Saturday, 5 February 2011

Surname Saturday - Panther

One of my ancestors was a Panther! Elizabeth Panther was born in Finedon, Northamptonshire, around 1802 and married William Eaton in Dean, Bedfordshire, on 30 March 1821.




William was a carpenter, aged 44. He had been married twice before and had nine children, eight of whom were still living, aged four to sixteen. His second wife had only been dead six months when he married the nineteen year old Elizabeth. No doubt he needed to provide a stepmother for his brood but Elizabeth clearly had her own attractions. William went on to have a further eight children with her, the youngest born when he was aged 65. William died in 1857, aged 80, and Elizabeth only survived him by a decade. She died at Dean on 14 August 1868, aged 66. Raising sixteen children clearly wore her out a lot faster than fathering seventeen of them did him!




Sadly, the surname Panther has nothing to do with big cats. It is a variant of Panter, which is an occupational surname. The panter was an officer in a medieval household, who supplied the bread and had charge of the pantry. The panter in a monastery also distributed loaves to the poor. The word is derived from the Old French panieter, via Anglo-French paneter.


Panter at work in Conwy Castle kitchen


The earliest occurrence of the surname cited by Reaney & Wilson in their Dictionary of English Surnames is Reginald le Paneter in Kent in 1200. In later centuries, when the original derivation had long been forgotten, the name probably began to be spelled as Panther because of the association with the animal.

The surname Panter is rare today and its variant Panther even rarer. The distribution is extremely localised to Northamptonshire and its surrounding counties. In 2002 I did a study comparing the occurrence of the surname Panther in the 1881 census to the entries in the modern British phonebooks. In 1881 there were 302 people with the surname Panther, of whom 52% were living in Northamptonshire, with a further 9% in the surrounding counties. 61% of all the Panthers in the 1881 census were born in Northamptonshire. In 2002, the surname Panther appeared in significant numbers only in the Northampton phonebook.

1 comment:

  1. It's so amazing you can trace your family back this way and wonderful it uncovers such fantastic history.