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An excerpt from archives copyright 2000 - 2016

Origins Available: English-Alt, English

The distinguished surname Otis emerged among the industrious people of Flanders, which was an important trading partner and political ally of Britain during the Middle Ages. As a result of the frequent commercial intercourse between the Flemish and English nations, many Flemish migrants settled in Britain. In early times, people were known by only a single name. However, as the population grew and people traveled further afield, it became increasingly necessary to assume an additional name to differentiate between bearers of the same personal name. One of the most common classes of surname is the patronymic surname, which was usually derived from the first name of the person's father. Flemish surnames of this type are often characterized by the diminutive suffix -kin, which became very frequent in England during the 14th century. The surname Otis is derived from the Old French personal names Odes, Otes, Odon, and Otton. These are all derived from the Old German names Odo and Otto, which literally mean riches. Occasionally, the name Otis is a local surname derived from the settlement of Ott in Belgium.


The surname Otis was first found in Cornwall where they held a family seat from early times and their first records appeared on the census rolls taken by the ancient Kings of Britain to determine the rate of taxation of their subjects.

Flemish surnames are characterized by a large number of spelling variations. One reason for this is that medieval English lacked definite spelling rules. The spellings of surnames were also influenced by the official court languages, which were French and Latin. Names were rarely spelled consistently in medieval times. Scribes and church officials recorded names as they sounded, rather than adhering to specific spelling rules, and people often had their names registered in several different forms throughout their lives. One of the greatest reasons for change is the linguistic uniqueness of the Flemish settlers in England, who spoke a language closely related to Dutch. The pronunciation and spelling of Flemish names were often altered to suit the tastes of English-speaking people. In many cases, the first, final, or middle syllables of surnames were eliminated. The name has been spelled Oates, Oats, Otes, Otis, Oaten, Otten, Oadt, Otton, Oton and many more.


This web page shows only a small excerpt of our Otis research. Another 313 words (22 lines of text) covering the years 1160, 1177, 1213, 1275, 1275, 1649 and 1705 are included under the topic Early Otis History in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.


Another 41 words (3 lines of text) are included under the topic Early Otis Notables in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.


Some of the Otis family moved to Ireland, but this topic is not covered in this excerpt. Another 43 words (3 lines of text) about their life in Ireland is included in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.


The records on immigrants and ships' passengers show a number of people bearing the name Otis:

Otis Settlers in United States in the 17th Century

  • John Otis, who arrived in Hingham, Massachusetts in 1635
  • Richard Otis, who landed in New England in 1662
  • Samuel, Family Otis, who arrived in New Jersey in 1677

Otis Settlers in United States in the 19th Century

  • Patrick Otis, aged 30, arrived in New York in 1812
  • Manuel Otis, aged 30, landed in New Orleans, La in 1850
  • J Otis, who landed in San Francisco, California in 1855
  • W Otis, who landed in San Francisco, California in 1855
  • John Otis, aged 59, arrived in Mobile, Ala in 1868

Otis Settlers in Canada in the 19th Century

  • Chancy Otis, who arrived in Canada in 1840

  • Johnny Otis (1921-2012), born Ioannis Alexandres Veliotes, American rhythm and blues musician and impresario, dubbed the "godfather of rhythm and blues"
  • James Otis (1826-1875), mayor of San Francisco, California
  • Samuel Allyne Otis (1740-1814), American politician, 1st Secretary of the United States Senate
  • William Otis (1813-1839), American inventor of the steam shovel which he patented in 1839
  • James Otis Jr. (1725-1783), American revolutionary politician who coined the phrase "Taxation without Representation is Tyranny"
  • James Otis Sr. (1702-1778), American revolutionary politician
  • Harrison Gray Otis (1765-1848), 3rd mayor of Boston, Massachusetts, United States Senator
  • Harrison Gray Otis (1837-1917), president and general manager of the Times-Mirror Company, publisher of the Los Angeles Times
  • General Glenn Kay Otis (b. 1929), U.S. Army general, awarded Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star and Purple Heart (2)
  • Elwell Stephen Otis (1838-1909), American general who served in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War
  • ...

  • The Descendants of John Otis and Margaret Downey of Frankfort, Maine by Marian Otis.
  • A Genealogical Memoir of the Descendants of John Otis,1797-1873 of Leyden and Denmark, N.Y. and Related Families by Erwin James Otis.

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    Other References

    1. Mills, A.D. Dictionary of English Place-Names. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991. Print. (ISBN 0-19-869156-4).
    2. Robb H. Amanda and Andrew Chesler. Encyclopedia of American Family Names. New York: Haper Collins, 1995. Print. (ISBN 0-06-270075-8).
    3. The Norman People and Their Existing Descendants in the British Dominions and the United States Of America. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1975. Print. (ISBN 0-8063-0636-X).
    4. Chadwick, Nora Kershaw and J.X.W.P Corcoran. The Celts. London: Penguin, 1790. Print. (ISBN 0140212116).
    5. Bolton, Charles Knowles. Bolton's American Armory. Baltimore: Heraldic Book Company, 1964. Print.
    6. Sanders, Joanne McRee Edition. English Settlers in Barbados 1637-1800. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing. Print.
    7. Virkus, Frederick A. Ed. Immigrant Ancestors A List of 2,500 Immigrants to America Before 1750. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1964. Print.
    8. Ingram, Rev. James. Translator Anglo-Saxon Chronicle 1823. Print.
    9. Marcharn, Frederick George. A Constitutional History of Modern England 1485 to the Present. London: Harper and Brothers, 1960. Print.
    10. Zieber, Eugene. Heraldry in America. Philadelphia: Genealogical Publishing Co. Print.
    11. ...

    The Otis Family Crest was acquired from the archives. The Otis Family Crest was drawn according to heraldic standards based on published blazons. We generally include the oldest published family crest once associated with each surname.

    This page was last modified on 26 September 2015 at 13:41.

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