I was curious about the origin of the name Chenoweth, and a quick Googling turned up the information that it was Cornish for ‘new house.’ I looked it up in my copy of T.F.G. Dexter’s Cornish Names and there it was, Chynoweth (stressed on the -no-), from ti (chy) ‘house’ (cf. Irish ti(gh)) and nowyth ‘new’ (cf. Irish nua). But I am rarely content with a quick Googling, and a little further investigation turned up the website Cornish Surnames. It’s an amateur effort and carries the charming caveat:

The etymology of surnames is not an exact science, there may be errors on these pages, the definitions come from books by Richard Stephen Charnock, G. Pawley White, T. F. G. Dexter, J. Bannister, Henry Jenner, Nicholas Williams, R. Morton Nance and many more. Some names may have multiple meanings, and I would love to hear from you if you have others I have missed.

But it’s well worth browsing through, and a lot easier to access than the obscure books it draws on.


  1. Being half Cornish, I’ve had cause to look up this site before! My grandfather had been told that his surname, Andrewartha, was a garbled derivative of ‘André-Arthur’, but this site was one of a few authorities offering plausible all-Cornish etymologies.

  2. I am glad you have made use of my little website, I am always looking to add to it and correct any obvious errors. I put the site together because it seemed like there was an interest and a need for such a topic to be covered in brief detail.

  3. It’s people like you, with a deep interest in a particular subject and a willingness to put in the continuous labor necessary to keep a website updated, that make the internet the valuable resource it is (and provide cherry-pickers like me with the cherries to pick). I’m glad you dropped by and gave me the opportunity to thank you in person!

  4. The fictional Elizabeth Chynoweth in the Poldark books says her family is first mentioned in 971. I can’t find any evidence for this online, alas, and it may be an invention of the author’s. However, they do date to at least 1564, and there really is a village of Chynoweth for them to be named after. Chynoweth, Chenoweth, and Chenowith are all known variants.

  5. David Eddyshaw says

    There’s a Welsh Tynewydd in the Rhondda; same etymology, and a closer match than the Irish, as you’d expect.

  6. This comes from a website called House of Names, but they don’t provide any citations, at least not for free:

    The surname Chynoweth was first found in Cornwall where they held a family seat as Lords of the Manor of Chinouth. Cornwall was a land set apart, a land of mystique and quaint customs, more strongly related to Brittany and Wales than to England. It was not until the 10th century that they submitted to the Saxon rule of England. Since then, their influence has moved east into Devon, Somerset and Dorset.

    It’s not clear if “they” means the Cornish or the Chynoweths. At least the 10C date is consistent with Winston Graham’s 971 date. In a later book he says that the Chynoweths have never been rich or powerful.

  7. David Eddyshaw says

    By pure chance (or was it?) while idly following links just now on Wikipedia relating to some truly remarkable conspiracy theories I found an actual real person (or is she?) called Chenoweth:

    Media attention to black helicopters increased in February 1995, when first-term Republican northern Idaho Representative Helen Chenoweth charged that armed federal agents were landing black helicopters on Idaho ranchers’ property to enforce the Endangered Species Act.

    These are deep waters …

    (I was actually searching for the BETA programming language, and Google helpfully provided hits for Beta Programming, which would appear to have little connexion to object orientation. Or does it? Is that just what they want you to think?)

  8. Oh yes, Helen Chenoweth was quite real and quite bonkers (she died in 2006 of being too dumb/arrogant to wear a seatbelt). “Chenoweth” was her first married name, which she used professionally.

    If you haven’t found it yet, here’s the Beta programming language home page. I haven’t used Beta for anything, but I find it very interesting, and would be quite happy to discuss it by email at

  9. Lars (the original one) says

    Somewhere I have the manual for the UNIVAC dialect of Pascal that I used in 1985. It had named parameter list declarations so you could fully declare procedure parameters to procedures — so of course it had to have advance parameter list declarations as well to allow for mutual recursion. Wonder if that is online anywhere…

  10. Elizabeth Chynoweth’s father drops a most fearful social brick in a later Poldark novel:

    In the course of conversation [Sir Francis] Basset had observed casually that his family had come over with the Conqueror, and Jonathan Chynoweth, the ineffectual burbling Jonathan, had at once said: ‘My dear sir, that is hardly a matter for congratulation. I have records of my family for two centuries before the Conquest. We Cornish look on the Normans as usurpers.’

