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About the study

The study began in autumn 2001 with a search for the origin of this rare name, just 20 in the 1881 census, according to Archer Surname Atlas - 9 in Middlesex (5 of these in Islington) and 6 in Nottingham with a scattering of single appearances.  Further study showed there were in fact 36, some hidden as Amber or Humber, and a few, such as the Nottingham 6, mistakenly named Hamber instead of Humber.  By 1939 these had grown to five unrelated Hamber extended-families in England and Wales with distinct and separate origins.

Variant names

Hember is the principal variant of Hamber, phonetically identical in 18th century London.  Children of a Hember father are recorded variously as Hember or Hamber in St Saviour's Southwark, and St Botolph without Aldgate, City of London.  The records of the Watermen & Lightermen Company in Guildhall Library show Joseph Hember bound as an apprentice 13 May 1788, but surname spelled Hamber on 19 Aug 1802, a spelling adopted by his son Joseph, who served his apprenticeship 1821-1828.  Several Hembers similarly changed their spelling to Hamber in the early 19th century.  The 1881 census showed 50 Hembers, 27 living in Gloucestershire, specifically in Barton Regis, adjacent to Bristol, 7 in Brighton, 7 in Croydon and a scattering elsewhere.    

Name origin

Hamber is a variant or deviant of a number of British names such as HEMBROW, HUMBER, AMBER, HAMLIN etc, and seldom survived more than three generations before reverting to form or disappearing.  The earliest sporadic occurrence so far found is that of Sir Michael HAMBER, Rector of Holme, Nottinghamshire, in the publication "Wills in the York Registry" for whose estate administration was granted on 28 January 1428.   Ancestry gives an alternative transcription in "York Medieval Probate Index" for 1429 as Nicholas HAMMER /HAMBER, Rector, Holme, Notts.

There are five separate origins to the current name of Hamber.

(1) Hamber (also Hambert) from France 

This is my own family.

In the "Returns of Aliens dwelling in the City and suburbs of London from the reign of Henry VIII to that of James I"  appears the entry:  1571 strangers in Finsbury, Golding Lane, White Cross Street and Grub Street ("Finseburye, Golding Lane, White Crosestreate and Grubstreate"):  "These longe to the Frenche churche:  Nicholas Hamber, and his wife" .

Later, in the baptismal register of the Eglise de Londres (Threadneadle Street Huguenot Church), appear three entries:  

1704  HAMBERT  Susanne, fille de Jacque[sic] H. weuer [weaver], et Susanne, sa femme... Juin 11                                                                                                                              1724  HAMBRE, Elizabeth, fille de Jaques[sic] H. et Marthe Justin...née le 20 Avril                                                                                                                                                      1729  HAMBER  Sept 21...ff de Jaques[sic] et Marthe Justin ...née 31 Août

HAMBER is currently unknown in France, but gives the distribution by Département and Period of 92 HAMBERT births 1891-1990.

A family tradition of Huguenot origin would support this, but evidence is lacking, the earliest direct paternal Hamber record that of the baptism of Thomas Hamber (1790-1875) on 14 Nov 1790 in St Botolph without Aldgate, City of London, "Son of James & Rebecca  Maudlins Rents [a narrow alley joining Nightingale Lane to Lower East Smithfield]", now largely buried under the waters of St Katharine Docks. 

(2) Hembrow in Somerset   In 2002 77 Hamber names could be counted in the 1901 census on Ancestry, 27 in Somerset, descended from George Hembrow, (1835-1915), an agricultural labourer from Lydeard St Lawrence.  His name was Hembrow in the 1851 census, but Hemborough at marriage in 1860, and Hamber in all subsequent records. Archer's Surname Atlas shows 185 Hembrow names in 1881, 130 in Somerset, 31 in Middlesex with smaller numbers in Surrey and elsewhere.  

