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What a funny name?

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What does the name mean?
How many different spellings are there ?
Did they all come from Devon in England?
 What about the WINGETs?
What about the WINDEATTs?
What about the WINDIATEs?
What about the WINDATTs
What about the WINNIATEs
What about WINGATEs?
How did the WINGATEs and WINGETs get to America
Where in Devon did they come from?
Where are the earliest records?
What about the IGI records?
Why is the IGI data misleading?
Are there any other early records?
Did they come from a place called Wingate?
Was it one of these three North Devon farms?
Or was it a settlement by one of these South Devon fields
Or was it from a place near these cliffs?
Or in the heart of Dartmoor?
Or do they come from lots of different places?

What does the name mean?

The name almost certainly derives from the Old English WIND + GEAT. This means a place where the wind blows through a gate (or gap) in a hedge or between two hills.  Wingate farm in a steep valley not far from the north Devon coast neatly illustrates the etymology (see the modern map).    

This interpretation is also illustrated by a grant of arms with a portcullis as a charge (or in another case a gate as a crest) to past Wingate families "where it forms an obvious pun on the earliest form of the name, viz. Windygate"  (1)  (2).  These are called 'canting arms'.  You can see an illustration of a Portcullis and a Gate on the following heraldry pages:

The Old English word GEAT changed over the years to YATE and GATE and, in other parts of the country, most WINDGEATs changed to WINGATEs a lot earlier than in Devon.  This was because in the West Country people preserved the original  Old English pronunciation of the EA dipthong as two syllables for much longer than in the rest of the UK (3).    This explains the survival of the WINDEATT,  WINDIATE and WINNIAT variants in the South West.  

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How many different spellings are there? 

During the nineteenth century the spelling of the name eventually settled down into one of three main  variants:  WINDEAT(T ) or WINGET(T) or WINGATE.  But in earlier times, most people were illiterate and not in a position to quibble about how their name was spelled.  Often the person writing the name was only semi-literate himself.  And even those who were literate were not too bothered about spelling and it is quite common to find the same person spelling his or her  name differently on several occasions.   

And WINDGEAT seems to have been a difficult name to spell!  There are numerous variants of the name.  It probably has the most varied spelling of any Devon surname with the exception of  NANKIVEL (4).    I have found 96 variants in the IGI, census CDs, PRO Records and other sources:


Of course several of these could be transcription errors.  These are numerous.  The 1851 Census CD boasts WINDCATTs, WINDCOTTs and WINDCUTTs and each one is,  in fact, a WINDEATT.  The poor American transcriber struggling to decipher difficult handwriting could hardly be expected to imagine it was a funny name like WINDEATT.

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Did they all come from Devon?

I have heard stories that the WINDEATTs came to Devon from Norfolk or from Ireland or  from Brittany via Cornwall.  I think these theories are unlikely given the existence of the very many early records of the name in Devon.  If anyone has any convincing evidence to the contrary, however, I am willing to stand corrected.

In the meanwhile what we have found so far is that . . .


If your name is WINDEAT(T) or WINGET(T) then you can probably trace your  family history back to Devon.  Well, at least we have not found anyone so far who can't!  Please let me know if you know of anyone with these surnames who hails from somewhere else.


If your name is WINDIATE then you can probably trace your ancestors back to Hampshire.  One theory is that the Hampshire WINDIATEs originally came there from  Devon being the descendants of a  Richard of Rattery, Devon (born. c.1571).


This variant appears in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century IGI records from North Hill, Cornwall .  Earlier Cornwall records reveal the more usual variants of WINDEAT and WINDYATE so it seems likely that this branch were migrants from Devon.  Possibly  they were tin miners from Dartmoor as I believe that North Hill is also a tin mining area?

