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Where and when did the names CHRIMES, CRIMES, CHRYMES and CRYMES originate?

Anyone hoping for a concise indisputable answer to this question will be disappointed. That's not to say that the hunt for the name's origins isn't interesting - you may be surprised by some of the findings - but it certainly is not an easy name to research.

Let's start by looking at what previous researchers have found. The following article from the magazine Cheshire Life is a very good place to start.

From Cheshire Life magazine November 1984

Most of us, if not all, have criminals among our ancestors; but I've often wondered what sins had so stamped themselves into this family's origins that their sons and sons' sons have ever since lived with them. I turned for the answers to the expert on the family, Philip Crimes, of 12, Spencer Gardens, East Sheen, London SW14 7AH, and his reply shows that we should never take surname meanings for granted.
It comes from a medieval word crymbe, meaning any small item, but particularly referring to a field. The word occurred in one or two places in Cheshire as part of field names; but as the earliest known example of its use as a surname was at Thelwall court in 1516 when Thomas Crymes was fined 6d for a false accusation of debt, it seems probable that the family originated in Norton nearby where there was the chanoncrymbe (the canon's bit of land) as early as 1353. This later appears to be in the possession of Norton Priory with an area of six acres.
Despite this type of origin, (being like Wood, Marsh, or indeed Field) the surname seems to have started only in Cheshire, and the family remained very localised in a triangle through Northwich, Tarvin and Frodsham in the sixteenth century, with a very high concentration in Weaverham. A few, however, escaped to London, John Crymes being a member of the Clothworkers' Company early in the same century, and Richard, a haberdasher, whose will of 1565 can be read in that marvelous, but now alas defunct journal, the Cheshire Sheaf (3rd series, vol. 13); the will shows that he was from Northwich. It was then quite common for young men to make their fortunes in London, and then to remember the inadequacies of their birthplace when they made their will - especially those who died without children. Woodhead chapel and Stockport School were founded in this way.
The Hearth Tax of the 1660s and '70s still shows the same triangle in mid-county, but in 1715 Robert Chrymes emigrated to Chelford, founding a family which remained at Ollerton for 250 years, and bringing us back to Philip in London. Even now, although there are little pockets of the family in Crewe, Chester, Neston, and even abroad in Rochdale, the largest number remain where they were all those centuries ago - within a few miles of Weaverham.


The above article is consistent with my research, especially the Cheshire triangle centred on Weaverham being the supposed place of origin. You may have spotted that the article mentions all four name variants, supporting the argument that they have a common origin. Chronologically, the names appeared firstly as CRYMES, then CHRYMES. These then changed to CHRIMES and CRIMES, with CRIMES dominant in the 17th and 18th centuries, before numerous CRIMES families changed to CHRIMES in the 19th century, equalising the numbers of these two now-dominant names. This assessment is however highly simplified, as the early alternative forms of the name were interchangeable. More on this later.
The suggestion of the above article that the surname is derived from the name given to a small field is plausible. However, I understand that use of the Old English word crymbe was not restricted to Cheshire, so we must ask why it became the origin of a surname in that county only?
An alternative origin which would satisfy the Cheshire-only problem would be a Cheshire dialect word, but whether we have the information in the 21st century to find such a word in medieval Cheshire dialect is far from certain.
Elsewhere in this website there is growing evidence that almost all people with the name CRIMES, CRYMES, CHRYMES or CHRIMES can be traced back to Cheshire. The two UK 'outliers' (Staffordshire and Sheffield) may still be connected back to Cheshire with further research. DNA testing may prove valuable in determining whether the known Cheshire 'branches' are related (share a common ancestor). I do not expect all 'branches' to be related (which would mean that all 'branches' derive from just one male named CRYMES). Rather, I expect that, though we may yet be able to connect some of the Cheshire 'branches', they will not all be related, and so we will come down to (my guess), say, 6 unconnected branches, representing 6 separate originations of the surname within Cheshire. To my mind, this would support the Cheshire dialect hypothesis.

What about GRIMES?

