Select Daft Surname Genealogy

The root of Daft is the Old English daffte, which meant in medieval times "meek" or "gentle."  The name probably developed initially as a nickname.  Early spellings were Daft and Dafte.  The modern meaning of "daft" as clownish or stupid did not materialize until much later.      

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Select Daft Ancestry

England.  It is extremely rare that a surname can be identified back to a single location and possibly to a single person.  But this seems to have been the case with the surname Daft.

Daft is a Nottinghamshire name.  Early Nottingham records have a John Daft in 1230 and a Robert Daft in 1242.  Nottinghamshire records for 1664 showed that this name was to be found in just one place, the village of Hickling on the southern border with Leicestershire.  One family history started with Robert and Elizabeth Daft of Hickling and their two surviving sons, George and William, born in the early 1600's.  This Daft family was still part of village life three hundred years later.

The Dafts were numerous in Hickling in the mid 19th century, but they were not amongst its most prominent inhabitants.  The village population at that time was 613.  Since then it has dropped by about 35 percent, possibly due to the decline in traffic on the Grantham canal that went by the village.  Dafts moved away.

They didn't move far.  A telephone survey of Dafts in the late 1980's showed that 70 percent of the UK Dafts still lived in reasonable proximity to Hickling village, in Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, and Derbyshire.

One family history began with a William and Ann Daft in Nottingham in the 1830's.  Another William Daft ran the drapery firm of Daft & Jessop - that was to become the John Lewis department store - in Nottingham from 1832 to 1866.  Richard Daft the cricketer was born in the village of Radcliffe on Trent near Nottingham in 1835.  There were also Dafts who had settled to farm in Haltham on the Lincolnshire fens.  John Daft from Haltham was transported to Australia for robbery in 1817.

The Daft numbers are lower in England today than they were in Victorian times.  It might be all right to be called Daft if you lived in a village where you had been known for centuries.  But if you lived in a new town, you might feel embarassed to carry the name of Daft with the meaning it has today.  It would appear, when comparing numbers between 1881 and 1988, that Daft - like Cock, Smellie and Shufflebottom - were names which were dumped by some of their holders.

  Some Dafts made it to America.  An early arrival was John Daft, a Catholic who had been transported to Maryland in 1661.  His descendants lived in St. Mary's county.  Four Dafts joined the local militia there at the time of the Revolutionary War.  Thomas Daft brought his family over from Nottingham in 1847.  His son William moved out west and became a farmer and pig breeder in Jasper county, Iowa. 

There were 100 Dafts in the 1920 US census.  The total today is up to about 180.  It would seem that the American Dafts have been less embarassed by their name than their English counterparts. 

Select Daft Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Daft Names

Richard Daft, a cricketer from Nottinghamshire, was one of the best batsmen in England during the 1860's.

Select Dafts Today
  • 500 in the UK (most numerous in Nottinghamshire)
  • 200 in America (most numerous in West Virginia)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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