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The Tovey Name

The Origins of the Tovey Name

From our research, it would appear that the name "Tovey" has its recent origins with one of King Canute's (Cnut's) lieutenants, the Danish Thane, Tovius or "Tovi the Proud". Tovius was granted a thanedom for his military exploits and set up home in Somerset, England.

Other possible origins for our name are much older where theories, rather than firm documentary evidence, abound. The further back in time you look, the more confusing the possibilities become, particularly as modern and ancient languages, pronunciation and even alphabets have changed enormously.

An Internet surname reference gives the following:

  Old Norse Tófi, Old Danish Tovi, a diminutive of Þioðvaldr 'nation ruler',
  a name brought to this country by Tovi the Proud, a follower of Cnut.
Ian and Liz Gardiner (from New Zealand) have researched the Tovey name quite extensively and have given us permission to reproduce some of their findings here:

The origins of the name Tovey, (in our family pronounced Tuh-vey but in many others Toe-vey) go back to the Viking times.

The following was copied from a book called "Greater London" 1886, Chapter 43 on Waltham Abbey.

"Tovi or Tovious was the Standard Bearer to King Canute .... Waltham it appears to be a place of note long before the Norman Conquest. It is first mentioned in a document dated as far back as the time of Canute the Great, at which time its then owner, Tovi or Tovious, Standard Bearer to the great monarch, founded on the outskirts of the forest here a church and village. After his death Athelstan, his son and heir, a prodigal young man, squandered his inheritance, and Waltham appears by some means to have reverted to the Crown. The religious establishment of Tovi however continued and probably with some augmentation till the reign of Edward the Confessor."

Part of a translation of the legend of Waltham Abbey (probably written at the end of the 12th century):

"Some excavation work had been done in the course of which many things were found. Not knowing what to do, a tent was placed over the excavation until the Lord of the place could be sent for. The Lord, was 'Tovi le Prude' a very great man indeed, being described as "totius Angliae post regnem primus" of all the English, after the King first. (prude = prudent, wise, sagacious)."

The legend goes on to tell of the founding of the abbey by Tovi:

"Glitha the wife of Tovi, presented a splendid golden and jewelled crown, beside the circlet, which she wore in common with all the noblemen women, which was fixed round the thigh of the image. While her bracelets and other jewels were fashioned into a subpedanaeum, into which was inserted a wondrous stone, whose property was to emit rays during the night, and thus afford light to travellers.... After the erection of the new church the crucifix still continued its miracles, the most famous of which took place when Harold was on his way to fight the Normans.... He prayed for victory.... the image which before had looked upwards, now bowed down its head, 'a bad sign and significant of the future'.

In 1192 the cross was covered anew in silver probably in consequence of what happened years before, when a goldsmith took off the circlet round the thigh (probably that given by the wife of Tovi) all those present were struck blind for a considerable time."

The Name Tovey

The name Tovey appears in various forms for example Tovee, Tovey, Toovey, Tuvey, Tovis, Tovi and the best definition I can find is "Tovi, a diminutive of Þioðvaldr, (Nation Ruler) a name brought to England by Tovi the Proud the follower of Canute (Cnut)". Canute, unlike his father he was a Christian, and he rebuilt the cathedrals and monasteries, and founded many churches. He also made a new set of laws, and saw to it that they were kept.

A 2009 drama series from Channel 4 (1066: The Battle for Middle Earth) has a character name Tofi, which is said to be Anglo-Saxon for "Born to Rule".

King Canute

Catherine Romfort Ekvall wrote to us from Sweden:

"CANUTE THE GREAT (CNUT DEN STORE) born around 993, died 12/11/1035, married first to Aelfgifu of Northampton by whom he had two sons, Svein (later regent of Norway), born c. 1014, died in Denmark 1034. Cnut's other son by Aelfgifu was Harold Cnudsen Harefoot, born c. 1015, died 17/3/1040 and was buried in London. King of England 1035-1040."

"Together with Aelfgifu, Cnut had a second wife at the same time, Emma of Normandy, who was King Aethelred of England's widow. With Emma, Cnut had one son, called Harthacnutr, born c. 1018, died in Lambeth in London at a wedding feast on the 8th of June 1042, by drinking. The wedding feast was for Gytha (daughter of Osgod Clapa) and Tofig (Tovi) the Proud!"