    Or as I said to an Irishman once: “Don’t feel bad. The English have been under the thumb of the Anglo-Norman Ascendancy for centuries. […] England is a conquered country, and so is Wales, and although Scotland was never conquered, it certainly was subdued for a very long time.”

  11. marie-lucie says

    Slightly off topic, in France there is a Société des descendants de Saint Louis (the king of France also known as Louis IX), which has something like 10,000 members. I think (or it may be just a rumour) that there is a similar society of descendants of Charlemagne (= Karl der Grosse), which would have even more of them. Similar societies exist in other countries. Of course after 10 or 20 generations the ancestral lines are multiply crossed and recrossed and many people unknown to each other turn out to have some of the same distant ancestors – at least the known ones, as not all of them can be verified.

  12. Charlemagne lived long enough ago and had enough children (eighteen, at least) that he turns out be an ancestor of virtually everyone of European extraction.

  13. Indeed, but an ancestor is one thing, a provable ancestor another. My lineage disappears into peasants four generations back on both sides, but Charlemagne is as much an ancestor of mine as any member of the Order of the Crown of Charlemagne, an international society whose members provably descend from Big Chuck. “Whan Adam dalf and Eve span, who was thanne a gentil man?”

    In any case, both Bassett and Chynoweth are talking about provable ancestry, and Chynoweth, despite being both Cornish and impoverished, has the longer lineage.

  14. Another bit from a Poldark novel: “Indeed it had been a tradition in the Chynoweth family — even a proud one — that they had been a line of landowners and distinguished gentlemen for a thousand years with never a title among them.” This reminds me of the Coucy family, whose motto was: “Roi ne suis, ne prince ne duc ne comte aussi; Je suis le sire de Coucy.” After no less than seven Enguerrands (known as Ingelrams on the English side) and several intervening lords with other first names, the family died out and the Coucy lands were bought by the Crown of France; however, the family boast did not prevent Enguerrand VII from also being Earl of Bedford and Count de Soissons.

  15. Stu Clayton says

    … Beta Programming, which would appear to have little connexion to object orientation. Or does it? Is that just what they want you to think?)

    The latter. It’s clearly an objection-oriented claim, I concluded after skimming the linked material for 30 seconds.

  16. David Marjanović says

    a line of landowners and distinguished gentlemen for a thousand years with never a title among them

    For decades, the only person to work in paleohistology – cutting up old bones and studying the thin-sections under a microscope – was Armand de Ricqlès, whom to meet I’ve occasionally had the pleasure. Once in a bookshop in Paris I found the Dictionnaire de la vraie nobilité, which, when you turn it upside-down like a clay tablet, becomes the Dictionnaire de la fausse nobilité. The name de Ricqlès is in the latter, and the description reads in full: “Ancienne famille normande jamais ennoblie.”

    (Much the same holds for [Vivian] de Buffrénil. Alas, [France] de Lapparent de Broin is not in either list, in part or in whole.)

  17. David Marjanović says

    Scotland was never conquered

    A part of it was once, and Clan MacDonald was refreshingly honest about deriving its claim to the Kingdom of the Isles not from rightful inheritance or a cool origin story but from the sword.

  18. marie-lucie says

    David M: Dictionnaire de la fausse nobilité. The name de Ricqlès is in the latter, and the description reads in full: “Ancienne famille normande jamais ennoblie.”

    The name “de Ricqlès” is very strange for an old Norman family. I would have thought it was from Southern France, where there are a number of Occitan-derived names ending in -ès, such as Alès.

    I wonder how old the book is: the French noun associated with the adjective noble is la noblesse, not la nobilité which seems to be a calque of English.

  19. Trond Engen says

    marie-lucie: The name “de Ricqlès” is very strange for an old Norman family. I would have thought it was from Southern France

    Neither, it seems. From French Wikipedia on Ricklès:

    Ricqlès est une marque d’origine française de produits alimentaires à base de menthe, alcoolisés ou non.

