Probably the earliest available record of the Bates name is found in the Domesday Book, in that part called the Bolden Book, or survey of the Palatinate of Durham, made in 1183, where in the medieval Latin it is recorded “Obertus Bate tenet 17 bovat etc.” In the reign of Edward I (1272-1307) a survey is made in which are the names of Henr’ Bate, Hug’ Bate, Johs Bate, Isabella Bate, Marg’ and Ric’ Bate, Symon Bate, Witt Bate and de Witt Bate
The poem, “The Vision of Piers Ploughman,” written about 1362 speaks of “Bette the bocher” (butcher), “Bette the Bedel”, and bids “Bette kutte
A bough on a tweye
And bete Beton therewith.”
The name Bates is a relic of this Bette.
The earliest Lydd record is that found in wills at Canterbury, the will of William Bate of Lydd, dated April 5, 1478, proved June 18, 1478. Probably an earlier date is obtained from the will of Henry Bate of Lydd, dated May 20, 1478, proved August 8, 1478, in which he mentions his father John Bate. This John Bate is perhaps the earliest Bates ancestor of the Lydd Bate Family, and the date of his birth must be near 1400, as Henry had, apparently, at his death eight children, several of whom were married and had children.
Two suggestions are made as to the origin of the name Bates. One authority derives it from the Saxon word “bate” meaning “contention”. The fact that the early form is universally Bate seems to favor this origin. Softening the meaning of the word a little we may regard it as meaning “persistence”, or “insistence upon our rights or duties”. This quality seems to fit the family characteristic, for the Bates have been known as standing erect, not with a chip on the shoulder looking for a fight, but insisting upon doing or getting what was right.
A more common derivation of the name is from Bartholomew’s son, Bartholomew being shortened to Bat and Bat’s son becoming Batson or Bats, easily lengthened to Bates. How the final “s” came to be lost and becoming the name Bate is not clear, but Bate it was uniformly in the old English record and usually so in the New England records until about the time of the Revolution, when it comes to be quite uniformly Bates. This change from Bate to Bates follows a tendency which we see today to attach a final “s” to many names, thus Beal becomes Beals, Andrew becomes Andrews, Daniel becomes Daniels, etc.
This was originally from “The Bates Bulletin”, April 1911 (no author was listed). Reprinted in “The Bates Bulletin”, Spring 2002