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About the study

The Phethean One-Name study was established in 2012. I have been researching the PHETHEAN surname for about 20 years. More recently I have been concentrating on tracing the early origins of the surname, including all variants that I am aware of, rather than establishing a definitive family-tree of my own particular spelling of the surname

Variant names

The registered variants of the name are Fithyan, Phitheon, Phithian, Phythian. Only Phethean,Phythian and Fithyan appear to be represented in England at the present day.

All the variants that I am researching are: Fethion, Fethyan, Fethyon, Fhithyan, Fithan, Fithean, Fitheion, Fitheon, Fithian, Fithion, Fithyan, Fithyon, Fitton, Fytheone, Fythian, Pheathean, Pheathian, Phethean, Phethein, Phetheon, Phethian, Phethion, Phithean, Phitheon, Phithian, Phithion, Phithyan, Phythean, Phytheon, Phythian, Phythion, Phythyan.

Name origin

The Phethean surname has caused much discussion and one is often faced with the question "€œIs it Cornish"€ or even "€œ Is it Greek"€. Traditional etymological studies have suggested that the surname (and the more common form Phythian) is derived from the early French/Latin root "€œVivian / Vivianus"€ - from vivus "€œliving"€. I have no evidence of a Cornish (or Greek!) connection. Its pronunciation and spelling are difficult and it appears in a variety of forms. There is much dialectical replacement of "f"€ and "€œv"€ cf Fivian and Fithian; also replacement of "€œth"€ and "€œd"€ cf Fidian. The initial "€œPh"€ is probably just an artefact of transcription.

There are sparse records dating from 1250 - 1450 in various parts of the UK. The definitive spelling Phethean first appears in Tunstall, Staffordshire in 1459 where it was used as a first-name (Phethean of Tunstall) and then is found as a surname (and many derivative spellings) mainly in two locations in Cheshire - Brereton-cum-Smethwick and Warmingham from about 1500-1750. These sites are only about 15 miles from Tunstall but at present I have been unable to link the two locations.

Historical occurrences of the name

The Industrial Revolution lead to migrations of families who were yeoman farmers from the country to the cities. The Phethean line became established in Bolton, Lancashire from the late 1700s. The family became innkeepers, paper-makers and finally cotton-millers. John Phethean & Co, Cotton Spinners, was established in the mid 1800s and was located initially in Bolton and later, as the business expanded, in Farnworth and Moses Gate. The demise of the English cotton spinning industry at the end of the 19th Century and early 20th Century resulted in the business being voluntarily wound up in 1929.

Name frequency

The surname is rare! The numbers below are from the Great Britain Family Names Profiler and the 1841 Census:

1881 Phethean1881 Phythian1841 Phethean1841 Phythian

Distribution of the name

From 1500-1700 the surname(s) are almost exclusive to Cheshire. By the time of the 1881 Census both Phethean and Phythian are exclusive to Lancashire, where the focus remains to this day.


A Y-DNA project has been set up in conjunction with Family Tree DNA. Full details of how to join the project and apply for discounted testing as a member of the project can be found at Phethean Surname Project