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Surname Origins

The surname of Prentice is thought to have originated from the Saxon period in England, saxons were also found in some mainland European countries, hence the Saxons of England being known as Anglo-Saxons.

During the early medieval period, a student or a learner of a craft was known as an apprentice and a so called learner in those days would have attracted the surname of Prentice.  The apprentice would learn a trade directly from a master craftsman and give their labour for free during the period of the apprenticeship.

Prentice is not an occupational surname because it only describes a person who is learning and not the trade that they are learning. It is more likely to be a nickname, for example, John Smith may have been learning to be a blacksmith so his surname would have been Smith and his nickname would have been Prentice or Apprentice, his name over time may have been shortened to John Prentice.

Later, the Prentice family were found in Essex where they are lords of the manor and estates, although they are not noted in official records untill about 1327 in Colchester, Essex. By this time they were also to be found in Scotland and were recorded in both Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Throughout the Middle Ages (5th to 15th centuries) Prentice families flourished and contributed to English society.

Later during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries England was devestated by religious and political conflict. Conflicts between religious sects and between Parliamentary and Royalist forces created an unstable society. Many families were banished by the prevailing powers for dissention and others chose to leave the turmoil behind.

In Ireland, Protestant settlers and soldier's in Cromwell's army were granted lands which had been confiscated from the native Catholic owners. In Ireland eight heads of families of Prentice settled in Armagh.

Upheavel at home forced some families to risk the dangerous journey to the New World in order that they may build a new future for themselves. Members of the Prentice family were among the settlers who boarded ships bound for Canada, the United States, Australia and other colonies held by the British crown

Settlers bearing the surname Prentice included Valentine Prentice who settled in Virginia in 1654, John Prentiss who settled in New York in 1823 and both John and Thomas Prentice who arrived in Philadelphia in 1808.

There were 3,529 people with the surname of Prentice recorded during the Census of England and Wales of 1881 and the surname ranked 1291.  There were 4,599 with the surname of Prentice in 1998 according to Public Profiler

In Scotland, the largest concentrations were in Lanarkshire, Scotland, and in England the largest populations were in the counties of Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, Suffolk and Warwickshire. 

The above map was created by the Surname Atlas developed by mapping surnames from the 1881 census by Archer Software (   


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