Family History – Derivation of the Name Mewett

– Mew Gull  Larus canus




“He’s a Mewett, alright. Look at his nose!” –

This posting is based on a similar article published in 1976 in A Digest of Mewett Family History for the Mewett Family Reunion held at Williamstown and Kersbrook, South Australia. The Digest was prepared  by Alan Mewett and was based on the research of the late L Robert (Bob) Mewett who fired us with curiosity and enthusiasm for our family history.

MEWETT probably comes from the surname MEW in the same way that Annette (meaning “little Anne”) comes from the name Anne.  The addition of the English “-ett” and the French “-et” (masculine) and “-ette” (feminine) to names is called the diminutive and it designates “a small thing of its kind”.

Imagine that John Mew, a villager of the 12th century, had a young son also named John, a not uncommon practice in families to name the eldest child after his father in bygone times.  Other persons in the village might have referred to the son as John Mewett meaning “little John Mew” or “John the little Mew” to distinguish him from his father John Mew.

A similar diminutive is used in modern English by the addition of “ie” or “y” so that John becomes Johnny, Liz becomes Lizzie, and Smith becomes Smithy.  At school I was called “Mewie” by some of my classmates who, without realising it, were corrupting my surname in the 20th century in the way that villagers might have done hundreds of years ago.  In earlier times these corruptions of a name stuck to the person, an easy thing to happen when there was little or no formal written record of villagers’ names.

The name Mew is thought to be derived from two sources.  One is the Old English word “maew” meaning a gull or seabird.  The other is the Old French word “mue” meaning a cage for moulting hawks or falcons. Modern dictionaries list the modern version of these words as “mew” with both meanings.

Names such as Bird (or Byrd), Hawk(e), Wren, Parrot(t), Sparrow, Crow(e), Lark(e), Fox, Swallow, Bull, Eagle(s) and Swan(n) were added to the given name of a person, particularly if that person was supposed to have a resemblance to the bird or animal, and these names eventually became permanent family surnames.  The way that the prominent Mewett nose is seen in branches of the family could be the clue to a common ancestor whose beak-like proboscis prompted his neighbours to refer to him as, say, John the Mew.

Other names were given to persons according to their trade, hair colour, place of origin, stature, or behaviour.  A person in charge of the mews where the hunting falcons were kept whilst moulting might have been identified at the manor as John of the Mew(s), John the Muer, John de la Mue, John Meweman, and other variants of the word “mue”.

Again, imagine our 12th century village where several males have the first name of John. The other villagers probably distinguished them  in this way:  John the baker (Baker), John with black hair (Black), John who is small (Small), John in charge of the mews (John Muer or Mewer), John with the beak-like nose (Mew), John the son of John Mew (Mewett).

It is interesting to read actual names recorded in the 12th and 13th centuries: Alan le Muer (1195), Robert Meu (1275), William Meweman (1279), Richard Mewot, William Mew (1284), William le Mew (1296, from Sussex records).

To return to the 21st century, it is also interesting to read that there are 21 entries of Mew, 8 entries of Mewes, 39 entries of Mewett, and 11 of both Mewing and Mews, and one Mewette in the online White Pages telephone directory of 2011 for New South Wales which included some entries for Queensland and Victoria.

Mewett and Mewet were the two common forms of the spelling of the family name found in the records of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.  Mispellings are common enough today as they have been in the past; most of us have had our name erroneously entered somewhere as Muet, Mewitt, or Mowat.  Mewett has been adopted by me as the standard spelling in this text.

Forty years ago I received an invitation to an engagement party for a young man named Mewett. Not knowing the family I phoned to decline the invitation but they insisted that I should attend. At the party, while discussing the possibility that we might be related some generations back in time, I noticed an uncle of the fiance edging around to view me from the side; he could contain himself no longer and exclaimed with some enthusiasm:

He’s a Mewett alright, look at his nose ! ”

– almewett

Published in: on June 30, 2011 at 4:59 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi Most interested to see your Mewett website.

    I have several links to the Mewett family though marriage etc from Willingdon East Sussex UK

    Usefully Willingdon is only about 3 miles from my home.

    Look forward to hearing from you.


  2. Hi there

    I read a comment form Deb about being related to Betsy Giddings. As this comment was in 2013, it seems as if the email address has been changed. ( I would love to get in contact with her to share info.

    Tom Giddings

  3. My dad is a Mewett and he has the Mewett nose

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