WINNIATE (Wyneatt, Wyniatt, Wynnyate, Winnett)

This variant appears as early as the 1500s  in the IGI records for Gloucestershire and especially in the parish of Dymock.   The etymology of the name would appear to be the same as the Devonshire WINDEATTs..  I wondered whether they could have had a shared origin with the Devonshire folk?  But the earliest record is from 1327 so it looks as though it is probably a separate origin.  Andrew WINNETT has done some research into his surname and has looked at this family and concludes that the etymology is probably WIND+GEAT although descendants use WINNETT.  Here is the link to Andrew's The Origins of the WINNETT surname site.  When you get to the site, choose the link to HISTORICAL FAMILIES.


If your name is WINGATE then you may come from Devon.  Some of my husband's ancestors on Dartmoor were baptised and married as WINGATE  in the eighteenth century but changed the spelling to WINDEATT when they moved to Exeter in 1823.  

But although there were some WINGATEs in Devon, generally in Great Britain as a whole most WINGATEs seem to come from Scotland.   See Guy Wingate's website, The Wingate Family, for more information on one of the Scottish branches.   There was a Robert de WYNDEGATES who held land in Scotland in 1334  (see reference SC 8/151/7539 on Documents Online) from whom any Scottish WINGATEs may or may not be related.

This earlier observation of mine on the Scottish WINGATEs would seem to be confirmed by the results of a Modern British SURVEY OF CONTEMPORARY SURNAMES by Patrick Hanks in 1980 which reveals that the largest concentration of WINGATES was in the Glasgow area: 35 (9), followed by Brighton, Sussex: 26 (9) and London: 40 (4).  This survey looked at the  16,000 most frequent surnames of Britain and Ireland as indicated by telephone directories.  The first figure is the frequency of the name in the area and the second figure (in brackets) is the frequency per 100,000 of the population.  Interestingly, even WINDEATT appears in the list - with 22 (8) in the Exeter region.  If you are interested in surnames and their distribution this is an excellent site:  Modern British Surname Studies by Philip Dance.

I suspect the Sussex WINGATEs are of a separate origin as their records (I have been told) go back a number of centuries although we cannot rule out a coastal migration from Devon.  There are also a few North of England WINGATEs and these northern families almost certainly have a separate origin from the Devon family.

In the past there was also a  branch of WINGATEs  in Bedfordshire (who were granted a coat of arms) and which, I understand,  has since 'daughtered out' (5)  (6).  Some American WINGATE families appear to believe that they are descended from this branch although this is highly unlikely for several reasons - see my speculations on this below.  Interesting documents on the web that relate to this family are an account of John Bunyan's trial in Bedford from a sabbath-keeping religious group website and a biography of a Mrs. Barbauld published by her great niece in 1874 which includes details of her ancestors including the WINGATE family.

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WINGATEs and WINGETTs in America

There are loads of WINGATEs and WINGETTs in North America and no-one knows where they originated. It is commonly supposed that they came from somewhere in the British Isles and quite a long time ago.  There are a couple of books written by Americans on the genealogy of the families with this surname:

These books both contain extensive lists of records of families of this name in America and I should say straight away that I have no knowledge whatsoever as to how accurate these New World records are.  The Wingate book also lists various early Wingate records mostly from the Bedford branch of the family and, again, I have not researched this line and, again, do not know how accurate they are.  I do know, however, that the three footnotes to the first chapter of Charles Wingate's book, 'The English Wingates', are incorrect. 

Charles Wingate acknowledges that "The connection between the WINGATEs in England and the WINGATEs in America cannot be traced" (p. 23).  However, both authors suppose that a large number of WINGATE families in America  descend from one John WINGATE who is mentioned as owning land in Dover, New Hampshire in 1658 and the assumption seems to be that this John is somehow related to the Bedfordshire branch of the family.  Interestingly, this John is called WINGET in the Belknap history (see below) which relates an incident in 1682/3, yet in the 'Provincial Papers: Documents and Records Relating to the Province of New Hampshire' by Nathaniel Bouton' (1867) and in the 'Collections of the New Hampshire Historical Society' (1866), the same incident is transcribed with the name John WINDEAT (search for John WINDEAT in Google books).  And, according to Savage's 'Genealogical Dictionary of The First Settlers of New England Before 1692'  (see link) he and his son are  referred to as WINDIAT in a manuscript from 1686.  Poor Savage was very peturbed by this odd spelling and concocted an explanation for himself where he put it down as being the result of some kind of conspiracy to mislead the manuscript author (see link). The puzzlement   expressed by later American authors when they find such variant spellings is evidence of their being unaware how truly interchangeable the orthography of these surnames were at this time in history (and especially in the West Country for the reasons given at the end of the first section on Meaning above).