(3) Amber in Wiltshire   Thomas Amber (1833-1887) was born in Roundway, near Devizes.  In the 1841 and 1851 censuses he is living there with his parents John and Mary Amber. He married in 1854, but in the 1861 census he is living as a labourer in Cardiff, as "Hamber". His wife, Jane, remained in Devizes, as "Hamber" in the 1861 census, a "gardener's wife" with four children. In the 1871 census she is Jane "Hamber", a widow living in Hampshire, a housekeeper to Robert Spencer, and two of her sons.  In April 1875, Thomas married Eleanor Thomas in Newport bigamously declaring himself a bachelor, the son of John "Hamber".  Jane also married Robert Spencer, bigamously, in June that year, a "widow" but spelling her name correctly as Amber. Subsequent descendants of Thomas lived in Cardiff and Monmouth as "Hamber", with some moving to Canada.  In 1881 the Archer Surname Atlas showed 92 Amber names - Middlesex (21), Surrrey (18), Wiltshire (16, 12 in Devizes).

(4) Hamburger from Germany  Heinrich Hamburger, born in 1845 in Ilsenberg am Harz,Germany, moved to England in the 1860s and married in 1889 an English-born daughter of German parents in Nottingham. Some time before WW1, he changed the family surname to Hamber.  His only child, born 1895 in Southampton, John Frank Hamburger served in the British Army in WW1 as a Hamber, and then trained at King's College Medical School, London to qualify 1924.  He settled in general practice in Fordingbridge, Hampshire, and his two sons also became GPs in Salisbury and Basingstoke respectively. Their Hamber descendants continue to live in Britain.

(5) Hamber from Vienna and Ukraine   Vienna had a number of Jewish Hamber families in the 1930s, and three daughters of Edmund Hamber (1893-1940), Vienna film maker who died in Buchenwald Concentration Camp, arrived in England in the late 1930s, the youngest by Kindertransport in 1938. They married and their Hamber names disappeared by 1949.  They had two children each born in the Midlands (Birmingham, Solihull and Meriden Registration Districts).  

Historical occurrences of the name

No special historical occurrence of Hamber is known, and only one moderately distinguished Hamber is on record:  Eric Werge Hamber 1879-1960, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia (1936-1941), who entertained President Roosevelt in 1936 on the first American presidential visit to British Columbia, and in 1939 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at Government House, Victoria, Vancouver Island. 

Name frequency

The name is rare.  In the 1851 Census of England Wales and Scotland there are only seven HAMBER names belonging to two families both in London and related to each other.  Family Search and Find My Past found 38, with Ancestry an additional 47 making a total of 85.  Of these 72 were transcription errors for BAMBER, CHAMBERS, FOWLER, HAMBEL (HAMBLE), HAMLER, HAMBLER, HAMLIN, HAMPER, HAMSHIRE, HARBER, HARRISON, HUMBER, HUNTER, KIMBER, STAMPER, and THORNBER and six were errors in the original records for HAMBLEN, HAMBLING, and HUMBER.  In later census records, HAWKER is a not uncommon transcription error.  According to the Office of National Statistics data base for 2002 there there were 115 HAMBERs in England Wales and the Isle of Man, out of 55.9 million, ranking 30347. The HEMBER variant numbered 116, ranking 30189.  I found 87 on the electoral rolls of England and Wales for that year, with several duplicates due to uncorrected changes of address.

Public Profiler World Names gives figures for frequency per million, with Sweden the top country (3.79) United Kingdom (1.84), New Zealand (1.76) Argentina (0.85) and USA (0.3).  If regions are considered, Sweden's Stockholm area comes first with (23.31), followed by Rotorua District, New Zealand (21.78), Auckland City (10.09), Waitakere City, New Zealand (7.55) and Wales UK (7.12), fifth. (related to MyHeritage) has different figures for 2014, finding Indonesia had the most Hambers with 170, followed by England 129, USA 100, South Africa 73, Israel 47, Sweden 36, India 24, New Zealand 19 and Australia 9.  For USA in 1880, there were 27 Hambers, 10 in New York, 7 in Missouri, 5 in Georgia, 4 in Massachusetts and 1 in Wisconsin.  The figure had grown to 99 in 2014, 134 years later, with the greatest number still in New York, 14, followed by California 13, North Carolina 13 and Missouri 11.


Distribution of the name

Distribution has been outlined above.  That Indonesia should have the largest number in 2014 (170) is a surprise, so also the number given for South Africa (73) and India (24).