What's in a Name?

That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet; So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called Shakespeare.

The origin of the name "Latta" has been discussed and debated for many years. It's generally conceded that our ancestors lived in Scotland, with some later settling in Northern Ireland before coming to America and other countries. But, beyond that, there is no general agreement upon the origin of the name "Latta."

One Theory

From a document titled Genealogy of the Latta Family written in 1964 by Beatrice Latta Lewis of Terrace, California, and sent to the editor by Mrs. Vivian Setterberg: The origin of the name Latta is lost. It is a very old name and according to information furnished me by Frank F. Latta, can be traced back through history in Ireland, Scotland, England, Belgium, France, Spain, Arabia, Austria and Italy. In spite of its wide distribution it has never been a common name. Much of my information comes from Frank Latta of Pescadero, California, who has done extensive research on family history and has published a book on his branch of the family.

The word "latta" in Arabic means a cover or lid. As nearly all names were taken from a man's trade or objects he made, this may have been the origin of the name.

Micheal Latta, a Frenchman, was one of the leaders who captured the Bastille in 1789. He later came to America. Micheal Latta, an Austrian, a convert of Mohammedanism, was Generalissimo of the Turkish forces in the Crimean War. Two Spanish sailors of Austrian descent were on the Armada which invaded England in the time of Queen Elizabeth [I]. One was wrecked on the coast of Scotland and the other on the coast of Ireland. They were named Latta, and they settled there. Their descendants came to America.

William H. Latta of Pullman, Washington, did some research and offers the following:

In the old Duchy of Brabant, now a portion of Belgium, the name Latta means lath or lath splinter. A common Flemish form is "Latteu”a Croatian form is "Lattas." The word "lath" in the older forms of a number of languages in that portion of Europe is given as "Latte," "Latta," and "Lata."

Next Theory

Merle W. Allen of Westminster CO writes:

Another interesting tidbit I picked up in a telephone conversation with Mr. Latta (here in Denver) was the origin of the name "Latta." The name "Latta" is Arabic in origin, meaning "Tribe of Benjamin." When this tribe was overrun by the Romans, the men were transported as mercenary soldiers to Ireland and England. Some intermarried and settled. In those areas the name "Latta" was used to mean "mercenary soldier."

Yet Another

Eileen Hook (eileenhook@aol.com) says that her grandmother's theory was that the name is French, and had been L'Atta, but had been shortened over time and the family's residence in Ireland.

More Yet

William Malcolm Latta of Nashville TN, writing in 1961, stated:

The name Latta is a very ancient one and comes from the Latin. The name as a family name originated during the time of the Roman Empire possibly as far back as 300 BC. The Roman Empire is where the Lattas lived until after the coming of Christ.

Next we find evidence of the Lattas in Gaelic that part of Europe now known as France. Later they were in Normandy and Brabant provinces of northern France. From France the Lattas fanned out over Europe and in 1066 when William the Conqueror invaded and captured England and Scotland there were Lattas with him.

The Latta family was given two coats-of-arms. One was given to the Brabant branch about 600 AD and the other was given in 1191 AD to a William Latta who lived in Scotland. This William Latta was made a baron of Scotland by King Richard I (the Lionhearted) who led the Third Crusade to the Holy Land in 1190, and William Latta was one of his warriors.

It is thought that all the Lattas in America are descendants of this William Latta, baron of Scotland. The Lattas lived in Scotland from about 1066 AD on. Even to this day there are many living there, mostly on the west coast in Ayrshire.

About the year 1620 AD several families by the name of Latta left Scotland and established homes in the northern counties of Ireland, where some still live today.

[For a recent analysis of information from historical records, see the article on this site titled The Latta Name: The British Connection by Geoffrey W. Latta.]



By: Geoffrey Latta, Secretary Historian, gw1820@hotmail.com

How may Lattas were there in the world in 1850 and where were they?  In one sense, this is impossible to answer, but by 1850 the US and Britain were running quite accurate censuses, the records of which are available to researchers.

The 1851 Scottish census listed 250 people with the name Latta, while in England there were 41 with another 2 in the island of Jersey.  This is consistent with the assumption that Latta is not an English name but derives from Scotland.  Unfortunately the records of the 1851 Irish census have been destroyed but there were obviously Lattas in Ireland at that point as well.  Estimating numbers for Irish Lattas is quite tricky.  Clearly a significant number of Scottish Lattas were in Ireland in the 17th century as part of the Plantation of Ulster, but by 1851 it seems reasonable to assume that many of these had moved on to the United States.  Based on other information that the Society generated as part of its Irish research project and other information available to me, I would estimate that by 1851, about 150 Lattas lived in Ireland.  However, this estimate has a significant margin of error.

