Recorded in the spellings of Boat, Boate, Bote, Boater, Booter, Boother, Boatman, and Bowater, this is a medieval English surname. Its origins are confused and overlapping, and there are several possible sources. The first is that it can be either be topographical for someone who lived at a "both". This was the Olde English barn or cow shed later called a Booth, and found in that popular surname, or it may describe some on who lived on a river bank. In this case it is from a "fused" form of the pre 7th century "bufan-waeter", meaning "above the water". Secondly it can be occupational for either a builder of "boths", or a ferryman or perhaps a boat builder, from "bote", and where appropriate with the agent suffix "-er" meaning one who does, or "-man", which can mean friend or foreman. Both topographical and occupational surnames were among the earliest created, as the activities of man and the natural features in the landscape provided easily recognisable distinguishing names, although occupational surnames did not usually become hereditary until a son of sometimes a grandson, followed the father into the same job. Early examples of the recordings include Jeffrey Boteman, the rector of Wood Norton, in the county of Norfolk in the year 1320, whilst John Boatman was the dean of Norwich in 1654. Other early recordings include the marriage of Thomas Bowater and Jane Ley at Tamworth, Staffordshire, on June 15th 1589; the christening of Dorothy Boat at St Mary Whitechapel, Stepney, on March 11th 1670, and the christening of Mary Boater at St. Martins in the Field, Westminster, on April 18th 1784. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop", often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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