Tovi is not heard of in any charters or writs after 1043 and probably died around this time. He is also called 'a staller'."

British Toveys

Some recent research into the geographical spread of British surnames from 1881 (left, below) to 1998 (right, below) shows that the vast majority of British Toveys were located in the South-West (South-East Wales and the West of England) in 1881, and have spread outwards in the 100 years or so since. The clustering of Toveys in the South may corroborate our belief that Tovi the Proud's move to Somerset was the catalyst for the development of the Tovey name in this area.

Images courtesy of The Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis.

Close inspection of the 1881 map shows a number of Toveys in the north of London, and this ties in nicely with many of the e-mails that we receive from people researching Toveys in that particular area. By 1998, there is a concentration of Toveys in the Liverpool area, and it may be that a number of Toveys, intent on emigrating to the USA, settled in this area having changed their plans for some reason. If anyone has any historical data to confirm this, please let us know.

In the Summer of 2008, an interactive name mapping service was launched on the Internet. This service contains data on surnames from 26 countries, and has a breakdown of Toveys across those countries. The top countries (by Toveys per million population) were:

GREAT BRITAIN      57.99 
AUSTRALIA          35.08 
NEW ZEALAND        23.98 
LUXEMBOURG          8.50 
CANADA              4.81 
UNITED STATES       3.90 
SWITZERLAND         1.28 
IRELAND             1.03 
SPAIN               0.94 
NETHERLANDS         0.64

Further analysis of the distribution of Toveys can be found at: and

Roman origins?

Many years ago, our local library had a book about the origins of surnames that stated (if I recall correctly) that the Tovey name was brought to the UK during the Roman occupation of Britain, citing a soldier named "Tovius" as the probable origin. Oddly, no other reference to this is easy to find, so we haven't mentioned this as a possibility previously.

Earlier this year, however, we received an e-mail from Jan Roberts (nee Tovey) from Devon, England via Toledo, Ohio, who has some interesting ideas that seem to tie in with the Roman connection. Indeed, Jan's research, if correct, takes the origins or our name further back to Biblical times.

Jan says, "I would just like to add a bit for thought. "Tov" in Hebrew means 'good'; 'i' is the ending of first person singular. Thus, 'tovi' means "my good" in Hebrew. At the time of Canute many families attached themselves to a King of a country for protection from persecution. The picture of Tovi with Canute fits the tendency of the time."

"Tovey being a derivation of Tovius fits in with my research on the Jewish side. In Hebrew the consonants 'v' and 'b' are the same letter except for the vowel markings. So one would also see the same name as Tobius, no doubt Latin for Tobias. The name Tobias in the Bible is spelt 'Toviyah'. One such name was a Levite mentioned in 2 Chronicles 17:8."

My Bible suggests c. 900 BC as the time of 2 Chronicles, so that implies that our name is nearing 3,000 years old. Budding genealogists among you have got some work to do!

Further variant spellings of the name can also be found elsewhere on the web.

The Family Motto

In Deo ConfidoSeveral people have written to tell us that the Tovey family has a motto (particularly Scott Tovey, whose uncle discovered some information whilst in Florida). Following our visit to see Admiral Tovey's memorial in Dorset, we now have further evidence supporting Scott's information from the Admiral's crest. Unless anyone knows any better, our current belief is that the Tovey family motto is:

In Deo Confido
"I trust in God"


How do you pronounce the name Tovey? We've always pronounced our name as "Tuvvy", although others pronounce it as "Toe-vee". Of course it may be that a family's geographical origin dictates how the name is pronounced - many Welsh Toveys seem to use the "Tuvvy" version. If you know why there is a difference (or when it began), please let us know.

One piece of trivia is that the Welsh verb meaning "to grow" is tyfu (pronounced "tuvvy"), so perhaps that's a clue!

Family Trees

Several readers have asked us how to set about researching a family tree in the UK, so we've put together a short guide. If you have any other useful tips, please let us know.

Worldwide Toveys

If you are a Tovey, live in a place called Tovey, are looking for (or know the whereabouts of) lost Toveys, or just know something about the Tovey name, please send an e-mail to and get in touch.

Take care, and best wishes!

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