Recorded in several forms including Whitta, Witter and Whitter, this is an English surname. Of early medieval origin, it is occupational for a decorator, but more specifically, one employed to apply whitewash to the walls of buildings, both inside and out. The keep of the Tower of London was known as the “White Tower,” because it was whitewashed, as was Corfe Castle in Dorset. The name and word could also be used to describe a bleacher, someone who bleached cloth white. The derivation of the name is from the Olde English pre 7th century verb “hwitian”, meaning to make white, in medieval English “whiten”.
Whitewash (or calcimine, kalsomine, calsomine, or lime paint) is a type of paint made from slaked lime or chalk calcium carbonate.
In Britain and Ireland, whitewash was used historically in interiors and exteriors of workers’ cottages and still retains something of this association with rural poverty. In the United States, a similar attitude is expressed in the old saying: “Too proud to whitewash and too poor to paint.”
Variants of the name range from Witter and Wytter to Whitta, Whitear, Wither, Whitters or Whiter.
But like with many other names back then, the spelling was not as important to the people as today.
Interesting historical occurrences of the name
- John Whitter (not known) – Longbowmen under Edmund, Earl of March in King Henry V. campaign in Normandy 1417. Probably participated in the sieges of Evreux, Ivry and Rouen.
- William Witter (b. 1584, d. 1659) – The first known Witter in the New World. Born in either Cheshire or Sussex. Settled in Lynn, Massachusetts 1629.
- Daniel Witter (d. 1675) – born in England, he was an Irish Anglican priest in the seventeenth century.
- Henry Whitter (b. 1892, d. 1941) – an early old-time recording artist in the United States. He first performed as a solo singer, guitarist and harmonica player, and later in partnership with the fiddler G. B. Grayson
- James William Cheetham Witter (b. 1880, d. 1961) – 2nd Class smoke room steward born in Aughton, Lancashire. He was a Titanic survivor (Interview with him on YouTube)