Ancient Roots of the Goodman Surname

In “The Norman People and their existing descendants in the British Dominions and the United States”, we find several references to other works in which the Godeman (Goodman) name are mentioned. In 1086, N. Godeman owned large estates in Suffolk and Essex (Domesday Book). Ranulph Godeman of Normandy is recorded in “Magn. Rotul. Scacearii Normanniae in the Memoires de la Societe des Antiquaires de la Normandie, t. 16-17”. Also mentioned are Ralph and Harry Godman of England c. 1272. The surname may have first been found in Norfolk where they were seated from very ancient times, some say well before the Norman Conquest and the arrival of Duke William at Hastings in 1066 A.D.

The town of Goodmanham in Yorkshire, in north Britain, has existed since 627 AD, when one early manuscript references an important meeting that took place there, although the name may have been anglicized by the translator or publisher of that account, or may be just a reference to a modern location for the ancient meeting place. The ancient name Godmundingaham is derived from the Celtic ‘Godo’, an uncovered sanctuary or temple, and ‘mynyddis’, meaning a hilly place. Therefore, it is NOT named for any Goodman family.

As noted below, the name Goodman may have come from the Old English: Gudmond; Gûd – battle, münd – protection. It would be an appropriate name for a member of the King’s personal bodyguard. The personal bodyguard of Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1685, where his forces defeated and killed Richard III, the last Plantagenet Kings, and he where won his crown as Henry VII, were reported to be mostly Welsh.


  1. status name from Middle English gode + man good + man, in part from use as a term for the master of an household. In Scotland the term was used of a landowner, however large his estate, who held his land not directly from the crown but from a feudal vassal of the king.
  2. from a Middle English given name Godeman, Old English Godmann, composed of the elements god good or god god + mann man.
  3. from the Old English personal name Guðmund, composed of the elements guð + mund battle + protection, or the Old Norse cognate Guðmundr.
  4. Jewish (Ashkenazic): anglicization of any of the Jewish surnames given below. Cognates (of 1): German: Gutermann, Gutmann, Guttmann. Jewish (Ashkenazic): Giterman, Gitterman (South Ashkenazic); Gutman (also used as a male given name, from which the surname may in some cases be derived), Gutmann, Guttman, Guttmann; Guterman, Gutterman. Low German: Godemann, Gothmann, Gudemann.
    Patronymics (from 1): Dutch, Flemish: Goemans. (from 3): Swedish: Gudmundsson.
    Variants: Goddman, Godman, Goduman.

Greek translation: Agathon

We often wonder where our Goodman surname originated, with sometimes very interesting and unexpected results.

Sometimes it is as simple as Anglicization of a Germanic or Teutonic name like Gutterman or Guttman or Guthmann, as stated previously. But in early England, especially before the Conquest, the use of surnames was not all that common, especially among the Celtic tribes. In Wales, surnames were not in common use until the reign of Henry VIII, when they were required to be adopted to facilitate legal documents and more easily trace family relationships.

In the case of the first Welshman to take the Goodman surname, Edward Goodman of Ruthin, he was originally referred to in legal documents of the time as Edward ap(son of) Thomas Edward. As many of his peers did, he could have simply taken as a surname: Thomas or Thompson or Edwards, variants of one of his already given names. Instead, he chose Goodman. Thomas ap William ap Thomas could have elected to take as his surname: Thomas or Williams or Williamson, and so on.

In the case of the first Goodmans of Chester, England, it seems it was not that simple, as the following explains:

In William Camden’s: “Remaines Concerning Britaine”, London, 1637, p.143, he writes:

“For variety and alteration of names in one family, upon diverse respects, I will give you one Chester example for all, out of an ancient roll belonging to Sir William Brereton, of Brereton, Knight, which I saw twenty years hence.
“Not long after the Conquest, William Belward, lord of the moiety of Malpas, had two sons, Dan David, of Malpas, surnamed Le Clerk, and Richard. Dan David had William, his eldest son, surnamed de Malpas; his second son was named Philip Gogh, one of the issue of whose eldest sons took the name of Egerton; a third son took the name of David Golborne; and one of his sons the name of Goodman. Richard, the other son of the aforesaid William Belward, had three sons, who took also divers names; viz. Thomas de Catgrave; William de Overton; and Richard Little, who had two sons; the one named Ken-Clarke, and the other John Richardson. Herein you may note alteration of names in respect of habitation, in Egerton, Cotgrave, Overton. In respect to colour, in Gogh, that is Red; in respect of quality, in him that was called Goodman; in respect of stature, in Richard Little; in respect of learning, in Ken-Clarke; in respect of the father’s Christian name, in Richardson; all descending from William Belward.
“And verily, the gentlemen of those so different names in Chester, would not easily be induced to believe they were descended from one house, if he were not warranted by so ancient a proof.”

Re: Google Books EBook

FYI: Sir William Brereton of Brereton mentioned above had a daughter, Margaret, who married a William Goodman  (Lord Mayor of Chester 1532–3 and 1536–7) in about 1550. This may have been one of the points that caused him to research and document the ancient origins of Goodman and the other surnames mentioned.

Therefore, if you were a male trying to match Y-DNA results to establish relationships and lineage, and your ancient Goodman ancestors were from Chester, England or nearby, it is possible you could have close Y-DNA matches with people with any of the above surnames or variants, not just with Goodmans. That would not necessarily indicate an adoption or other non-traditional relationship, only that your common ancestors differed in their choices of surnames when those decisions were required to be made.


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