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Origins and Meanings of the Name

The surname of Graves, and variations of this name, did not have a single place of origin or a single original meaning. The following sources give some of the various explanations of the meaning and derivation of the name.

Elsdon C. Smith, American Surnames, Philadelphia, 1969, p. 103.

"The serfs in the English manors usually elected one of their number annually to oversee their work for the lord, and from this official the surnames Reeve or Reaves are derived. In the north of England he was called a Grave, a name related to the German Graff, but which did not attain the higher status that it did in Germany. Sometimes an s is added for phonetic reasons to make Graves, and the bearer has nothing to do with places of burial. Other titles for the same office are Provost and Prater."

According to pages 174-175, in France Graff meant count; in Germany this was Graf, and in Holland it was DeGraff.

John C. Downing, "Know Your Name", The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Sunday, March 21, 1975.

"This occupational name is from the Old Norse word greifi which originally meant 'steward' or 'person in charge of property'. This word became greyve in Middle England and it formed the names Grieve(s) and Reeve(s). The Old Danish and Old Swedish meaning of the word geigi was 'earl, count'. In a sense these titles were also occupational, as the bearers were vassals of the king."

Its first appearance in England was as a single name, Greue, who is listed in the 1086 Domesday Book. Turstin filius (son of) Greue, 1130, and Greive de (of) Pincebec, 1232, lived in Lincolnshire. Lefsi filius Greive and Aethelwold filius Grevi appear in Norfolk in 1161.

The following appear to have been occupational surnames. Hubert and Thomas le (the) Greyve lived in Suffolk in 1275 and William le Grayve lived in Lancashire in 1334. John Grave is on the 1379 Yorkshire Poll Tax Rolls, and Hugo Graves lived in Yorkshire in 1540.

The Irish Graves were of English origin and were large land owners in County Offlay as early as 1650. John Graves was sheriff of Limerick in 1719. Several of the name were prominent Protestant churchmen of Ireland in the 18th century.

"What's In Your Name", The Patriot Ledger, Boston, early 1970s.

"Sometimes the literal meaning of a word as we recognize it is not the original meaning given to a surname at all."

The name of Graves comes from an Old Norman word 'greifi' which became the Middle English 'greyve', identifying a steward or overseer in charge of property. In medieval England, a grave or reeve was a town official, literally a bailiff. The s signifies 'son of Grave'.

Another meaning sometimes given to the name is a small wood or group of trees, being the same as Grove or Greave.

The German form of this name is Graf, which also refers to an overseer or lord, who in Germany, Austria and Sweden became a count. In France and Belgium, it appears as De Graves. There are several small villages called La Grave located in Hautes-Alpes and other parts of France. In Holland the name is found as Van Grave.

This surname took several forms in ancient times in England. It appears in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Greue. (Note: The Domesday or Doomsday Book was a record of a survey of the lands of England made by order of William the Conqueror, giving ownership, extent, value, etc., of the properties.) Adam filius Graiue was recorded in Cambridge in 1221 and Walter Greyue in 1255 in Nottingham. Members of this old English family were found in Lincoln, Nottingham, York and Derby counties during the 12th century."

Mr. Varney Graves added that variations of the name include Greive, Greives, Greue (the letters v and u were often interchanged), Greve, Greaves, Grave, and Graves. It should also be noted, however, that just because these and other variations of the name have often derived from the same source does not mean that some of the variations have not sometimes derived from other sources. Also, having the same surname is absolutely no guarantee that there is any relationship between individuals, since the same surname was often given to people who were unrelated. However, people who think they are not related to someone else often turn out to be related.

According to Ancestry.com, Greaves is a topographic name from Old English grafe "brushwood", "thicket", or a habitational name from any of the places named with this word, for example in Cumbria, Lancashire, and Staffordshire. They give Graves as a patronymic from Grave (i.e., meaning son of Grave). The French form is a topographic name from the plural of Old French grave "gravel". They state that Grave is from the following four sources:

  1. English: occupational name from Middle English greyve "steward", from Old Norse greifi or Low German grëve (see Graf).
  2. English: topographic name, a variant of Grove.
  3. French: topographic name for someone who lived on a patch of gravelly soil, from Old French grave "gravel" (of Celtic origin).
  4. North German: either from the northern form of Graf, but more commonly a topographic name from Middle Low German grave "ditch", "moat", "channel", or a habitational name from any of several places in northern Germany named with this word.

Spelling Variations

This surname has been spelled many different ways. In past centuries, the name was spelled however the person writing it chose to spell it, sometimes multiple ways for the same person in the same document. The spelling was affected by pronunciation, which generally treated the name as a single syllable (but sometimes as two syllables -- hence the variations Grevis and Gravis). Also, the vowell sound was sometimes long a (as in Grayve), sometimes long e (as in Greeve), and probably sometimes other variations.

