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The name GOTT appears primarily in Yorkshire, whilst GOTT(E)S has been around the Wash between Norfolk and Lincolnshire since at least 1390. In Norfolk the name GOTT may have morphed into GOTTES through common usage. It is most likely a ‘topographical’ name (based on the land features where they lived) referring to someone who ‘lived near a water channel or drain.’
The names may both derive from Viking or Danish invasions/settlements bringing the same language.
Prior to 1750 variants/mis-spellings exist as GOTTE, GOTTES, GOTTYS, GOOTIS
Currently, the only versions are GOTT and GOTTS, with GOTTE and GOTTES being early forms of spelling. GOTER and GOATES are separate names, and probably derive from ‘Goatherds’.
The primary early locations are Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Norfolk.
In Norfolk they are mainly GOTT(E)S, Lincolnshire mainly GOTT, and Yorkshire always GOTT.
There are three different thoughts on the origin of the surname:
The last may apply for an individual recorded at that time, but it is difficult to see how this would become hereditary across so many different areas.
Given that both Yorkshire and East Anglia were under Danish rule during these formative years I favour the first, especially as there does not seem to be evidence of anyone bearing the name having any standing in society.
RA McKinley, in his books History of Surnames and Norfolk and Suffolk Surnames, has some interesting points to make:
In East Anglia, it was during 1250-1350 that landowners were having surnames recorded, and because of transferring property they were becoming hereditary. Prior to 1400, serfs were unlikely to have surnames, and there were not many documents around naming them.
People with topographical surnames were recorded as having different names depending on where they lived. So ‘John Gott(e)’, meaning he lives by the water, could change to ‘John Holt’ if he moved to live by the wood.
Many topographical names started off in the singular, and acquired the plural from 1300 and many after 1500 without any genitival connection: ie someone named ‘John Gott’ was referred to as ‘John Gottes’, possibly meaning the family of Gott, and it stuck, but certainly not as the servant of Gott. In many cases the singular use has eventually died out, as in Norfolk where Gotte became Gottes, though not in Yorkshire, where Gott is more prevalent. This happened across other types of surnames, such as those based on occupations and locations.
McKinley also recognises that there were people from Yorkshire around King’s Lynn in the 13c & 14c, so the opportunity for immigration of the name existed.