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2,405 study surnames with us
and a further 6,120 variant names.

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About the study

I began researching my Caunce family tree in 2001. I was interested in tracking my family line as far back as possible to try to find the origin and meaning of the Caunce name ; I was told as a child that it was a French name. I found that before 1900 my ancestors were mainly based in and around the West Lancashire village of Rufford. I was fortunate that the Lancashire Parish Register Society had transcribed and published the early Parish Registers of Rufford and Croston. I recorded all the Caunce entries (and variants/deviants) from these publications and attempted to build up an early family tree thus starting me off on a one-name study which I registered with the Guild in 2003.

In addition to collecting Caunce records world wide, my aim is to find the origin of the name and to complete as much family reconstruction as possible.

Variant names

The registered variants are Cance, Canse, and Conce.

Before 1700 Conce, Canse and Cance were more common in the records than Caunce but after 1700 most family lines used Caunce. In the 1881 census for England and Wales there were 445 Caunce entries and 14 Conce/Canse/Cance entries.

In France and the USA Cance is a much more common name than in England ; Cance may be a variant of Caunce or an unrelated French name.

Name origin

The 1881 census shows the Caunce name to be concentrated around the West Lancashire village of Rufford. Records show a close link with the Hesketh family, Lords of the Manor of Rufford, with many Caunces yeoman farmers leasing land from the Heskeths. The earliest reference I have found is Rob Cauns in a listing of subscribers for a priest for Ormskirk in 1366.

Few surname dictionaries include Caunce. The Internet Surname Dictionary makes a link to the name CHANCE : either old French or middle English origin, nickname meaning 'lucky'. This seems unlikely, early Caunce variants/deviants show no link and geographic distributions are quite different. Reaney, in A Dictionary of British Surnames, has an entry for CAUSEY, middle English CAUCE meaning 'dweller by a causeway'.

Interested Caunce family members give the following possible origins:

  1. In the Cornish language 'caunce' means causeway. Rufford is named after the ford were Martin Mere outflow used to drain into the River Douglas. On either side of this were causeways through the marshy land and at that place is still Causeway Farm and Causeway Fields. Forms of Brythonic Celtic were spoken up the West side of Britain from Cornwall to Cumberland but I do not have the expertise to judge the likelyhood that this is the source of the name.
  2. From the North Lancashire village of Cantsfield, the Cansfield family had a number of name variants including CAUNCEFIELD or CAUNCEFELD. The earliest reference is John de Cancefield who was Abbott of Furness Abbey in 1153. It is theorised that someone from this family moved south in Lancashire and dropped the 'field' from the name. I have not yet found a link but will keep looking.
  3. A common story in Rufford is that a member of the Hesketh family took on a French servant named Caunce when fighting in France and brought him back home with him. Sir William Hesketh was rewarded for good service at the Battle of Crecy in 1346 but I have no evidence to support this story.

DNA analysis could be used to check for links between Caunce, Cance, Chance and Cansfield family lines.

Historical occurrences of the name

No occurrences have been found in biographical dictionaries.

Amongst those of note are:

John William Caunce (1900-1993), Captain of Atlantic Liners including the Mauritania and the Queen Elizabeth.

Jim Caunce, Elder Statesman of St. Helens, Councillor for Haydock for more than 50 years and Mayor in 1980 and 1992, died September 2012, aged 92.

Name frequency

The Office of National Statistics database indicated that Caunce was the 7409th most common name in England and Wales in September 2002 with 866 occurrences.

Figures from Ancestry census data (at15/03/2011) and Lancashire Archives show the following changes in frequency for Caunce:

England and Wales - from 400 in 1851 to 640 in 1901.

United States- from 0 in 1840 to 7 in 1900.

Canada- from 0 in 1861 to 5 in 1901.

Distribution of the name

A distribution plot using Archer software with 1881 census data showed the name to be concentrated in West Lancashire with 95% in Lancashire.

A distribution plot based on 2002 electoral register data (from showed there had been some migration but still over 75% in Lancashire.

The website Public Profiler of World Names showed there had been migration to Canada, New Zealand, Australia and USA but they were at a low concentration.


My core records are :

  1. Civil Registration in England and Wales.
    -All entries from indexes 1837-1950 (from freebmd) B-1600, M-1050, D-1000.
    -West Lancs Ormskirk District full Register entries 1837-1950 B-600, M-300, D-350.
  2. Census records for England and Wales 1841-1911 (1861 incomplete).
  3. Parish Register entries (start date -1900) for most West Lancashire Parishes from LPRS publications and microfiche copies, others will be checked on line as available. Bap-1100, Mar-400, Bur-650.
  4. Lancashire PCC wills and administrations up to 1858 (40) and summaries from calendars of wills 1858-1943 (141).
  5. Scotland, Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand civil registration and census records. Some records have been collected in this area to date but numbers are relatively small.
  6. A lot of family reconstruction has been carried out with a high proportion of 1911 census entries linked back to one couple c1600.


A DNA project was started with FamilyTreeDNA in April 2011.
DNA analysis has shown that it is unlikely that the Caunce name is linked to the Chance or Counce names. Tests have not yet been carried out against Cance or Cansfield names.