This is an English topographical surname, meaning 'one who lives by the downs'. The derivation is from the Olde English pre 7th century word 'dun' which meant 'down hill, or mountain' and in place names usually signified anything from a hill to a slight rise in the ground. The word 'dun' is of Celtic origin. The name development has included, John atte Doune (1296 Sussex), William Bythedoune (1327 Somerset), and Reginald del Downes (1407 Cheshire), this last being the first recording of 'Downes' as a surname. There is some possibility that a proportion of name bearers descend from holders of the Old English personal name 'Dun' the form Downes meaning 'son of Dun'. John Downes (fl.1666), sat for Arundel in the Long Parliament of 1642 and was one of those who signed Charles I's death-warrant. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Thomas de la Duna. which was dated C.1170, 'Middle English Local Names', Sussex. during the reign of King Henry II 'The Builder of Churches' 1154-1189. 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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