- Means “gatekeeper”
- A gender-neutral name, and also a common surname
- Famous people with this last name include musician Cole Porter and politician Katie Porter
History of the name Porter
Porter is indeed one of the so-called occupational surnames, but it is not derived from the occupation that most of us first think of in connection with the word “porter.”
The old porters from whom the surname is derived were gatekeepers. Every castle had a porter, who usually dwelt in a porter’s lodge or just within the moat-encompassed walls of the castle.
Medieval towns, circumscribed with stone walls, also had a porter who dwelt at the entrance gate, and this position, like that of the castle porter, was quite important. Often the actual work of tending to the door fell to his servants, while he enjoyed merely the honor that went with the office.
At all events, the first porters did not carry baggage or other burdens, but tended doors and gates of one sort or another.
One of the oldest recorded cases of the name Porter is that of a family in Cornwall, in the castle of Trematon in that County in England. The post of porter was an hereditary one in the family that later bore the name Porter. Many years before they took name, however, the head of the family was known as the “Janitor de Trenaton.”
In England, there was quite a remarkable family of Porters who gained fame in art and letters. Anne Maria Porter and Jane Porter, who wrote “The Scottish Chiefs, and “Thaddeus of Warsaw,” were both sisters of Sir Robert Ker Porter (1777-1842), who became famous as a painter of battle scenes.
In this country, the family is even more distinguished, but it is as leaders in battle — both military and naval, not as painters of battles — that the Porters have gained celebrity.
The founder of the most distinguished Porter family here was Robert Porter, who came from Londonderry, Ireland, in 1720, and settled in Pennsylvania.
Among the members of this family were David Rittenhouse Porter, Governor of Pennsylvania, and George Porter, his brother, Governor of Michigan. Then there was David Dixon Porter, celebrated admiral, and his cousin, Fitz John Porter, an American Civil War general. Horace Porter, a close associate of Grant’s, was a son of David Rittenhouse Porter.