surname attested from late 13c. (earlier le Despenser, mid-12c.), literally "one who dispenses or has charge of provisions in a household," short for Anglo-French espencer, Old French despencier "dispenser" (of provisions), "a butler or steward" (see dispense).
Middle English spence meant "larder, pantry," and is short for Old French despense "larder" (Modern French dépense), from despenser "to distribute," hence the surname Spence. Another form of the word is spender, which also has become a surname.
As a type of repeating rifle used in the American Civil War, 1863, named for U.S. gunsmith Christopher Spencer, who, with Luke Wheelock, manufactured them in Boston, Mass.