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About the study

Welcome to the Sabey One-Name Study.

I have always been intrigued by my birth surname Sabey because it is quite unusual and has obscure origins.  It rhymes with baby, but is often mispronounced to rhyme with tabby.

At present I am in the process of digitising nearly 40 years of my late father's research in addition to my own. The aim of the study is to bring together all possible data, information and research relating to Sabey in order to share it with those who are also researching or have any interest in the surname.  As such, it will remain a work in progress and I welcome any contributions or comments.

Variant names

Sabby, Sabie, Saby

Name origin

The origin is uncertain, but many sources including The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland (Patrick Hanks, Richard Coates, and Peter McClure, 2016) say it is probably a reduced form of Sabin.  The Sabines were an ancient Italian tribe who gave their name to a number of saints named Saint Sabinus and also Saint Sabina who was murdered for her faith.  Many are not persuaded by this, so I would like to explore other options.

There are several towns in Sweden named Säby and a seaport in Northern Denmark called Saeby.  In 2014, 605 people in Denmark held the name Saabye.   Perhaps there is an ancient invader or a more recent coloniser responsible for the surname?

The Scandinavian influence also extends to the name of our towns.  Those which end in "by" meaning "homestead" are of Viking origin, such as Corby and Whitby.  "Sae" is Old Norse for sea.  The Anglo Saxon word “saeba” means “sea illustrious” or “sea bright” and "ebba" means "tide" so our earliest Sabey name holders could have been coastal dwellers who adopted their first name as a surname when the need arose.

There are scatterings of small groups of Sabey/Sabie/Saby/Sabbe families in various locations all around England from as early as 1441, suggesting there may be multiple origins.

The discussion continues on the Sabey website, but the Sabey DNA Project should throw further light on the issue (see below).


Historical occurrences of the name

Early holders of the name include:

John Mychell Saby, 1441 Subdeacon of the Diocese of Exeter (Bodmin Priory, Cornwall)

John Saby, 1533 Lord of the Manor (Finedon, Northants)

Henry Saby married Agnes Bletsoe, 1562 (Rushden, Northants)

Richard Sabey, son of Thomas and Alice Sabey, 1588 Parish Record Book (Pontesbury, Shrops)

Francis Sabey, 1566 witness to a Lease (Coventry)

Thomas Saby, 1634 in IGI (Bolnhurst, Beds)



Name frequency

Research is ongoing, but Public Profiler identifies 226 individuals bearing the Sabey name in the 1881 Census for England & Wales. It also shows that by 1998 there were 239 name bearers.

There were 251 Sabey name bearers in the 1939 Register in England (Findmypast).

Distribution of the name

In the 1841 census, the highest percentage of Sabeys are centred around Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire.  However, the largest number of holders of the name during the sixteenth and seventeenth century, were in Northamptonshire. 

By 1881, Kent and Middlesex also have a large proportion of Sabey name bearers. In Kent, brickmaking, cement-works and barge building to transport the goods that fuelled the London expansion, caused a movement of workers and the arrival of railways in the 1850s facilitated this mobility.

The 1939 Register shows the spread of the surname was more evenly distributed between the above counties, but also Yorkshire, Northamptonshire and Surrey.

By 1998, according to Public Profiler, the strongest concentration was still in Bedfordshire and the surrounding counties, but also London.  The industry that pulled people to Kent was largely defunct by this time.  Pockets of Sabeys can also be found in Yorkshire, Dumfries and Devon.

These migrations have not only been seen across the UK but worldwide. As a result there are now established populations in USA, Canada and Australia.

James Sabey (1834-1910) from Upper Caldecote in Bedfordshire, England sailed from Liverpool to New York in 1861 taking his wife and 4 children with him.   He settled in Utah and became a Mormon Pioneer.  His marriages produced over 20 children and many of those who bear the Sabey name in Canada and the USA can trace their ancestry back to James.


A DNA project for the name Sabey and any variants has been set up with Family Tree DNA.  So far two different branches have been identified, both originating in Bolnhurst, Bedfordshire.  We also have one member with the surname Sabin who does not match either of the Sabey profiles.  There are two members of the project with the surname Saban who match each other, but not any of the Sabey or Sabin members.

If you are a male Sabey and have had your Y-DNA tested, please seriously consider joining the Project as every holder of each variant spelling will form a vital part of the study.  If you are thinking of taking a Y-DNA test, contact us as the Guild offer a discounted FTDNA testing kit for use as part of a surname project.