Why Bedfordshire?

There was a fashion for genealogy in Victorian times.  The new middle classes sought to prove some connection with a noble forebear and many fanciful family histories were constructed. Charles Dickens wrote a super spoof of this obsession in his novel, Martin Chuzzlewit.  And both the Wingate/Winget books listed above recount imaginative but highly unlikely stories of the origin of the WINGATE name in much the same vein.  They also give details of the Bedfordshire WINGATE family as though there were no other WINGATE variant families living in England.  One cannot help but wonder if the change of spelling to WINGATE rather than the older form of WINDEAT was not born out of a desire to forge a link with the Bedfordshire family.

However, it is highly unlikely that the John WINGATE in New Hampshire was related to the Bedfordshire family.  If you do an IGI search for the baptism of a John WINGATE (plus variant spelling WINDEAT) in the British Isles between 1695 and 1735, you will get some 75 hits.  Bearing in mind that many christenings are not recorded on the IGI (almost half the Devon parishes for a start), we can assume that there may be some 100 candidates for the John who ended up in New Hampshire in the mid-century.  Why should anyone assume that he should be from the Bedfordshire family when there are so many other candidates from the South-West?  Not only is the South-West of England a part of the country with a strong, seafaring tradition (Martin PRING the early explorer of New England was from Bristol) but also Dover, in its early days, was settled by puritans and there was a branch of the Devonshire WINDEATs who were early members of the Congregational church (Dover Public Library Website).

Why not an Indian Ancestor?

But John might not be British at all but an Indian slave who had done well.  In the 'History of New Hampshire' by Jeremy Belknap, 1862, a John WINGET is stated to be one of 'three principal landowners in Dover' (p.100) and named as 'the ancestor of the WINGATE families in New Hampshire and Maine'. And Charles Wingate, in his book above, states on page 25 that John first came to Dover in the service of Thomas LAYTON because some land was given him in 1658 'by his master Thomas layton decesd'.  There is a transcription of Thomas LEIGHTON's will currently on the web and in one of its provisions, he asks his son to set 'John, my indian servant, free'.  Again, none of this has been thoroughly researched, and is no more likely to be true than any of the other stories.  But, if anyone wanted to find out definitively then I imagine it could be done via DNA testing.

Transportation to Virginia

In 1765, a century or so after John WINGATE settled in Dover, there is a transportation order for an Enoch WINDEATT from England to Virginia.  We haven't found out if he got there or, if so, what happened to him but there is a bit of information on the Transportationpage.

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Whereabouts in Devon do WINDEATTs come from?

Authorities usually allocate the WINDEATT surname to the 'locative' category, i.e. a name deriving from a place where the family once lived (7), (8).

And surname distribution studies indicate that, even today, the point of origin of locative surnames can be identified by the clustering of the name not too far from the original location (9) (10) Certainly an examination of present day phone number distributions show that most WINDEATTs still cluster in Devon mostly around Torquay (11).

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Where are the earliest records?

In England

These are the earliest records of the name that I have found so far via the A2A searches.  However none are from Devon but from Shropshire, kent, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire

In Devon

Early records of the name are:

This was around the time when surnames had started to become hereditary among ordinary people in the south of England so we can feel reasonably confident that the surname was passed on to any sons.  Perhaps the Richard of Lynton mentioned above was actually from the nearby Wingate farm?

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What about the IGI records?

