Origin and Distribution of the Surname GAMBLE

The Origin

P.H. Reaney, in his book "The Origin of English Surnames" notes that surnames generally fall into one or other of four classes:

  1. Local Surnames
  2. Surnames of Relationship
  3. Surnames of Occupation or Office
  4. Nicknames.

However, within these groups there is considerable overlapping.

The name GAMBLE derives from the Old Norse "gamall" meaning "old" and would have originated around the time of the Norwegian invasions of England. The Old Danish and Old Swedish forms are similar, "gamal". There are a number of variants from this common root, including Gambell, Gammel and Gamel.

P.H. Reaney continues:

"The Scandinavians, unlike the Anglo Saxons and the continental Germans, had a habit of using the same personal-name in different generations and branches of the same family. ..... The result of this custom was that in time there were so many men bearing the same name that it was found necessary to distinguish them by a nickname or byname descriptive of some physical characteristic, some habit or a reference to a particular incident. Many of these bynames were innocuous, some complimentary, others derogatory, characteristic of the gross humour and acute realism of the Vikings."

So the name derives from a Scandinavian byname and according to P.H. Reaney falls into the class of "Surnames of Relationship".

The Vikings took over the roman city of York in AD 866 and called it Jorvik - Viking York. It was ruled by a succession of Viking kings until 954, a relatively short 88 years, but the Vikings left an indelible mark on England. Today, over 600 Yorkshire place names of villages and towns, and even the Yorkshire dialect itself, bear traces of this early Viking influence. Contrary to popular belief, the Scandinavians integrated well into the native population.

Apparently, in one or more of the waves of Viking settlers from Scandinavia, ther were a family or families of the GAMOL clan. It is probable that the name "Gamol" was anglicized to "Gamble" after the restoration of Northumbria to the English.

The name occurs frequently in the "Domesday Book", one example being the information on a Yorkshire landowner, "GAMEL BARET", meaning "Old Bearded". There is an inscription (circa 1055) on a Saxon sundial at St Gregory's Minster, Kirkdale near Kirbymoorside, North Yorkshire which refers to Orm Gamal's son rebuilding the church.

Noel Currer-Briggs and Royston Gambier, in their book "Debrett's Family Historian", make the following point on the spelling of surnames:

People nowadays are very particular about the correct spelling of their surnames, but a fixed spelling has generally only been adopted since Victorian times, and one cannot therefore assume that a distinctive spelling found in the past and continued to the present indicates continuity of line. The whims of scribes and the dictates of fashion had more influence on the spelling adopted from time to time than any other factor, particularly as most people were illiterate and signed with a mark.

Additional References: Material from various issues of "The Artisan" and the York Archaeological trust.

The Irish Connection

In the book "More Irish Families", by Edward MacLysaght, and printed in 1982, is the following information under the heading GAMBLE:

Though English in origin and in Ireland only since the seventeenth century Gamble is sufficiently numerous to merit a place in a work on Irish families - 40 births were registered in 1890 and 48 in 1865. The great majority of these were in north-east Ulster. The name first appears here in the Ulster inquisitions in County Armagh (1618) and County Cavan (1629); it is in the army lists of the 1640's; two Gambles are specified in Petty's "census" of 1659, one a merchant in Derry, the other in Cork city. The Hearth Money Rolls for the northern counties (1663-9), contain 18 Gamble families: and the Cork marriage licence bonds have the name 13 times from 1670. Those in Munster gradually died out though a few remain, but in Ulster the reverse was the case, as any modern directory or voters' lists show. The principal landed family was in Kilooly in County Offaly: de Burgh lists four others, all in Ulster. John Gamble (c. 1770 - 1831) was an author who wrote some admirable descriptions of life in his native Ulster.

Another book, "The Book of Ulster Surnames", by Robert Bell, printed in 1988 contains the following reference to GAMBLE:

Most of the Gambles in Ireland are in Ulster, where the main centres are in counties Antrim, Down and Derry. Gamble is an English name, found frequently in the Domesday Book, and derives from two personal names, ..... meaning 'old'.

In the early seventeenth century families of the name settled in Ulster and in County Cork. Since that time the Cork connection has gradually dwindled, while the number of Gambles in Ulster has steadily increased. In the seventeenth century Gambles appear in the Ulster inquisitions, the army lists, Petty's 'census', and the Hearth Money Rolls. A few Gamble families came from Scotland - a father and son, for instance, both called Josias Gamble, settled in Fermanagh about 1670.

It is interesting to note the reference here to Josias Gamble, as there is a possibility that he is an ancestor of the David Gamble of Ratonagh, whose descendants include James Gamble, the co-founder of Proctor and Gamble and David Gamble, Mayor of St Helens, Lancashire in the late 1800s and was created a baronet in 1897.

Distribution of Alternative Spellings

In order to compare the relative occurrences of the variants of the name GAMBLE, and as the northern area of England was the main area of interest, the author perused the telephone directories (1990 edition) of the cities of Leeds and Manchester. The following table shows the forms of the name that were found.

Area
Leeds
Manchester
Name
Number
Percent
Number
Percent
Gambel
0
0%
0
0%
Gambell
0
0%
1
1.1%
Gamble
67
89.3%
81
89.0%
Gambles
8
10.7%
8
8.8%
Gamel
0
0%
0
0%
Gammel
0
0%
0
0%
Gammell
0
0%
1
1.1%


This shows GAMBLE as by far the most frequently occurring variation of the name in these areas. By way of comparison, the same exercise was carried out for the cities of Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, using the 1991 editions of the telephone directory.

