From Burkby to Burpee

By Tom Burpee

The Burpee name is most known in North America for the tough Burpee fitness test and also the flowery Burpee Seeds Co amongst others. But for those of us who have the Burpee name, there is a natural curiosity, indeed a real wonderment, about how and when the name originated. Did the word have another earlier meaning that has been lost over the years? Surely, there must be a rational explanation!

  • The story of the name begins with Thomas Burkby who came from Yorkshire England in the 1630s and settled in Massachusetts.
  • Burkby is also the name of a Yorkshire town whose name may come from a word that means village inhabited by persons of mixed Viking background.
  • Thomas, like many of his contemporaries, could not write and probably couldn’t read as well. He signed a deed in 1693 with a “mark” and not a signature. Those were the days when people were very loose about how they wrote down a name.
  • Up to 1700, the name was Burkby or Burkbee with variations. The name then becomes Burbey or Burbee, there is no “p” as yet. In 1715, the “b” is replaced by a “p” and the name becomes Burpe or Burpee.


Discussion group


Please join the facebook group if you’re a relative. Here’s a chance to talk to other people with possibly your last name and possibly your first name. All relatives of Burpee’s welcome. Last name not important.

Lawrence Burpee

Burpee window in Westmount Public Library, Montreal.

Burpee window in Westmount Public Library, Montreal.

Lawrence Johnstone Burpee, FRSC (March 5, 1873 – October 13, 1946), was a civil servant, librarian, and author.

He entered the Canadian civil service in 1890 and served as private secretary to 3 ministers of justice. From 1905 to 1912 Burpee was librarian of the Ottawa Public Library, and from 1912 until his death was Canadian secretary to the International Joint Commission.

Burpee was a founder of the Canadian Historical Association and honorary secretary 1926-35 and president 1936-37 of the Royal Society of Canada. A prolific writer, he published many articles and works on Canadian history and geography. He was the founding editor of the Canadian Geographical Journal.

“Burpee was a fervent supporter of many causes, from the need for a national library to the independence of Poland. On the latter he published a 1939 wartime article “Poland’s fight for freedom” in the Canadian Geographical Journal. On his way to Warsaw in 1946, Burpee died at Oxford, England. He is buried there, although he is also memorialized on a stone in Beechwood Cemetery.” – Wikipedia

Burpee Seeds

“Burpee Seeds, officially W. Atlee Burpee & Co., is a seed company that was founded by Washington Atlee Burpee in 1876. The company first sold garden seeds, farm supplies, tools, poultry and hogs. The direction of the company began to change with the death of its founder in 1915 when his son, David Burpee, inherited the firm. David was interested in war or victory gardens and was an early promoter of the concept during World War I. He also prioritized in flowers and initiated several flower breeding programs.

After been sold in 1971 to General Foods, then ITT, the Burpee company was acquired by George Ball in 1991, a diversified horticultural family business. Jonathan Burpee, the founder’s grandson, was the last Burpee family member to work for the company. The company maintains the original Burpee farm, Fordhook Farms, in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where notable varieties such as Iceberg lettuce and Big Boy tomato were bred.

The company currently sells seeds and garden accessories to home gardeners.” – Burpee Seeds in Wikipedia

“For millions of Americans, weary of long winters, nothing signals spring like the arrival of their Annual Burpee Catalog in the mailbox. Turning page after page and seeing the brilliant colors of vegetables and plants, perennials and annuals, awakens the imagination as loyal customers begin to plan the contents of their garden each spring.” –

Burpee Seed Catalogs

Burpee Seed Catalogs