The earliest forms of the name were sometimes preceded by de or le (from the French), and were usually singular (i.e., Grave, Greave, etc.). The letter s was often added later, usually originally signifying "son of".

Although the name most often had its origin in England (in the southern part of Yorkshire, and the northern parts of Lincolnshire, Derbyshire, and Nottingshire), the name occasionally was from other countries. The most common country of origin other than England was Germany (or the German speaking regions of Europe), where the name of Graff, Graff, and variations was sometimes changed to Graves on settlement in English-speaking countries such as the United States of America and its predecessor colonies.

As a result of these and other factors, the variations of the surname that are found historically and to the present time include the following, in alphabetical order:

  • Graeves
  • Graf, Graff
  • Graives
  • Grave
  • Graves
  • Gravis
  • Grayve
  • Greave
  • Greaves
  • Greefe
  • Greeves
  • Greive
  • Greives
  • Greve
  • Greves
  • Grevis
  • Greyve
  • Grieves
  • Grive

Genealogies of Surname Variations

This summary is intended to make it easy to find most of the genealogies for each of the various spellings. The majority of the genealogies on this site use the Graves spelling. As of Nov. 2001, approximately 70 of the genealogies used the Greaves spelling. A listing of most of the other spellings follows, in alphabetical order.

Graeves

  • Ludwig August Adolph Graeves of Germany & MD (670) Germany

Grave

  • Robert Grave of Keswick, Cumberland, England (80)
  • Thomas Graves of DE, Quaker (85) mostly Graves & originally Greave and Greaves
  • William George Grave of Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England (199)
  • John Grave of England (323)
  • John Grave of Cumbria, England (377)
  • Borchert Heyen Grave (430)Germany
  • Francois Grave of Heilly, Picardie, France (494) France
  • Samuel Grave of Threlkeld, Cumberland, England (572)
  • John Grave of Crosthwaite, Cumberland, England (653)
  • Katherine Grave of Keswick, Cumbria, England (686)
  • John Grave of Thorne, Yorkshire & Kings Lynn, Norfolk, England (757)
  • William Grave of Thorganby & Cottingwith, Yorkshire, England (758)
  • Richard Grave of Lilling, Yorkshire, England (759)
  • John Grave of Kirklinton & Bridekirk, Cumberland, England (800)
  • Jacques Grave of Belgium & IN (827) Belgium
  • George Grave/Greaves of Lancashire, England (894)
  • John Grave of Crosthwaite, Cumberland, England (904)

Graves (Germany & Netherlands)

  • Conrad Graves and Mary Fraser of Rowan Co., NC (15) Germany
  • John Graves (Johann Sebastian Graff) of PA, NC & TN (105) Germany
  • Ferdinand Graves and Caroline Miller of Germany & NJ (257) Germany
  • Jan Graves and Barbera Boonen of Utrecht, Netherlands (509) Netherlands

Greeves

  • Thomas Greeves and Sarah Ann ------ of Washington, DC (300)
  • Robert Greeves of Great Dalby, Leicestershire, England (338)

Greive

  • Bernard Greive (357)

Greve

  • Regina Dorothea Greve and Herman Rendtorff of Germany (497) Germany
  • Claus Greve and Malena Frey of Germany (525) Germany
  • William Frederick Greve and Laura Drier of Germany, NY & NJ (755) Germany
  • Ludwig Greve and Amalie Koehler of Hannover, Germany & Westphalia, Prussia (853) Germany

Greves

  • William Greves and Mary Mow of Kings Norton, Birmingham, England (333)
  • William Greves/Grieves of Elizabeth City, Pasquatank Co., NC (852)

Grieve

  • Thomas Grieve and Anne Hamilton of Scotland (40)
  • Robert Grieve and Mary Irving of Scotland & Ontario, Canada (71)
  • Lucille Gordon Grieve and Fred Price (142)
  • Jacob Grieve of Stannington, Northumberland, England (745)
  • Janet Grieve and William S. Hastie (854)
  • Helen Grieve and ------ Fairbairn of Fife, Scotland (855)
  • Joseph Grieve and Anna Maria Greven Kamp (857)
  • John Grieve and Jessie Frasier of Nebraska (875)

Grieves

  • Barny Grieves of Ireland & Ross Co., OH (196)
  • William Thomas Grieves and Sarah Ann Cademy of Northumberland, England (637)
  • William Greves/Grieves of Elizabeth City, Pasquatank Co., NC (852)
  • Edmund Grieves of England (856)
  • Peter Grieves and Isabella Russell of Scotland & OH (872)

GRIVE

  • Thomas Grive and Janet Kerr of Peebles, Scotland (873)