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2,396 study surnames with us
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About the study

The CANTON One-Name Study began in the late 1970s, when my search for my Pembrokeshire grandmother's family in the GRO Birth, Marriage and Death indexes showed that it was a fairly unusual name and that many of its bearers were related to me. (I was born and bred in that county myself and knew my Canton relations well.) Further research showed that there were other Pembrokeshire lines and also a distinct line in Gloucestershire, which was later in London. As there was a great deal of interaction between South Wales and the West Country of England, an obvious challenge - not yet fulfilled - has been to link up these lines. Pembrokeshire and other Cantons of British origin have a varied history, not least because several emigrated and their lines have proliferated in other countries.

Over the years, all BMD entries, many census returns and parish register entries (especially Welsh), wills, deeds and documents have been added and the collection of data is very comprehensive for most lines. Since 1980, Canton descendants from around the world have been in touch and have often provided unique family information.

I am always glad to hear from Canton descendants from anywhere in the world and am happy to exchange information. Some of the data I have collected can be found through this page - in many cases I can add more.

Variant names

  • CANTINGTON/CANTITON/CAUNTETON are the earliest forms of the name in Pembrokeshire.
  • CANTAN is the spelling used by one branch of the Pembrokeshire family after Thomas CANTON moved to Kent.
  • CANTEN is very rare and seems to be mainly a mis-spelling of one of the other variants.
  • CANTIN sometimes indicates a family of relatively modern French origin.
  • CANTONS - though this might appear a simple variant of CANTON, in practice it is extremely rare and used by one family, as yet unconnected with other main lines.
  • CANTUIN is the most 'authentic' form in Ireland, though CONDON is considered by many to be a variant.

Name origin

CANTON appears first in medieval Pembrokeshire when the (de) Cantington/Cantetons (who became Canton) arrived as part of the 12th century Anglo-Norman invasion of Cemais, north Pembrokeshire, led by the Martins, who held land in Somerset and in Devon. These advenae intermarried with Welsh people, some losing their surname to the Welsh patronymic-naming system, but others keeping it over the centuries, gradually moving southwards towards the present-day focal points in Narberth and Castlemartin hundreds. In addition, descendants of the original settlers were part of the invasion of Ireland in the reign of Henry II, resulting in the name appearing in that country too.

The medieval form of the surname Canton has the same early form as the place-name Cannington: Cantetone (Domesday Book), Cantinton (1187 Pipe Rolls); earlier it was Cantucton, the tun by the Quantocks. The Cannington area of Devon has a link with Cannington in Somerset.

The Glamorgan village, Canton, now a suburb of Cardiff, was 'Canna's Tun' originally, Canna being the name of an early Welsh saint. Men called 'de Canton' are found in medieval deeds in that area, but research has shown that this indicated their residence and that the name did not survive as a surname. However, it is not impossible that some Irish Cantons are descended from them.

Although CANTON has been domiciled in Pembrokeshire by centuries of usage, it is not true to say that it comes from a local place-name, for no such name exists or can be traced; it is also not derived from 'Scalton', as has been suggested.

Another important line is found in Gloucestershire from the late 17th century, but does not appear to be represented in earlier documents. There is a possibility that it was an offshoot of one of the Pembrokeshire lines, there having been many trading links between the two counties along the Bristol Channel. John Canton of Stroud took this line to London and achieved fame (see below).

Most of the research carried out, though extensive, has related to families originating in Britain and Ireland (in a good number of cases migrating to the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand). CANTON and its variants are found in several European countries, though they are quite unconnected to the British lines:

In France, CANTIN is often a rationalisation of the personal name QUENTIN; it may also be from the place-name CANTIN (Nord). In Spain, CANTON has the emphasis on the final syllable, and the surname is probably taken from the vocabulary word for a corner - i.e., first given to someone who lived on or at a corner. From the same root, CANTO is found in Spain and Portugal, while Italy has CANTONE and CANTONI. People called CANTON from all these countries have taken their name abroad, especially to the New World.

