The Potten Name - Origins and Various Spellings



The English Pottens

The Continental Pottens

The US Pottens

*The English Pottens

The English surname Potten is of locative origin, from a place called Potton in medieval Bedfordshire, so called from the Old English words "Pott and Tun", meaning "the town where pots were made". Alternatively, the prefix "Pott" may have referred to a hollow or depression in the ground, meaning "the town by the hollow". In southern England, however, the origin is not so clear and may have been introduced into Britain by the victorious Normans under William the Conqueror in 1066. This could have been derived from the Old French word "Pottin" which is of Baptismal origin of the saint Pothinus (or Pothin), Bishop of Lyon and a martyr in the second century. This name itself derived from the Greek "Potheinos, Pothos" referring to the mysterious passion of the love of God, revealing a patronymic origin. The patronymic origin refers to the name of the father of the original bearer. Both possible origins afforded the bearer of the name a suitable means of identity in his local community. It was very popular in medieval Britain to attach a saint's name to those of one's offspring in the hope that the saint's qualities would devolve upon the child, and that his protection could be invoked at a latter date in case of need.

Among the earliest written references to the name or a variant we read of one Gilbert de Pottone from Bedfordshire in the Hundred Rolls of the year 1273, and Simon de Pottone from Cambridge appeared in the record in the same year. Robert Potyn , Richard Poterne and Ralph Potterne are documented in Sussex records between 1275 and 1285

By the mid-nineteenth century, the name Potten or Potton had developed in three main areas of England :

*Bedfordshire / Hertfordshire / Middlesex

*Sussex / Kent

*Yorkshire / Lincolnshire.

Other name derivatives that developed in England were Pottinge and Potting.

In Sussex, one of the earliest references to the name was that of Robert Potyn in the Chatuary of the Priory of St. Pancras of Lewes in 1275, and in the fourteenth century John and Stephen Potyn were recorded as landowners in Rye. Potyn or Pottyn may well have been a phonetic corruption of the Norman French Pottin referred to previously. Alternatively, the name may have derived at an earlier date from the potters of Brede, near Rye. Pottyns in Rye at the commencement of the sixteenth century had changed to Potten by the end of that century. These are well documented in the Records of Rye as sea captains and fishermen. Of the more noteworthy Pottens, one John Potten from Shropshire was in 1732 convicted of an unspecified offence and deported to the North American Colonies. Christopher Nerry Potten (1849 - 1934) from Sussex origins was a landscape painter of some merit having paintings exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts and the Royal Society of British Artists.


Blazon of Arms - Argent (i.e. silver), on a fess between three mullets sable, and many bezants.

Crest - A lion rampant or (i.e. gold).

*The Continental Pottens

On the European continental mainland, the name Potten was derived from the pottery trade being a Flemish variation of the professional name 'Pot'. One of the first recorded Pottens was Johannes Potten, a potter at a baron's court in Echt, Middle-Limburg, the Netherlands. By the 17th Century the Dutch Pottens had spread to Issun, Hörstgen and Kamp in the Nether-Rhine area of Germany where Potten earthenware pottery and dishes became noted, and examples exist today in museums in Germany, Great Britain, France and Russia. At the end of the 18th Century, some Pottens had moved to Isselburg in the Nether-Rhine area and from there they spread to Belgium by the end of the 19th Century. Many of the Pottens were Calvinists and it is thought that the different migrations may have been the result of religious persecutions. However, economic reasons (such as the availability of clay, markets, etc) must also have played a part.

*The US Pottens

Religious persecutions may have been one of the reasons for emigrations of Pottens to the US. By the mid-19th Century, many Pottens are documented. The index of Census, marriage and other records available from the Family Tree Maker Web Site lists some 130 Pottens, Pottenburghs and Pottenbergs.

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