Many people presume that the names CRYMES/CHRYMES/CHRIMES/CRIMES are linked to the name GRIMES, indeed descended from it. There are published works which propose this origin and many commercial websites also propose it. The study of name variants is an inexact science, but in order for the name GRIMES to be linked to CRYMES/CHRYMES/CHRIMES/CRIMES, there would need to be significant numbers of records of people named GRIMES in the same locations and at the same early dates as for CRYMES/CHRYMES/CHRIMES/CRIMES. This is not however found to be so. A frequent proposal for the origin of the name GRIMES is based on Scandinavian/Viking settlement in England, and it is tempting to latch on to this as the origin of CRYMES/CHRYMES/CHRIMES/CRIMES also, but I have found no reason to make such a linkage.

There are people with the name GRIMES who are included in this research, but they represent a small group, mainly on the Wirral peninsula of Cheshire, England, who changed their name FROM CRIMES TO GRIMES in the 19th century. This has no bearing on the origins being considered here.


I was interested to find out how many CHRIMES and CRIMES there were in the UK, and decided to use the published data from the UK censuses to help establish this. The first stage was to create the following table, taking account of mis-transcriptions wherever possible to produce corrected numbers.


The table took about 1 hour to research, but has changed my understanding of the origins of the name CHRIMES forever!
If the numbers don't jump out of the page and hit you, try some graphs:

Numbers of CHRIMES and CRIMES in the UK census

What was happening to the general UK population during this time?
The next graph shows how the CHRIMESs and the CRIMESs compared to the general population:

Percentage increase in UK population 1841-1911
Showing, for each line of the graph,
its factor of increase above its 1841 level.

If data tables and graphs aren't your cup of tea, then here are some words which sum up the situation:

What exactly was going on? Why were the CHRIMESs increasing faster than the general population? Some possibilities:

In fact none of the above were true. For mathematicians, during the full period of this research, the CHRIMESs have produced 52.0% males and 48.0% females. The CRIMESs have produced 49.2% males and 50.8% females. These differences are nothing like enough to produce the data variations seen above.

You will probably have worked out what was really going on. The big clue is that the amount by which the CHRIMESs were increasing (relative to the general population) was roughly the same as the amount by which the CRIMESs were lagging behind.

Anyone who has researched the CHRIMES will have come across an example or two of this name changing, but this research shows it to have been a very significant factor in the expansion of the CHRIMES surname, with numerous occurrences. The above data is based in the UK census from 1841 to 1911 simply because that is the only such data available to the personal researcher. There were many name changes occurring during that period, but what about before and after?

Why did the CRIMESs want to change their name to CHRIMES?

I have no information which might answer this question, so can only guess. Perhaps the people named CRIMES thought that the name carried a stigma, being seen by others as referring to a criminal. The name CHRIMES is pronounced in exactly the same way, but allows the owner's name in the written form to be different from the noun meaning "unlawful acts".

Can you help? Do you have any inside knowledge of actual cases where people have changed their name from CRIMES to CHRIMES, which might help explain why?

Surnames evolved before widespread literacy

Going back now to the earliest CHRIMESs in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, here are some factors affecting people's surnames:

Whilst compiling the Cheshire Parish Register births data for this website, it was noticeable how the CHRIMESs and the CRIMESs often appeared in blocks. For instance, between 1712 and 1727 (15 years) there were 17 CRIMES births in Weaverham, Cheshire but not a single CHRIMES! Then later, between 1769 and 1794 (25 years) there were 25 CHRIMES births but not a single CRIMES! These were surely the same families. They didn't move away for 25 years and then return. The church minister was determining their names!

The Y variations CHRYMES and CRYMES seem to have become unfashionable amongst the learned scribes quite soon after their emergence, with just the I variations CHRIMES and CRIMES continuing in the UK, although CRYMES continues to this day in the United States. It seems as though the surname which one had when entering the era of improved literacy was almost pot luck! Having entered that new era, however, some people with the name CRIMES decided that they didn't like it and changed to CHRIMES.

Two-way traffic?

With all this discussion of people changing from CRIMES to CHRIMES, we have not discussed those changing in the opposite direction. That's because there weren't any. Not a single one. This was strictly one-way traffic.

You might be excused for thinking that all the CRIMESs changed their name, but this is not so. Although the worldwide total of living people named CHRIMES now exceeds those named CRIMES, the latter name is still present in large numbers in the UK.

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