Historical occurrences of the name

Most Cantons have led quiet, largely rural lives, but here are a few of those whose achievements are worthy of note:

John Canton, MA, FRS (1718-1772) was the son of a weaver in Stroud, Gloucestershire, attending the local charity school. His intelligence was recognised early and he was taken to London to be educated. Although he spent his adult life as a schoolmaster, in Spital Square, London, he was also a distinguished experimental scientist and became a Fellow of the Royal Society. He was a friend of Benjamin Franklin and of many other 18th-century scientists and natural philosophers. John Canton had three sons, one of whom had four sons, and each of the latter had a large family. There are many descendants of John Canton, FRS, alive today and they form one of the largest linked trees in the one-name study - very few of them, however, bear the Canton surname and those few form a key line in the DNA project outlined below.
William Canton, Poet, Author, Journalist (1845-1926) was very well-known in the late Victorian period, especially for his poetry and for his historical works on religious subjects, though they have gone out of fashion since then. He was the son of an Irish soldier and, after preparation for the priesthood, renounced his vocation and took up teaching, then journalism and publishing. He wrote a number of books about his family life in north London, especially about his beloved daughter Winifred (W.V.), a lively and interesting child - when she died just before her eleventh birthday, William Canton's creative life came to an end, though he continued to write to commission. His W.V. books are a wonderful source for Canton family history.
Susan Ruth Canton, known as Ruth Canton, artist and sculptor (1849-1932), was the daughter of Crucefix Canton, a great-grandson of John Canton, FRS. She exhibited her work between 1880-1920 at the Royal Academy, the Royal Society of British Artists, the Society of Women Artists, as well as in various London and provincial galleries. Ruth Canton did not marry. She lived long enough to have known personally some of this writer's Canton correspondents. There is a scrapbook of her life and career in Canterbury Museum, New Zealand, compiled by 'W. Canton', named in the catalogue as her brother but in fact her cousin, Walter. Unfortunately, the scrapbook is too fragile to even be microfilmed.
Revd William John Canton (1854-1930) was born in quite humble circumstances, the son of James Canton, a haulier, and Mary (nee Gibbon, of a farming family). His Canton ancestors were tailors and parish clerks in Manorbier, Pembrokeshire - a hint, perhaps, of the piety which was to transform the young William's life. At the age of 17, by then living in the town of Pembroke, William was a joiner (1871 census). Ten years later he was a clergyman in the Church of England, married to the only daughter of a wealthy Member of Parliament. A Manx church history describes how he had come to the Isle of Man during the building of the railway, held a mission for the navvies and attracted the attention of the local bishop, resulting in his ordination. He met and married Helen Bashall Hick, daughter of John Hick MP who had a summer home on the Isle of Man - at his marriage in 1879, he described his father as 'Gentleman'. Later William J Canton held livings in the north-west of England and was for many years the respected rector of Whalley Range; the couple had two sons (both C of E clergymen) and a daughter, and there are living descendants. The end of his life was tragic: in April 1930 he travelled to Blackpool, walked on the Pier and fell into the sea, and a young man who dived in to save him also died. It was several weeks before William's body was found. At the inquest it was noted that he had suffered from bronchitis, heart trouble and had had fainting attacks. An extract from his diary, found on his body, said, 'My darling Nellie went to be with Jesus, June 10, 1928', but his sons said that, though troubled, William had not been suicidal. The inquest verdict was 'found drowned'.

Name frequency

Statistics for CANTON, CANTAN, etc:
* Births 1837-2006: 927
* Marriages 1837-2005: 705
* Deaths 1837-2006: 739


CANTON Birth, Marriage and Death records (including 140+ certificates), entries in the index of post-1858 Wills, extracts from numerous parish registers, deeds plus many other sources can be searched on request.


The Canton Surname Project is in its early stages but is delighted to announce that several Y-DNA tests have been taken and results are promising. Enquiries are welcome from any males with the surname CANTON, CANTAN, CANTEN, CANTIN who want to know more about Y-DNA tests; from people called CANNINGTON, CAUNTON, etc; and from anyone else who has an interest in this project.