A simple enough question, but one that may take some effort to answer, as you will see. I suggest that if you have just started to research your family history and have made some progress working backwards, then you might think about where the name originally came from. However if you have a name such as Smith, Jones or Brown that is rather frequent or impossible to link back to a particular place, then opt out of this section and go to Part 2.
Could the family name have originated from the name of a place?
An interesting fact is the number of small villages in England with the name Boughton. Most gazetteers list the following parishes (may be hamlets or villages as well) in England:-
The Ordnance Survey "Guide to Historic Houses in Britain", published by the O.S. and Country Life Books in 1987 lists two houses with the name:-
For the record there are also a number of locations (i.e. places or localities, not necessarily habitations, but ignoring roads) that also include Boughton:-
"History through Surnames" by W.O.Hassall (Pergamon,1967) pg.120 gives possible sources for the name Boughton. Those suggested are 'farm by a beech tree', or 'a place for he-goats', or 'belonging to Bucca', or 'held by charter'. Thus, the surname may have been derived from the place name, which in turn was derived from some physical feature or usage. If this was so, then one should be able to recognise English surnames that came into being as a result of a person or family living in a place. Thus someone visiting the next village might well have been known as John de Boughton since he had come from the village of that name. This name was then passed down from father to son.
However there are a number of problems if you take this approach and imagine that you can now find any Boughtons in these villages. I certainly have not been able to find any in the respective telephone directories.
Firstly, names get changed. There are many examples of dropping final consonants, vocalisation, etc., so that the name may be unrecognisable. Secondly, as a result of the Industrial Revolution, many families left their villages and moved into towns. Thirdly, if only females survived to marriageable age, then that branch with the family name would have died out anyway.
But on a contrary note, there are studies reported in "The Surname Detective" by C.D.Rogers (Manchester University Press, 1995 and published in Canada and the USA) Pt.1, where the frequency of names in UK telephone directories has been shown to correlate with the possible family name source location. There are many ifs and buts with this approach. If the source was a small village in a remote part of the country with a succession of sons who survived and prospered and remained in the area, then you might be lucky. But the chances of something serious happening to your family all those generations ago under conditions that existed then was rather high. Even after the 12th Century and probably until the 17th Century, life in a small village was one of early death and few survivors. Families torn apart by the plague, civil war, starvation, or just dispersed by the need to find work, meant that links to their place of birth were soon forgotten. Once the Industrial Revolution and then the Railways came, very few could look at the headstones in their local churchyard and see a visible link to past generations.
However, look on the bright side! You might be fortunate enough to have the same surname as one of the 100 examples listed in the book and get some idea of the present day distribution of your surname. So "where" may be very simple to establish.
Pt. 2 of this book looks at the distribution of English surnames since the Middle Ages, while Pt.3 goes back to the earliest period of English surname history, medieval England. Here we find (pg.161) that surnames based on the names of particular places (locatives) are the most numerous. But there is a good chance with a name like Boughton that it was toponymic, i.e. based on topographical features of the medieval landscape. If the family was not living in a village, but lived at the "farm by the beech tree", the family name could have been derived in that way. So what came first, the village name or the surname?
Since perhaps it does not really matter at this stage of the investigation, we will leave this for the time being. What's more important is to test out the theory that the distribution of surnames can be a pointer to a place of origin, so let's start there.
For example, let's take the first Boughton from our list of villages above. As it's in Norfolk, look up the Victoria Histories of the Counties of England, Norfolk, Vol.2 and you find that Boughton used to be called Buchetuna and was mentioned in the Domesday Book. So we know it was in being before this survey of 1086. (In fact we know it was there on the 5th January, 1066, because of the way in which the survey was carried out).
So it could be that in later years when families started to have surnames, there was a family who took that name because they lived there.
Now, counting phone book entries is a thankless task but since it would appear that it has not been done for Boughton (see references and lists of published name maps in the above book), this was where I started.
I did think it might be easier to look up the UK telephone directory on some of the web sites. I found two as a start, but they both seemed to link back to the same source, although one gives postcodes as well, and the other was offering a CD-ROM covering 45 million UK residents. All out of date now.