    L’origine de cette marque remonte aux débuts du règne de Louis-Philippe : venu des Pays-Bas, issu d’une communauté juive très ancienne, naturalisé français, anobli, Samuel Heymann de Ricqlès (?-1853) avait fondé à Lyon une entreprise destinée à développer l’élevage du vers à soie ; il s’intéresse à la botanique, notamment au mûrier, source alimentaire pour les vers. En 1838, il conçoit un alcoolat à partir de la menthe poivrée, que ses trois fils vont commercialiser. Un premier brevet est déposé en 1849. Après la mort de Samuel, l’un de ses fils, Édouard de Ricqlès (1826-?), dépose le titre, le flacon et la marque de l’« Alcool de menthe de Ricqlès » au greffe du tribunal de commerce de Lyon en octobre 1857.

  20. David Marjanović says

    Yes, it’s strange. The book had just come out when I saw it, so it’s probably about 10 years old now.

    Wouldn’t noblesse at first be understood as a state of mind rather than the totality of noble people?

  21. So is Ricqlès historically the same as Rickles?

  22. Trond Engen says

    I don’t think so. If the founder was a Dutch Jew, I’d suggest that the name is originally Spanish or Portuguese. That might perhaps also account for the similarity with Occitan names. But I can’t think of any likely source form. I can’t think of any likely Dutch form, come to that.

    Rickles is obscure too. The Google preview of The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland says it’s a variant form of Rickells. Rickells was a northern name in 1881, Rickles southeastern. This could perhaps be taken as support for a Dutch connection. But it’s thin.

  23. David: No, it’s noblesse d’epee, de robe, de chancellerie, de lettres (letters patent issued by the king), de race, de cloche (mayors etc.), militaire, ancienne.

  24. marie-lucie says

    It’s a long way from an ancient Norman family to a Dutch-Jewish-French business, with no obvious link apart from a name.

    David: In addition to JC’s examples, la noblesse can be, not a state of mind (which could be changeable), but a feature of one’s (good) character, one’s soul, etc.

  25. Trond Engen says

    The name de Ricqlès is so rare and unusual that I doubt it would have two independent and wildly different origins. The Dutch Jewish background of the founder of the beverage business seems well attested (or at least supported by family history). Is there any evidence for a (French) Norman family of that name? FWIW Ricqlès is not a placename listed in Dictionnaire étymologique des noms de communes de Normandie.

  26. David Marjanović says

    Armand de Ricqlès has Wikipedia articles in three languages, but even the longest one (naturally the one in French) doesn’t mention the rest of the family at all.

  27. David Marjanović says

    I just retroactively put a comment with a link into moderation by editing it. Instead of being shown to me with the note “your comment is awaiting moderation”, it has disappeared completely. That explains yesterday’s fiasco where I thought a comment with 4 links had been eaten by the spam filter…

  28. I have set it free!

  29. marie-lucie says

    Trond: Is there any evidence for a (French) Norman family of that name? FWIW Ricqlès is not a placename listed in Dictionnaire étymologique des noms de communes de Normandie.

    No, as I mentioned above this name does not sound Norman at all.

  30. John Cowan says

    Perhaps Samuel Heymann adopted the additional name “de Ricqlès” for some feature of Lyon (which is certainly a Southern city) that struck his fancy when he was naturalized as a French citizen. In which case the entry in the double-sided book is most likely bullshit.

  31. Don Rickles’ grandfather was Ryklianski, FWIW.

  32. @ marie-lucie.

    The entry “Descendants de Saint Louis” in Wikipedia ( contains this passage:

    “Pour affirmer ceci, ils se basaient sur le nombre théorique d’ancêtres de chaque être humain : 2 parents, 4 grands-parents, 8 arrière-grands-parents, chiffre qui se multiplie par 2 à chaque génération pour arriver sous Saint Louis à 134 millions d’ancêtres théoriques, tandis que la France ne comptait alors que 16 millions d’habitants. Ceci n’indique qu’une chose : c’est que nous descendons des dizaines des milliers de fois de mêmes ancêtres. Et c’est ainsi que des membres de familles nobles anciennes ne descendent pas de Saint Louis.

    Some time ago I read of a project to determine all the descendants of Hugh Capet.

    Do you not agree that the last sentence in the above-cited passage makes no sense with the word ne? Should it not be omitted?

    I find the passage unusual because of its two instances of ceci: “Pour affirmer ceci…” and “Ceci n’indique…”

    Ceci should be used to refer to something one is about to say and cela, to something one has just said.

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