The name 'Hatfield' is derived from the ancient word 'Hetfelle' which meant pasture or open land (there have been a variety of spellings – Haethfeld, Haetfeld, Hetfelle, Hatfeud...). As a geographically descriptive name it potentially fits a number of locations.
Indeed, there are at least five Hatfields (with varied spellings) recorded in the 11th Century Domesday Book (six if you include Hatfield Peverel) all appeared to have survived to the current day.
Arguably, it is Hatfield in Hertfordshire which would have made the deepest impression on the public consciousness – particularly in regard to the overseas settlements during Britain's colonial era. Hatfield House and Brocket Hall served as homes for three Victorian Prime Ministers (who between them held the post of Prime Minister seven times, and Foreign Secretary at least five), the District of Hatfield was regularly featured in the news, and it would have also been a familiar name to travellers on the Great Northern Railway and Great North Road.
Perhaps some of those seeking to lose their past and establish a new life and identity in the colonies wracked their brains, recalled the town they stopped at just before reaching London, and adopted that as their new surname. Although it is clear that there were people who adopted the name Hatfield who lived in some of the other Hatfields. It seems to have become a commonly used surname in the United States, where at least three senators have had the name.
Please note: information on individuals, especially positions and employment relates to the time of writing, so is liable to change over the years.
Back to: Features on Hatfield27 August 2012