The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker
Baker is a Saxon (neither Celtic or Gaelic) occupational surname which originated in medieval times from the name of the trade, baker. From the Middle English bakere and Old English bæcere, a derivation of bacan, meaning “to dry by heat.” The bearer of this name may not only have been a baker of bread. The name was also used for other involved with baking in some way, including the owner of a communal oven in humbler communities.
Here is a genuine example of a trade name becoming a surname—I found this in an early tax role (archived in London): “…1 other house called a Bakehouse lying in the parish of St. Lawrence Poulteney near the street called Thames street, now or late in the tenure of Richard Baker;…”
It is also generally accepted that certain other English surnames, such as Baxter and Barker, are early variations of the basic Baker trade or occupational name. In America, Baker may also be an anglicized version of a similar sounding surname from another country, including the German Bäcker and Becker; Dutch Bakker and Bakmann; and the French Boulanger. Upon arriving in America, many of these immigrants promptly changed their surnames to the English version—or adopted another name entirely—thereby creating major headaches for their modern day descendants who are now trying to establish accurate family trees.
Baker is the 38th most popular surname in the United States and the 40th most common surname in England, so it certainly rare! It most likely originated in Southeast or Southeast England, since that has been the highest concentration of the surname for several centuries. In Britain, surnames tend to “stay put”. Again, Baker is a Saxon name and is not Celtic/Gaelic/Pictish in origin. My family’s y-DNA haplogroup shows this. We are I1 (I-M253), which is Saxon-Germanic-Viking in origin.
Head for the hills!
The occupation of the American Appalachian Mountain system and its foothills began in the 1670’s when a growing population advanced lowland prices to the point that younger sons, freed servants, and new arrivals from Europe could no longer afford land there. As they moved, they found themselves in a new environment so far from the coast that the influence of their European heritage rapidly waned. Thus freed from tradition, they adopted practices suited to the strange new world in which they found themselves: they abandoned frame houses for log cabins, clothed themselves in deerskin rather than imported fabrics, developed the “long rifle” and the ax as essential tools, and became completely familiar with their new surroundings.
[photo by Jimmy Dulin]
This immigration was hastened with the arrival in the back country of two new groups: the Scots-Irish from Ulster and the Palatines from Germany—who migrated in large numbers during the early 18th century and moved directly to the interior in search of cheap land. By 1775, pioneers were pouring through the mountain gaps to build their communities around the forks of the Ohio, in modern West Virginia, in the Bluegrass country of Kentucky, and in eastern Tennessee.
Virginia organized Kentucky County in 1777 with the present boundaries of the state of Kentucky. Lands of all settlers were confirmed by the Virginia land act of 1779, and the price of land to new settlers was fixed at two dollars an acre. The Ordinance of 1785 and 1787 assured clear land titles. This resulted in a flood of new pioneers between 1790 and 1810—populating Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee with enough newcomers to justify statehood.
Those with the Baker surname, mostly England and Scots-Irish, found themselves in the midst of these settling surges in the new world. The histories and genealogy presented on this website are typical of the English-speaking people who came to America and to the Appalachians to carve out new lives rich with personal freedom and limitless opportunity.
More on the history of our surname
The following was borrowed from another genealogy website:
The Baker family is among the forty-nine “best families” selected by the American Historical-Genealogical Society for whom the Society has published family histories during the past few years. The Baker family has been prominent in the British Empire and in the United States, its members having played important roles in war and in peace. Family pride is a commendable trait and should be cultivated. All Bakers have just cause to be proud of their family history and traditions.
The surname Baker came from the occupation of the men who bore it. The feminine form has become almost equally well established among us, Bagster, Baxter or Backster (the latter spelling found in Foxe’s Roll of Marian martyrs) being among forms of the old female “bakester”.
The name of Baker in England is almost completely supplanted by that of Baxter in Scotland, and all Bakers may be considered of English origin. Such folks as “Elias le Baxter” and “Ralph le Bakster” are very plentifully represented in the olden registers. The ordinances of the Guild of the Purification, 1367, are signed by “Johannes Austyn, Baxter.” The name of Robert le Baker appears in Calendarium Inquisitionum Post Mortem; Walter le Bakare, in Writs of Parliament; and other names of Baker can be found in many documents of ancient origin.
We find recorded at St. Peter, Cornhill, the baptism of Jane Baker, 1555. This is perhaps the first time the name was taken as a genuine surname without the usual “le” preceding it.
The various forms of the name are as follows: German, Becher; Dutch, Becker, Beeke, and Anglo-Saxon, Becca.
For more on the Baker surname in England, see Bakers in England also on this website.