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The south of England surname RIGGS appears in earlier documents as RIGGES or RIGS and (even farther back in time) RYGGS, RYGGES or RYGS. In the UK it is sometimes confused with the north of England surname RIGG, which is generally a completely separate surname (but see the mutation of RIGGS from RIGGE under 'Origins of the Surname').

Origin of the surname

(1) RIGGS is a 'Wessex' surname, found primarily in Dorset and to a lesser extent in the adjoining counties of Devon, Hampshire, Somerset and Wiltshire. It is part of a group of 'cognates' (words of the same linguistic family developing in parallel) that also includes REAK(E)S, REEK(E)S, RICKS and REX - but not apparently RIX which is a Norfolk name. Each of those is predominantly centred in one of those five counties, and they appear to vary because of differences in dialect.

The Wessex dialect in the UK is a strong one and each West Country county has its own distinctive form. In Dorset, the surname of families in the early records are shown to have evolved from REEKS to RICKS and then RIGGS. William Barnes's 'Glossary of the Dorset Dialect' explains that evolutionary process as the replacement of the softer 'k' sound with the more guttural 'g' sound, and the standard vowel 'e' with a form of the vowel 'i' unique to Dorset in which the vowel sound is drawn out as a long sound.

(2) A much smaller number of RIGGS (primarily those outside 'Wessex') originated as RIDGES, since some letters had different sounds in mediaeval usage: one example that has been quoted to illustrate this is that 'the surname JUDGE would normally be spelt JUGGE' so presumably 'the surname RIDGES would normally be spelt RIGGES'.

(3) Results from the Riggs/Rigg DNA Study Group (see below) have proved beyond doubt that the surnames of two separate members of the RIGGE family group from Hawkshead in the Lake District area of Lancashire mutated from RIGGE to RIGGS - a Miles RIGGE(S) and a Thomas RIGGE(S). This occurred after they moved south to Essex and London in the C16th and C17th respectively, and reflects the fact that, when an 'incomer' has a surname that's a much less common variant of a surname already found in that area, the incomer's surname tended to mutate towards the more common pronunciation.

American researchers of the RIGGS surname may already be familiar with Edward of Roxbury, who migrated to Massachusetts in 1633, and he was Miles RIGGE(S) grandson. The other 'incomer' whose name mutated was Thomas RIGGE(S) of Gloucester, MA, who migrated there in the 1650s.

Historical occurrences

1. Thomas Riggs was Mayor of Southampton, HAM, in 1542 and 1549, and his descendants became Mayors of Winchester and High Sheriff of Sussex.

2. William Riggs of Stragglethorpe, LIN, was Auditor of the Exchequer - styled 'the King's Auditor' - in 1549.

3. Major Edward Riggs, M.P., of Riggsdale, co.Cork, was appointed Deputy Governor of co.Cork in 1699.

4. More recent famous occurrences are documented on my website at http://www.riggs.org.uk

DNA project

For details of the Riggs/Rigg DNA Study Group managed by Alvy Ray Smith (who lives in the USA), please visit http://alvyray.com/Riggs/DNA/

Contact details

For further information, contact:

Mr Geoff Riggs


This page last updated 13 January 2012.

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