country, the family has it's roots elsewhere.  Whether those roots are to be found in Europe or closer to home in Hampshire is a matter of conjecture at this time, but one thing is certain the Isle of Thanet as it was then would have provided an ideal settling point.  Situated relatively close to Europe and with ports on both the English Channel and the now silted-up Wansum Channel, the potential for emigration and a life of trade was there.

If one thing is certain its that more research is needed before a definitive answer can be given, and in future I hope to updating this article to reflect the new developments in the understanding of the origins of all Twyman branches.

S. J. Golding, BA (Hons)

Last Updated: 5th August 2015