Recorded in the spellings of firstly Ashnest, and then in the late 17th century as Ashness, this is an English locational surname. It probably originates from a village in Cumbria called "Ashness",which was first recorded in the 13th century as "Esknese". This is a name of pre 8th century Norse-Viking origins, and describes a headland on the river Esk, or a headland covered by ash trees, both are equally logical. Locational surnames were by their very nature usually given to people after they left their original village and travelled elsewhere.It was the easiest form of identification to call "strangers" by the name of the place from whence they came. Spelling being at best problematical, and local dialects being thick, often lead to some amazing variant forms. This does not seem to have happened in this case, although between the marriage of Elizabeth Ashnest on June 26th 1626, the brother of Richard Ashnest below, and that of Susannah Ashness, who married Robert Bradneham, at the church of St Mary Somerset, city of London, on August 17th 1676, there seems to have been some tidying up of the spelling! The first known recording may be that of Richard Ashnest, at St Stephans church, Coleman Street, London, on April 11th 1626. This was during the reign of King Charles 1st, (1625 - 1649), and later known as "The Martyr", after his head was cut off.
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