Area
Sydney
Melbourne
Name
Number
Percent
Number
Percent
Gambel
0
0%
0
0%
Gambell
8
8.5%
1
0.7%
Gamble
78
83.0%
147
96.7%
Gambles
0
0%
0
0%
Gamel
0
0%
2
1.3%
Gammel
4
4.2%
0
0%
Gammell
4
4.2%
2
1.3%


This again confirms GAMBLE as the most frequently occurring variation.

Distribution of the Surname in England and Wales

A study of the distribution of the Surname GAMBLE, including some of the alternative spellings, was carried out in 1993 by John Marsden of Cheshire. Data was extracted from the various 1991/92 telephone books covering England and Wales, tabulated and analysed. Calculation of the concentration of the Surname was made by estimating the number of entries in each directory based on the number of pages and the average entries per page. The results show that the highest concentration today is in Leicestershire. Significantly high concentrations are found north from there through Nottinghamshire to Sheffield, Leeds, Harrogate and York in central Yorkshire. There is also a concentration around King's Lynn in Norfolk. From these areas the Surname has spread through Warwickshire, Northhamptonshire, Rutland, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. There is also an isolated pocket around Maidstone in Kent.

The significant results from John's study are as follows:

Directory Number
Area
Gamble(s)
Gamble(s)
/ 100,000 Listings
341
Leicester
266
95
213
Nottingham
103
44
248
Harrogate
27
43
240
Sheffield & Rotherham
93
35
338
King's Lynn
36
35
347
Leeds
70
32
334
Medway
61
29
239
Chesterfield, Worksop & Hope Valley
31
27
348
Wakefield
41
27
247
York
34
26
249
Scarborough, Bridlington & Holderness
23
24
221
Coventry
56
23
223
Northampton
35
22
230
Barnsley & Doncaster
42
22
214/215
Mansfield & Newark
24
21
246
Mid Lincolnshire
34
21
204
Norwich
48
19
234
Cleveland & Whitby
37
19
342
Burton Upon Tyne & Tamworth
18
19
371
Bradford
32
19
225
Peterborough
47
18
Average
12.8


Distribution of the Surname in Australia

A similar study was carried out by the author of these pages using the Australian telephone books. The task was made simpler by using the on-line version of the White Pages. The number of occurrences of the Surname GAMBLE was counted and the concentration was calculated by estimating the number of entries in each directory and scaling the figure to represent the population. The mean and standard deviation of the concentration data was then calculated and areas which showed significant concentrations are listed below. The major capital cities of Sydney and Melbourne have also been included for comparison. The national average Entries / 10,000 Population was 0.43.

Area
(STD Code)
State
Phone
Book
Entries
Estimated Population
Entries / 10,000 population
Comments
Wangaratta (0357)
Vic
18
76,300
2.36
Bendigo (0354)
Vic
33
152,500
2.16
Launceston (0363)
Tas
13
79,500
1.64
Windsor (045)
NSW
4
26,900
1.50
Small sample
Wollongong (042)
NSW
27
191,700
1.41
Nowra (044)
NSW
7
58,500
1.20
Small sample
South East (Mount Gambier, 0887)
SA
6
62,600
0.96
Small sample
Melbourne
Vic
124
2,870,000
0.43
Sydney
NSW
85
3,850,000
0.22


There are difficulties with this approach, including:

However, this approach to studying the distribution of a Surname is easily carried out and does provide a good overview of the current distribution of the Surname.

The Coat of Arms

David GAMBLE was born in 1823, the son of Josias and Hannah (née GOWER) Gamble. In 1828 he moved with his family from Ireland to the small village of St. Helens, Lancashire, where his father continued his chemical manufacturing business. David graduated from University College, London and the Andersonian Institute, Glasgow, and joined his father in business at a vital time for the company's expansion. David would later be described as "one of the second generation of chemical manufacturers... one of the originators of modern chemical engineering."

David's wife, Elizabeth Haddock, was the daughter of a local colliery owner. Like many wealthy Victorian couples they combined the rearing of a large family with civic and charitable affairs. When St. Helens was incorporated as a borough in 1868, David Gamble would be its mayor. He was also mayor in 1882-83 and 1886-87. In the Jubilee Year of 1897, he was created a baronet for services to the community, and he received the additional honour of KCB in 1904. When he died three years later the town mourned him as a considerable benefactor and his large funeral was attended by many illustrious persons. The Lancashire Rifle Volunteers (47th), which he founded, was his pride and his title of "Colonel" meant a great deal to him.

A description of the Arms and Crest, together with the Motto is as follows:

Arms: Or, on a pile gules between two trefoils slipped in a base vert, a fleur-de-lis of the first, a chief ermine.

Crest: On a mount between two trefoils slipped vert a stork argent, holding in the beak a rose gules, stalked, leaved, and slipped proper.

Motto: Vix ea nostra voco meaning I scarce call these things ours.


Reference: "Two Cousins from Ulster" by Barbara Bolt and Debretts Peerage.


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Copyright © 1997 Peter Gamble. Last updated: 24 April 1998.