Grantham was the birthplace of the UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Isaac Newton was educated at its King's School, while Thomas Paine worked there as an excise officer in the 1790s. Grantham-born Edith Smith became the United Kingdom's first female police officer in 1914. The town produced the first running diesel engine in 1892 and the UK's first tractor in 1896.
The origin of "Grantham" is uncertain, although the name is said probably to be Old English "Granta+ham", meaning "Granta's homestead". It appeared as early as 1086 in the Domesday Book in its present form of Grantham, but was also recorded variously as Grandham, Granham and Graham. The place name element grand could possibly mean "gravel".
The name of the town is the origin of the Scottish surname, now often used as a given name, Graham.
Late neolithic vessels from a burial were found at Little Gonerby, in the north of the town, in 1875. A number of flint blades have been found, including from near Welham Street to the south-east of the town centre and from near Barrowby where a macehead has also been found. At Little Gonerby a neolithic settlement site was discovered with finds of pottery and flints.