The Culbert Family Genealogy Project:
 Connecting a Migratory People

CULBERT SURNAME ORIGINS

Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation.  In England, the Poll Tax was probably the first example of this. [4]  The CULBERT name is considered to be one of the many variant spellings of the Olde English and Anglo-Saxon personal compound name "cud-Leorht," which translates as "famous-bright."  The development of alternative spellings is usually the result of localised medieval dialects.  This name may also stem from CULBHEART, which is said to be a Gaelic form of "crafty".  Crafty is related to "wisdom," and this suggests a connection with the name CUTHBERT.  CULBERT may also be derived from CUTBERT, and this earlier spelling is very similar to CUTHBERT and CUTHBERTSON, one reason for the close relationship between these surnames.

Edward MacLysaght states that the surname CULBERT is of Huguenot origin, and found mainly in Ireland's northern province of Ulster. [1]  However, I have found no evidence of any CULBBERTs being French Huguenots.  CULBRATH is an eighteenth century variant found in County Monaghan, Ireland.  CULBERT families are known in Ireland since the 15th Century, especially in the province of Munster.

In Scotland, CULBERT is particularly associated with County Fife.  It is a variant of COLBERT, and of the Old English "Ceolbeorht." [2]

In Ireland, I have found that the CULBERT, CULBERTSON and CUTHBERTSON surnames are sometimes used interchangeably.  I believe that those who bore these names in Ireland came originally from Scotland.  Despite traditions indicating that these immigrants to Ireland were from Covenanter stock that came from Scotland in the late 1600s, it is more likely that the CUTHBERTSONs from Scotland settled in Ireland in a much earlier time, and they were the ancestors of many of the later Irish CULBERTSONs.

One researcher told me a story about CULBERT origins in Ireland, which has been passed down in her family.  As the story goes, a CULBERT (or more likely a COLBERT) from france, possibly named Eugene, was on a French naval ship that was sunk in a battle with the British off the northwest coast of Ireland (in the region of County Donegal).  This seaman was able to swim to the coast in the fog, was held captive for awhile, and was later released.  He settled in Ireland and never returned to France. [5]

I also have two documented reasons for these surnames being changed in subsequent generations.  One is Edward CUTHBERT from Cumberland, England, who migrated to Oldpark, North Belfast, Ireland in the mid-1800s.  He found that the surname CUTHBERT was virtually unknown in Belfast, but that there were plenty of CULBERT families.  He eventually gave up trying to correct folks about his surname, and when he married a Belfast girl, he did so as Edward CULBERT.  This family continued to use the CULBERT surname in Ireland, and switched it back to CUTHBERT when members returned to England. [6]  The other story concerns Robert CULBERT, born in County Armagh, Ireland, who served in the British Army and left with his family for Canada in 1847.  However, Robert died en route, and his children were taken in by French Canadian families in Quebec.  In a effort to better assimilate them into their community, their surnames were changed to COLBERT and CUTHBERT. [7]

Sources:

[1] Edward MacLysaght, 1999, The Surnames of Ireland, 6th Ed. (Dublin, Ireland and Portland, Oregon, USA), Irish Academic Press.

[2] Dr. George F. Black, 1946, Surnames of Scotland: Their Origin, Meaning and History, New York Public Library, 12th printing (1999), p. 190, ISBN 0-87104-172-3.

[4] The foregoing is provided by Name Orgin Research at their website.

[5] Story provided by Debbie Camejo [Email: RCamejo at earthlink.net] in April 2001.

[6] Dennis Kennedy, 2006, Climbing Slemish: An Ulster Memorial, Trafford Publishing, Victoria, BC, Canada, ISBN 1-4120-9943-9.

[7] Provided by Johanne Quesnel COLBERT.