WHITNEY Surname Meaning and Family History

What Does the Last Name Whitney Mean?

Rugged island landscape with white sections
Scott Walker / Getty Images

The Whitney surname has several possible meanings:

  1. Dweller by or on the white island, from the Old English hwit, meaning "white," and ea, meaning "water," or ige, meaning "island."
  2. One who came from a place named Whitney (such as parish of Whitney in Herefordshire, England), a place name meaning "white island." First mentioned in the Domesday Book as Witenie. 

Surname Origin: English


Famous People With the Whitney Surname

  • Eli Whitney: American inventor; best known for inventing the cotton gin
  • Amos Whitney: American mechanical engineer and inventor
  • Asa Whitney: highly successful dry-goods merchant and transcontinental railroad promoter
  • Carl Whitney: American Negro League baseball player
  • John Whitney: founder of the prominent American Whitney family—notable for their social prominence, wealth, businesses and philanthropy—who left London, England, to settle in Watertown, Massachusetts in 1635.
  • Mary Watson Whitney: American astronomer

Where Is the Whitney Surname Most Common?

The Whitney surname, according to surname distribution information from Forebears, is the 10,104th most common surname in the world. It is most commonly found today in the United States, where it ranks 875th. It is also fairly prevalent in Australia and New Zealand, as well as England, especially in Northamptonshire and Herefordshire.

WorldNames PublicProfiler indicates the Whitney surname is found in greatest numbers in the United States, with the greatest numbers living in the states of Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Washington, Utah, and Idaho.

Genealogy Resources for the Surname Whitney

Whitney Family Crest - It's Not What You Think

Contrary to what you may hear, there is no such thing as a Whitney family crest or coat of arms for the Whitney surname. Coats of arms are granted to individuals, not families, and may rightfully be used only by the uninterrupted male line descendants of the person to whom the coat of arms was originally granted.

Whitney DNA Project

Many individuals with the Whitney surname have joined this Y-DNA project to work together to use DNA testing along with traditional genealogy research to help determine Whitney origins and distinguish between various Whitney lines.

WHITNEY Family Genealogy Forum

This free message board is focused on descendants of Whitney ancestors around the world. Search the forum for posts about your Whitney ancestors, or join the forum and post your own queries. 

FamilySearch - WHITNEY Genealogy

Explore over 820,000 results from digitized historical records and lineage-linked family trees related to the Whitney surname on this free website hosted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

GeneaNet - Whitney Records

GeneaNet includes archival records, family trees, and other resources for individuals with the Whitney surname, with a concentration on records and families from France and other European countries.

The Whitney Genealogy and Family Tree Page

Browse genealogy records and links to genealogical and historical records for individuals with the Whitney surname from the website of Genealogy Today.

Ancestry.com: Whitney Surname

Explore over 2.7 million digitized records and database entries, including census records, passenger lists, military records, land deeds, probates, wills and other records for the Whitney surname on the subscription-based website, Ancestry.com


  • Cottle, Basil. Penguin Dictionary of Surnames. Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1967.
  • Dorward, David. Scottish Surnames. Collins Celtic (Pocket edition), 1998.
  • Fucilla, Joseph. Our Italian Surnames. Genealogical Publishing Company, 2003.
  • Hanks, Patrick and Flavia Hodges. A Dictionary of Surnames. Oxford University Press, 1989.
  • Hanks, Patrick. Dictionary of American Family Names. Oxford University Press, 2003.
  • Reaney, P.H. A Dictionary of English Surnames. Oxford University Press, 1997.
  • Smith, Elsdon C. American Surnames. Genealogical Publishing Company, 1997.
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Powell, Kimberly. "WHITNEY Surname Meaning and Family History." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/whitney-surname-meaning-and-family-history-4121206. Powell, Kimberly. (2020, August 27). WHITNEY Surname Meaning and Family History. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/whitney-surname-meaning-and-family-history-4121206 Powell, Kimberly. "WHITNEY Surname Meaning and Family History." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/whitney-surname-meaning-and-family-history-4121206 (accessed March 27, 2023).