An IGI search reveals that the WINDEATTs were well distributed across Dartmoor, South Hams and even further afield around the time the parish registers began (1538 or later).  Sixteenth century IGI records reveal the following numbers of WINDGEAT variant  baptisms and/or marriages:

Parish WINDGEAT events to 1600 Date of first entry Date of first WINDGEAT event
Barnstable 4  1538 1581
Belstone 3 1552 1572
Berry Pomeroy: 1 1596 1596
Bovey Tracey 1 1538 1564
Brixham 2 1556 1566
Buckfastleigh 2 1597 1599
Crediton 5 1557 1561
Dartington 10  1538 1545
Exeter Holy Trinity 5 1564 1573
Exeter, St Mary Major: 6 1561 1562
Exeter, St Sidwell: 2 1569 1580
Exeter, St Thomas the Apostle:  5 1541 1574
Kenn 1 1538 1583
Ughborough 21 1538 1543
Widecombe 37 1560 1572
Wolborough and Newton Abbot:  35 1558 1560

WINDGEAT events to 1600:  this is the number of WINDGEAT marriages and baptisms appearing in the IGI index between the date of the first entry and the year 1600. 

Date of first entry:  i.e. the date the surviving parish register began.

Date of first WINDGEAT event:  If the first WINDGEAT event is within 20 years or so of the first entry then we could suppose that the family was already established there before the registers began.  Such parishes appear in bold above.

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Why is the IGI data misleading?

The IGI data is misleading for two reasons:

  1. The parish registers are often indecipherable for these early years and sometimes start much later.  For example, the earliest surviving registers for the parish of Ashburton date from 1603 so these records are not included above even though  there were lots of WINDEATTs there and apparently the Churchwardens' Accounts of  1479-1580 contain multiple   mentions of the name.  
  2. The IGI covers only about half the Devon parishes  There may be early records of WINDEATTs in many other parishes, for example Postles notes that in 1545 the surname WYNDYEAT accounted for 22% of the taxpayers in Buckland in the Moor,  a parish which is not on the IGI. And there were taxpayers with the same surname in the same year in Manaton (also not on the IGI). There are also several records of the name in Walkhampton  My very first search of the Internet revealed 13 male WINDEATTs (almost ten per cent of the total number of 136 men who signed it) recorded in the 1641 Protestation Returns for Walkhampton. A John WYNDEAT is recorded in the 1581 Lay Subsidy Tax.  And a John and Alice WYNDITT appear as tenants of Dencombe in the 1585 Survey   (14).   Earlier in Walkhampton there was a Richard WYNDEYETE mentioned in a lease dated 1486 discovered by  Mike Brown  (15).  

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Are there any other early records?

Postles (16) , identifies the name as one of the "tinners' surnames" evident both at the great court of Crockerntor in  1494 (a William WYNDEYEATE  was present) and also in the 1523 coinage records.   He also  mapped the distribution of the surnames revealed by the lay subsidy tax in 1524-5 (17) which reveals that the name appears in the following parishes or nearby (the exact locations are not named on the map):

Lydford (4)
Buckland in the Moor (9)
Widecombe in the Moor (6)

Apart from the two coastal locations (Kingsbridge and Cockington) these instances circle  Dartmoor and are assumed to be tin miners  paying tax on their earnings at the peak of the tin production boom in 1525 (18).  

This 1524-5 distribution  closely matches the locations of the origins of  the family trees belonging to current bearers of the name.  The notable omission is the Berry Pomeroy/Totnes branch whose own family tree starts with the death of one Oliver Windeatt  in 1650 but where Windeatt records in the IGI  start in 1696.    My own hunch is that these too were Dartmoor tin miners or traders who moved the nine miles south from Ashburton to Totnes - perhaps on the strength of money made during the brief boom in tin? (18). 

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Did they come from a place called Wingate?

WINDEATT is generally considered to be a locative surname, or at least part of the sub-set of the locative surnames: the toponimic surnames or names that derive from landscape features such as bush, hill, field, etc.  But at some point it must have been a place where people currently called some variant of WINDGEAT lived (or used to live). 

