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About the study
This is a worldwide study of Plant and related surnames.
The reasoning behind the most commonly supposed meaning 'gardener' seems somewhat superficial, based on just a small part of the available evidence. The results of a fuller and more detailed study seem at least equally compatible with a meaning `offspring' (cf. offshoot) or `living near the planted place'.
The first known, late medieval form of the name was `de la Planta' (1202) in Anjou, perhaps meaning from an Alpine region called La Planta. Still earlier in 46AD, Julius Planta had been a friend and advisor of the Roman Emperor Claudius with responsibilities at Trento in the Italian Alps. The surviving Alpine names Von Planta and Planta could mean from the Engadine (near Trento), which means `from the garden source of the River Inn'. In 1350, the London priest Henry Plante was from Risole, evidently Risoul in the French Alps.
However, it seems that any such early meaning could have morphed, or the name could have arisen independently, such as for an isolated gardener near Hull (1377). The occupation gardener could have been an accidental coincidence for someone living near a garden. There were several very different occupations, instead of gardener, recorded for earlier bearers of the Plant name.
The sense of Plant could have been locational, such as living near `the garden' or `fertile place' or `planted place' or `founded place' of which the last sense can be related to an early English meaning of plant: `to found' or `to establish' (OED). Hence, the main English Plant family might have acquired its sense through `living near the Black Prince's newly-founded vaccary' for example. This was the Plants' first known location (explicitly in 1373) in their main homeland at Midgeley near the county border between east Cheshire and north Staffordshire (Plant records for this general region exist from 1360). That said, an earlier start to the main Plant family would help to explain its abnormally large size, as well as giving it a more straightforward meaning. In the Longspée-Audley hypothesis, this line of the nobility were the feudal lords over the Plants and they had Anglo-Norman origins. The early name spelling Plante is found in England alongside the spelling Plant such that the name could quite literally have meant (living near the) planted (place), based on the French past participle planté, instead of meaning gardener (metonymic) or offspring (metaphoric) or from Le Plantis in Normandy. All four of these possible meanings, for the surnames Plant and Plante, are included in The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names of Britain and Ireland.
Planta, de la Planta, von Planta, Pianta, Plante, La Plante, Plantt, Plant (from early forms Plaunt, Plonte, Plante and Plantt), and possibly Plenty (from early form Plente or Plonte) and Pallant (from Palente).
Also interested in `similar' names, such as Plantagenet, Planterose, Plantyn and Plantard.
The name and its variants are widely spread throughout the world, particularly in former English colonies. There are, for example, around 11,000 Plants in the UK and 2,000 with the spellings Plante, Planty and Plantie in SW France. The worldwide population of the Plant surname is around 28,000 and there are a similar number with the spelling Plante.
Distribution of the name