The Etymology of an Unusual Name

English Arms

Hi Guys,

One of the greatest boons of having an unusual name comes from meeting new people. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to spell my name out slowly for a receptionist, or how many times I must confirm that, yes, R-O-H-A-N G-O-T-O-B-E-D is my actual name. Don’t get me wrong, it has never been more than a middling irritation; and I would never dare send a letter to the government requesting to have it changed. Today for my blog post, I thought I would begin to explain some of the origins of my surname; which I hope a lot of you will find quite interesting.

According to, there are around 238 different claimants of the Gotobed surname worldwide (though I am unsure whether this signifies 238 different individuals or 238 different families). This makes ‘Gotobed’ the 777,740th surname in the world, an excellent achievement in my opinion.

According to the Surname Database; “This very unusual surname, one of the most interesting listed anywhere, is English. First recorded in the 13th century, and now found as Gotobed and Gotbed, over the seven centuries since its “creation” in early medieval times, it has undergone many changes. The meaning is uncertain. The late Professor Reaney, the acknowledged authority on English surnames, gives the meaning as “what it says”. From this we deduce that he meant that beds were such rare things in ancient times, that to have one, was a matter of local comment to the point where the person concerned was named from this piece of furniture. Certainly early nicknames were bestowed for much less reason than this. However it also has to be said that the medieval period was renowned for its Chaucerian humour which was almost always direct, and often obscene. This might imply that the first known nameholder one John Gotobedde of Barnwell, Cambridge, in 1269, had other uses for his bed! The trouble with almost all nickname surnames, is that without actually being present when the name was given out, it is impossible to be absolutely certain of the true meaning. Other early recordings include William Gawtobedde of Sussex in 1332, and John Godbed of London, in 1760.”
However, that account is contradicted by the following paragraph, which comes from the Historical Research Centre’s official stance on the family name history.

The English family name Gotobed is classified as being of nickname origin. Surnames which are derived from a nickname are said to constitute one of the widest and most varied class of family names.  This particular category encompasses many different types of origin. The most obvious are those names which are based on a physical characteristic or personal attribute of the initial bearer. In this instance, the noted scholar M.A. Lower states that the surname Gotobed was originally applied to someone who was more than ordinarily attached to their couch or bed. Variants of the surname include Gotbed and Godbed.

One of the earliest written references to the surname in its various forms is a record of one John Gotobedde who appears in the “Liber Memorandorum Ecclesie de Bernewelle” for Cambridgeshire in 1269 while Richard Gotobedde was recorded in the Subsidy Rolls of Bedfordshire in 1309. Research is of course ongoing and the name may have been recorded earlier than the date indicated above. Later references include William Gawetobedde who was listed in the subsidy rolls of Sussezin chancery in 1580. Ann Gotobed was mentioned in the calender of Wills in the Court of Husting in 1621 and Charles Godbed married Penelope Cooper in St. George’s Church, Hanover Square, London in 1760.

Records relating to the departure of bearers of the surname to the New World include John Gotobed, from Cambridgeshire, who emigrated to America during the Summer of 1773. Up to the present time, there is no record of bearers of this name being granted a blazon of arms. 

So, ending on a bit of a downer there; I am a little disappointed that none of my ancestors were capable of getting a coat of arms. Nonetheless, I thought some of you may be intrigued as to where the surname Gotobed comes from, and I hope that you may be inspired to investigate your own surname.

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