Ideally, you need a list with all the names of interest and the locality. But both web sites needed lastname, firstname and city. So to search for a list of Boughton's, you have to put in the surname and then an initial and you get a list of those with the initial or a first name from all over the UK giving name and address. But you only get 10 subjects per page downloaded and due to adverts etc., it can be a slow job. After all, everybody else is just looking for one name and address and/or telephone number. Searching by town is not much better as most addresses in the country don't necessarily relate to the nearest town.
But I am sure that there are better web directories out now.
So actually I used the national directories in the library. For this exercise I decided to leave out London and the major cities and concentrate on rural areas. After all, the idea was to find out the likely locality that still had a concentration of Boughtons and the fact that some of them went to Birmingham or London to seek their fortune at the start of the Industrial Revolution is not yet of interest.
Results from 90 directories in the order of frequency of surnames compared to the population in the area showed:-
With over eight times the frequency that you would expect in England if they were evenly distributed and over one and one-half times the frequency of the next area, Bury St Edmunds seems to be the most popular place for the Boughtons to live. And guess what, it's about 30 miles down the road towards London from Boughton in Norfolk.
The scattering of Boughtons in the Norfolk area would seem to justify closer attention. So, with a few ifs and buts, one possible "where" is in Norfolk and "how" might have been a "farm by a beech-tree". Well, I've been there and it could be.
But this little exercise also points to clear sources in Buckinghamshire, Kent and Gloucestershire as well. So there is more work to do.
Incidentally, the telephone directories for Chester, Wrexham and the Wirral only had one Boughton between them. This is surprising considering that the Victoria County History for Cheshire says that the Domesday Book records Bocstone for Great Boughton. (See the list of places with the name Boughton above). In the "Place-names of Cheshire" Vol XLVII in the English Place Name Society series, after Bocstone 1086 DB comes Bochtunestan 1096-1101, Bochtuneston 1096-1101, Bochton 1181-1232. The name was said to be derived from boc 'beech-tree farm or enclosure', tun with stan 'a stone'. It then states Bochtunestan may have been the 'Blave Stone by Spittle'. Until 1881 there was a separate parish of Spital Boughton, but it was then included in Chester. So, did a family take the name from this area and what happened to them?
But this is enough for the time being to show that could well be a link between the place and the name.
Now, I have also found a reference to a Bouton/Boughton family in the U.S. Decendants of John Bouton, a native of France who embarked from Gravesend, England and landed at Boston in December, 1635 and settled at Norwalk. So this would imply that there was more than one source of this surname.
It is certainly supported by those who prepared the IGI, because they include it as an alternative spelling. There are some Bouton's still in England and as I look through the GRO Indexes on microfiche for Boughton's, I do note any occurrences of these variations. For a number of generations they have been resident in Maldon, Essex. But I have no evidence that there is any direct connection to Boughton, even though some of my US contacts think so. I have also been told that there is a link between Boughton and Broughton and there are old sources that seem to confuse the two spellings. But again I have no evidence of a direct link.
Clearly, there could be a few blind alleys to go down if you are not very careful.
Recently I have looked up the details of some of the historic houses associated with the parishes given above. Boughton Monchelsea Place is an interesting house in Kent. The name is said to be derived from two sources, Boughton (pronounced Borton) being an Anglo-Saxon name meaning 'beechwood clearing', while the Monchelsea part of the name was a legacy from the powerful Norman family which moved there in the Middle Ages. It's worth mentioning that all the Boughton's in Kent are pronounced Borton, but those elsewhere seem to be Bowton.
Index Back to the start.
Part 2 The earliest mention of the name.
Part 3 Birth's, marriages and deaths before 1837.
Part 4 Searchable online documents.
Part 5 The IGI and other comprehensive sources.
Part 6 Links to Surname Lists.
Part 7...Loose Ends.
Part 8 Trees and Tables. (First tree added 28/4/02).
Part 9...Useful References.