FamilySearch.org shows 698 people  with the name Latta in the US Census of 1850.  It is interesting to step back and consider this number.  It means that the number of Lattas in the US substantially exceeded the number in Britain and Ireland where nearly all Lattas in 1850 would have traced their origin.  This implies either that many Lattas left Scotland and Ireland and/or that once they got to America, their birth rate was higher than families that stayed in the countries they had left.  Both factors may well be true and it is also a reasonable supposition that those in America were economically better off and enjoyed better health and lower infant mortality.  they were also more likely to be framers where there might be more perceived advantages in a large family compared to the more city-dwelling British Lattas.

It is also interesting to look at the birth places of Lattas in the 1850 Census. Only 66 were born outside the US, so over 90% were US born, reinforcing the fact that Lattas came to the US early.  Of the 66 foreign-born, 40 were from Ireland, 8 from England, 7 from Scotland, 6 from Canada, 4 from Germany and one from Italy.

The distribution of Lattas in America is also interesting.  The states with the largest numbers were Ohio (132), Pennsylvania (127), Indiana (101), Tennessee (79), North Carolina (43), Kentucky (43), New York (38) and South Carolina (29).  These eight states represent 86% of US Lattas, for the total US population they represented just over half.  relative to population, Indiana had the highest concentration of Lattas.  The total US population in 1850 was 23.2 million.  The UK in 1851 was 22.3 million so very comparable in size so Lattas were more numerous per capita in the US than in the UK.

The Canadian Census of 1851 shows 42 Lattas although it should be stressed that complete returns for the Census are not available so this is probably an undercount; in 1871 there were 77.  Of the 42 in 1851, two were born in Ireland, 2 in the US and one in England, so as with the US Census, it shows that Lattas were long-established in Canada.

There were also a handful of Lattas who had gone to Australia by 1850 as there are birth records beginning in 1845.  Howerver, the majority of Lattas in Australia went after 1850.  The same applies to New Zealand where I have not positively identified anyone with teh Latta name prior to 1850.

It is certainly possible that some British Lattas may have gone to other British coonies by 1850 but numbers who settled permanently except perhaps in South Africa are likely to have been small.

So where else were there Lattas?

Familysearch.org has 16 Latta baptisms in Finland from 1657-1890 of whom perhaps 5-6 would have been alive in 1851 but these are very incomplete records.  It is possible that Lattas in Finland were descended from Scottish immigrants but it seems more likely that the name developed independently there.  there are instances of the Latta name in Russia more recently but given that Russia controlled Finland for longer periods, these may have been Finish in origin.  there are also some records from Sweden but again these could be from ethnic Finns.

One other country that  has a well identified incidence of the Latta name is Slovakia.  There appear to be significant numbers of Slovak Lattas.  Familysearch.org shows 93 Slovak christenings mainly in Nova Bana and Modry Kamen, although it is unlikely that these are complete records.  In addition, since Slovakia was not an independent country in the 19th century, records may not always refer to the country by name.  Ellis Island immigration records showed a number of Lattas from Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Germany and Austria, who might all have been ethnic Slovaks.

Nova Bana is a small town in western central Slovakia. In 1850 it would have been part of the Kingdom of Hungary, which in turn was part of the Hapsburg Empire.  Modry Kamen is in southern Slovakia, quite close to the Hungarian border.  Some immigrants into the US came from Italy including one person in the 1850 census.  Most immigrants from Italy came later so the number for 1850 is not surprising.  It would be difficult to estimate Lattas in Italy in 1850 or to speculate whether the name has an independent origin or derived from Scottish immigration.  Today, the website cognomix.it which shows the distribution of surnames in Italy lists 25 Lattas mainly in the north of Italy.  Ellis Island records showed immigration of Lattas from the south, Sicily and Sardinia.

The other country which Familysearch shows records is Portugal with 14 births - all in Campo Maior and Portoalegre. Given the historic ties between Britain and Portugal, a Scottish origin is certainly possible although both towns are in central Portugal on the Spanish border rather than on the coast where one might expect to find Scottish traders.

Given the difficulty of estimating Latta numbers in Slovakia, Italy and other countries, any number of Lattas in 1850 involved significant guesswork but it is probably reasonable to think that there were no more than 1500, emphasizing that the name is relatively rare.

If there are any members of the Society who trace their origins to a country other than Scotland or Ireland, it would be interesting to share their insights on the origin of the name in the country from which their family came.