I came to genealogy quite late in life when I talked to my father about his interest in the subject. He shared some research as well as some anecdotes about the family name. When he died, I inherited his work as well as a trove of old family photographs.

He had always told us that if we met anyone with the name ‘Stoter’ spelt in that particular way that we would be related. This wasn’t entirely correct but is not far from the truth. The name with that spelling is quite unusual and I have spent my life correcting people when they misspell it as Stoater or mispronounce it as Stotter (it is pronounced /stoʊtər/ with a long O as if it were spelt Stoater).

John and Frances West Trust

My father’s interest in genealogy had been sparked by his being told by his father that we could be recipients of a very old bequest. This bequest was made from the estate of John and Frances West in 1723. John West was a scrivener, or notary, for Samuel Pepys and is mentioned in Pepys’ will. 

John became very wealthy as a property owner and as a financier or money lender. He was a donor to a number of charitable works including significant donations to Christ’s Hospital school. He predeceased Frances and in her will she left properties in the City of London (including the site of what is now the Mansion House) to a trust run by the Clothworkers’ Company to be used for charitable purposes. This trust is now managed by Christ’s Hospital private school for the education of children at the school and for the provision of pensions to ‘…deserving old people who can prove their relationship to the benefactors.’

The trust holds an extensive pedigree, and this certainly helped me with some details of my family tree. The pedigree goes back to 1572 and, because John and Frances West were childless, links are established through their parents, uncles and aunts and their grandparents.

Interest in the origins of the Stoter name

Once I started work on the family tree I became interested in the etymology and origins of the name and so started some research. This was not always easy as different sources gave slightly different information, but I feel that I have built up a good overview.

Alternative spellings in English that seem to share a common root meaning include: Stot, Stott, Stotter, Stotor, Stutter, Stoter, Stoater, Stather, Stother, Stothard, Stothart, Stothert, and Stothirde. Of these the last is particularly interesting as it is a composite of ‘Stot’ and ‘Hirde’. In mediaeval English Stott meant a large beast, typically oxen or cattle but also horses, so the name would mean ‘oxen herder’. 

Further back, in archaic Norwegian, Swedish and Old Norse Stut and Stutr meant an ox or bull.

The name is not confined to England. There is some indirect evidence that my particular spelling has links to Dutch workers who came to East Anglia to work on the draining of the Fens in the early to mid-seventeenth century. They were probably working with the horses used in that endeavour.

The name is particularly found in a small region of the modern Netherlands. In the Netherlands and in Northern Germany the name may also be spelt Stöter, Stooter or Stotten. Through Dutch emigration the name can also be found in South Africa.

In Holland, the Stoottroepen is a unit of the Royal Netherlands Army where the soldiers are called the ‘Stoters’.

Alternative meanings

Working with large beasts was not gentle work and to herd animals would often require that they be struck quite hard. In slaughtering an ox or bull the beast would be hit a very heavy blow with a poleaxe knocking it to the ground. In modern Dutch stooter or stouten means to knock, push, or hit a heavy blow hence its use in the military.

In the 15th and 16th centuries English slang included the word ‘stoter’ or ‘stoater’ meaning a heavy blow and it appears in some literature of the time.

Reference stoter as a noun – Green’s Dictionary of slang

1696 Motteux (trans.) Gargantua and Pantagruel II Bk IV: 327: Vinet lent him such a swinging stoater with the Pitch-fork […] that down fell Signore on the ground. 

c. 1698 B.E. Dict. Canting Crew n.p.:Stoter, a great Blow. Stoter him, or tip him a Stoter, settle him, give him a swinging Blow. 

1725 New Canting Dict. n.p.: We settled the Cull by a Stoter on his Nob; i.e. We took him such a Blow on……

Reference stoter as a verb – Green’s Dictionary of slang

1690 D’Urfey Collin’s Walk canto 1 17: He’d tell what Bullocks fate was Tragick […] And as well knew by wisdom outward, What Ox must fall, or Sheep be stoter’d. 

1705 Vanbrugh Mistake Act V: Why, Madam, have you no Pity […] [to] Stand and see one of your Husbands stoter’d before your…

The word existed in old Scottish dialect, possibly from its Scandinavian origins. A stot, stott, stoat or stottie could mean a young, castrated bull of one- or two-years age. Modern Scottish dialect includes the word to stott meaning to bounce a ball hard against a wall. A ‘stoater’ means something that is very fine, a beauty or the best of its type. I have also been told that it can mean a charming but roguish young man.

In Northern England and in some parts of Scotland a stottie means a doorstep sandwich or a hefty type of bready cake – ‘Stotties, or stotty cakes, are a Northeast delicacy – large doughy bread cakes, ideal for providing a hearty meal when filled with various delights.’

In Dutch stot or stott can mean doing something that is naughty and in Afrikaans a stoter can mean a young man who is up to no good.

Berkshire – East Hendred

In carrying out research for my family tree I was drawn to the pretty village of East Hendred. This village, between Harwell and Wantage, is currently in Oxfordshire but for a long time it was in West Berkshire. In the churchyards and memorials and in the fascinating rural museum of Champs Chapel the name Stoter is often to be found. I can trace my direct ancestors for several generations to this village and families with the name Stoter exist there today.

So far, I have been able to trace back to my great, great, great, great, great grandfather, William Stoter, who was born in East Hendred in 1760.

My last ancestor to live in the village was my great grandfather, Frank Stoter, b 1876. The family story was that he worked as a stable hand (working with horses!) at the local manor. He was kicked in the head by a horse and was badly injured. He moved to Suffolk where he and his wife, Rose Harris, ran a county orphanage.

Rose Harris, my great grandmother, was a direct lineal descendant from the pedigree of the John and Frances West trust.

Berkshire Family History Society

Berkshire Family History Society