It is also a rare surname.

According to the Society of Genealogists leaflet No 7:

"if a surname is rare it may have a 'single family' origin.  This is frequently the case with surnames derived from the names of farms in areas of scattered settlement . .   " (19).  

It seems probably then that at the time when surnames were becoming hereditary (13th century and 14th centuries in the South of England) there must have been one or more WINDGEATs living in a place called WINDGEAT.

If so,  where was it?

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Was it one of these three North Devon farms?

  1. Wingate appears very near the North Coast in the parish of Countisbury on the Map of the County of Devon, by  Benjamin Donn, 1765.  "Wingate is so spelt 1765 . . . It is in an exposed situation" (20).
  2. Wingate just to the north  east of Hatherleigh in the Hundred of Black Torrington  was recorded as Wyndeyate in a 1550 Deeds Enrolled record. "The place is on a hill in an exposed position'  (21).
  3. Windgate is the address of a farm in the parish of Combe Raleigh near Honiton and Gover states that it was  named Wingate in 1809 and that the name has the same derivation as two farms above (22).


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Or could it be one of these South Devon fields

So was the family called after the field name or was the field called after the family?

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Or a northern cliff

Wingate also seems to be the name of some cliffs at Ladram Bay, Otterton, and the location of a ghost story called the Black Horse of Ladram Bay (25).

Or in the heart of Dartmoor? 

So where did the Devonshire Windeatts originate?  Well, we just can't tell.  If they do have a single point of origin then it could have been any of the above places.  It could even have been another place that has since been lost.  The  SOG leaflet points out that "many puzzling surnames which do not appear in dictionaries derive from obscure or lost place or manorial names . . ." (19).  Such a place could be . . .

Winyeat near Widecombe?

David Postles,  draws attention to Widecombe as being unusual in that surnames that had declined elsewhere in Devon during the later middle ages persisted here. These locative surnames "derived from the hamlets within the parish: Langworthy, Catrew, Widecombe, Nosworthy (Natsworthy), and other adjacent settlements (Winyeat, Pethybridge)" (26).

But I cannot find any place called Winyeat adjacent to Widecombe nor any place on Dartmoor with a likely  name? 

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So do the Windeatts have multiple ancestors? 

The inability to pinpoint a likely  location could also mean that the Windeatts sprang from several different ancestors located in different parts of Devon.  Lasker & Mascie-Taylor point out that "even rare surnames often had multiple origins" (27). This multiple origins theory fits in very well with the scattered locations evidenced  in early records (see previous column).

But the multiple origins theory does not fit in with either 

  1. the  recently reported Sykes research where DNA testing revealed that all the SYKES in the UK probably descended from a single man.  If this is true of SYKES, it seems likely that the same is true of the much rarer WINDEATT name (28).
  2. the distribution studies of rare locative surnames already mentioned (9), (10), (16).

I suspect that a single ancestor-origin is the mostly likely scenario but it is evident from the fragmented early records and the absence of wills that we can never prove it - short of DNA testing!

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See also Max Hooper's discussion of Devon surnames on the Genuki pages: Studies on Devon Surnames.  This is an excellent description and discussion of the distribution of Devon surnames although it does not appear, as yet, to include us WINDEATTs. 

Please let me know if you have any comments, criticisms or information to add:


