For many centuries the origins of the surname of this family has been the topic of much pondering, head scratching, and eager debate. The many interpretations and explanations I have managed to unearth, all have some basis in fact.

"A Dictionary of English Surnames by P.H. Reaney" states as follows:-
Neam, Neame: Richard le Naim 1170-8 P (L); John Nepos, le Neim 1214 Cur (Snr); John le Neim c1280 SRWo; Henry Neem, John le Naym1327 SRDb, SRWo; John Naym 1431 FA (Wo). OE eam 'uncle' with the initial N-due to misdivision of syllable. V. also EAMES. But Fr nain 'dwarf' is probably also a source of the name.

"The Romance of Names" by Ernest Weekley, M.A. (Published 1922)
Proffessor of French and head of the Modern Language Department at University College, Nottingham; Sometime scholar of Trinity College, Cambridge.
Shows the following reference under a chapter called "Antique Names".

"Neame" (p.193) may sometimes represent Naime, the Nestor of Old French epic and the sage counselor of Charlamagne". Page 193 reads thus :-
"In surnames taken from words indicating family relationship we come across some survivals of terms no longer used, or occurring only in rustic dialect. The Mid. Eng. Eme, uncle, cognate with Ger. Oheim, has given Eames. In Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, the heroine addresses Pandarus as "uncle dere" and "uncle mine", but also uses the older word -
"'In good feith, em' quod she, ' that liketh me'
and the word is used more than once by Scott -
"Didna his eme die…..wi' the name of the Bluidy Mackenzie?"
(Heart of Midlothian, ch.xii)
It is also one of the sources of Empson, which thus corresponds to Cousins or Cozens. In Neame we have a prosthetic n- due to the frequent occurrence of min eme (cf. the Shakesperean nuncle, Lear i. 4). The names derived from cousin have been reinforced by those from Cuss, i.e. Constant or Constance. Thus Cussens is from Mid. Eng. neve, neave, is cognate with but not derived from, Lat nepos.

"A History of Surnames of the British Isles" by C. L'Estrange Ewen" (published 1968) gives the following explanation:-
Surnames from Relationship. Quite a number of terms denoting consanguinity or affinity have become fixed as surnames, such as Cousin (Couzens, Cossins, Cussen, etc.), Eam, Eames (O.E. eam "uncle"), Muff (maugh "the brother-in-law"), Neames (a dialectical variant of Eam), Uncle, etc. Godson is probably from a personal name, as may be Brother:-
De Willelmo f. Brother, lincs, 1202. (Ass. R: Stenton). Cf. W. le Brother, Oxf. 1275 (Hund. R).

A Norman example is Beaufitz or Beavis (beau-fils "son-in-law").

Surnames from Race or Sept. Many foreigners settling down in a new country, speaking figuratively, were labeled with their nationality; thus an Englishman venturing into Cambria was called Sais, the Irishman Gwyddel, and so on, and such descriptions, in some cases, have become fixed, as is evidenced by the great number of persons bearing the surnames Welsh, Scott, etc. A series of examples of descriptions from nationalities are shown of pp. 142-6, 152-5, some other surnames of this type derived from counties being : Cornish, Devenish, and Kentish; and from places Blythman, Chesterman, and Penkethman."

In the mid '80's I happened to be in our local shopping centre, and there was a booth run by the Genealogical Society. Having no interest in the subject at the time, but knowing that Neame is such an unusual name, I took a peek inside a very thick book of surnames (which I thought was Debretts, but due to the lapse of time cannot remember for certain), to see if I could find it listed. Not only was it in fact listed but an explanation was attached, which from memory, went something like this :-

The name was bestowed by King Richard II to one of his manservants saying "and this shall be thy name". Language being very broad in those days, it was written phonetically and came out as Neame. All attempts to locate this book have failed, however, my husband still remembers me rushing home to tell him all about it.

It has also been suggested over the years, that Thomas Neame c1400 originally came from Neamestown in County Wexford, Ireland, and John Neame, tanner and merchant adventuer was tried in the English High Court for Piracy. The map below may give some credence to both these theories.

As we examine the map carefully, we see a reference in the bottom RH corner to the "Landing of 'Strongbow' A.D.1170 and "Richard II A.D.1394/9"

If we reflect upon this for a moment, this would in fact correspond with the sudden appearance of Thomas Neame in Kent c1400.

It is quite possible that Thomas was an Irishman and may have been in service to the King, who then, bestowed upon him a new "name". For a long time it has been a theory of mine that his original name may have been Niahm/Niam. As we examine Reaney's research, we notice that the earliest reference to Neme/Neame date to Richard le Naim 1170-8, and end with John Naym 1431. Our own John Neame died 1486. The names in his references also correspond with the names in the early part of our family tree - i.e. Richard, John, Henry.

In an e-mail correspondence from John Neame (dated 12th September 2000), who inherited Alan's research papers and data, he states the following:-
Back in 1976, following notification of my father's death in the Daily Telegraph, my mother was contacted from a woman interested in the surname Neame as she had been brought up in the hamlet of Neamestown. In subsequent correspondence with Alan Neame she said that she believed a family called Neame lived in that part of Ireland as far back as the 13th or 14th century when part of the lands of Ballyteague (owned by a family called Whitty/Whithy) was given to someone known as Neame of Gorey - Gorey is a small town a little further up the coast from Wexford.
Armed with this information I decided to do some investigating myself. A query to Wexford Genealogy resulted in the following reply.
Ballyteague castle near Kilmore still exists and was owned by the Whitty's.
On the extreme RH corner of this map there is a vessel called "An English Merchant Adventurer - 17th cent." Could the term referred to John Neame as "Tanner and Merchant Adventurer" refer to the ship on which he carried his cargoe?
The term Neame - as "mine eme" meaning uncle, also has credence, as Thomas was the guardian of three of his nephews.

The reference to nain meaning dwarf I feel does not apply, as most of the Neame's are very tall. In my husbands family, all the men are over six feet tall except my husband who is 5' 11". Even considering the diet of the times, and being mindful that people would not have been very tall anyway, it is hardly likely that the rest of the population would have been taller than the Neame's, so as to refer to them as "dwarf'(unless it was meant as a joke).

Contributor: Lucy Neame
Editor: Martin Neame

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We are very grateful to Alan Neame (family historian and founding member of the Kent Genealogical Society), for the thirty years of research that he did into the family history. It is really thanks to Alan that any of us are aware of the others' existence. Alan travelled the world meeting people and recording their data for the benefit of all of us.