Recorded in an extraordinary range of spellings including Chatan, Chetham, Cheetham, Chittem, Chitham, and the London area dialectal Chitson, this is an English surname. It is locational from a place called Cheetham in the county of Lancashire. Recorded as Chetam in the Fines Court Rolls of the year 1212 in that county, and as Chetham in the Inquests Register dated 1226, the name derives from the Ancient British (pre-Roman) word "ceto", ultimately from the old Celtic "kaito", meaning a forest, plus the old English word "ham" translating variously as village, estate, manor or homestead, but given the general description of "settlement".The surname was first recorded in the mid 13th Century, and an early example is that of Thomas de Cheteham in the "Calendar of Inquisitiones" for Lancashire in 1394. Locational surnames being "from" names, that is to say names given to people after they left their original homes as easy means of identification, are also the ones most likely to develop variant forms. As a rule of thumb, the further they travelled, the greater the variance. Examples of the surname recordings taken from surviving church registers include Ellis Cheetam christened at Middleton by Oldham, on August 1st 1542, John Cheetham, who was christened at Prestwich on July 10th 1608, and in London, John Chitson, the son of Symon Chitson, was christened at St Martins in the Field, Westminster, on April 21st 1791.Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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