  1. Fox Davies, A. C., A Complete Guide to Heraldry, Nelson, London,  1969, p.214.
  2. Parker, J.  A Glossary Of Terms Used In Heraldry, (first published in 1894).  Available from:  [accessed 14/10//2015]
  3. Gover, J.E.B., Mawer, A. and Stenton, F., M., Notes on the dialect of devon as illustrated by its place-names, The Place- Names of Devon, Part 1, The English Place-Name Society, Nottingham,1931.
  4. Brown, M.,  The Devon Family History Researchers' Essential Mini Guide to Dartmoor Region Monumental Inscriptions, Surname Distributions, Surname Spelling Variants, Parish Registers & Parish Register Indexes, 2nd Edition, Dartmoor Press, 1999, p.22 (Nankivel), p 25 (Windeat). 
    NOTE: Whenever  I get fed up searching for all these variants I remind myself how glad I am not to be called NANKIVELL which boasts variants as disparate as A-KIVEL, CIVEL, KIVEL, NEKIVELL, PEN-KIVELL.
  5. Le Breton, A. L. Memoir of Mrs. Barbauld, including letters and notices of her family and friends. By her great niece Anna Letitia Le Breton, London: George Bell and Sons, 1874. [online] Available from [accessed 20/04/01].
  6. Winget, R. W. quotes an extract from Winget Warner, E. M.,  Winget/Wingate Families in America. [online]  Available from [accessed 20/04.01]
  7. Reaney, P.H. A Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd Edition, Routledge, London, 1991, p.495.
  8. Hanks, P. & Hodges, F. A Dictionary of Surnames,  OUP, Oxford, 1988, p.578.
  9. Lasker, G. W. & Mascie-Taylor, C.G.N. Atlas of British Surnames, 1990, p.9-10.
  10. Rogers, C.D. The Surname Detective: Investigating surname distribution in England, 1086 to the present day, Manchester University Press, 1995.
  11. - United Kingdom Telephone and Address Listings [online] Available from [accessed 20/04.01]
    NOTE:  These listings are not very accurate - they don't include my husband or his immediate family -  only  his mother - who died a while ago now.  However they may serve to give a rough indication of current distribution . Of the eighty or so records the largest local concentration of the surnames is for about 25 names clustered around Torquay, Paignton and Brixham.
  12. Richard Wyndout of Lynton is recorded as having paid 5 shillings tax in the Devon Lay Subsidy of 1332.
    Note:  The above reference is secondary. I haven't seen the original.
  13. Mayors Court Roll, 1369, 42-43, Edward III, May 28th 1369 cited in Rowe, M. M. & Jackson, A. M. Exeter Freemen, 1266-1967.  Devon and Cornwall Record Society.
  14. Hamilton-Leggett, P. R. Walkhampton: A Brief History of a Dartmoor Parish, (2000), Available from [accessed 20/04/01].  Unfortunately this excellent website seems to have disappeared.
  15. Brown, M., private correspondence, 2000.
  16. Postles, D. The Surnames of Devon, Leopard's Head Press, 1995, p. 276.
  17. Postles, D. (op cit), p.129
  18. Russell, P. The Good Town of Totnes, 2nd Edition, The Devonshire Association, 1984, p.45-46.
  19. Christian, P. The Society of Genealogists Information Leaflet no 7, 1998.[online] Available from [accessed 20/04/01]
  20. Gover, J.E.B., et al (op cit.) p.63. 
  21. Gover, J.E.B. et al (op cit.)  p.145.
  22. Gover, J.E.B. et al (op cit.) p.644.
  23. Watkins, H. R. Cockington & Local Place Names, c1925.
    Note:  The above reference is secondary. I haven't seen the original.
  24. Sullock, J. (contributor) The Devon Family Historian, No. 76, DFHS, Plymouth,1995, p. 56.
  25. Devonshire Folk-lore, source unknown.
    Note:  The above reference is secondary. I haven't seen the original.
  26. Postles, D. (op cit), p.129
  27. Lasker, G. W. & Mascie-Taylor, C.G.N. Atlas of British Surnames, The Guild of One Name Studies, Detroit, 1990.
  28. University of Oxford: Press Office, Oxford scientist links genes and genealogy, 1 April 2000, [online] Available from [accessed 20/04/01]
  29. Bere, A. J. (n.d. but written 1930) Buckland Monachorum.
  30. Worth, Calendar of Tavistock Parish Records, p.109 cited in Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries, Vol 14, 1926-27, p. 113-4, Note 114, EArly Bridges, XIV, p.93 para 81.
  31. The National Archives, Catalogue reference: SC 8/107/5311.  Retrieved 27th July 2005 from

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