Ames Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Ames Surname Meaning

The surname Ames derived from the Old French amis, an oblique form of ami, meaning “friend.” The Latin derivatives amicius (male) and amicia (female) appeared in court documents in East Anglia in the late 12th century.

In some cases the surname may have been a contraction of Ambrose or Eames. Spelling variants are Eames and Amis.

Ames Surname Resources on The Internet

Ames and Eames Surname Ancestry

  • from Southern England
  • to America and Canada

England. Early spellings were various and it took many centuries for the Ames spelling to establish itself.

The first recording of the name was Robert Amis in Suffolk records of 1221. John de Amyas appeared in Thornhill records in Yorkshire in the 1340’s and descendants were to be found there and in other communities within the vicinity of East Ardsley.

One line in Sussex started with William Ams who married twice in Rye in the 1560’s. The family spelling later became Eames, although Ames and Aymes were also recorded. These Eames had spread to Chichester in West Sussex by the early 1600’s.

Norfolk. Ames in Norfolk included:

  • Lancelot Ames who was born in Norwich in 1537. A descendant Captain Joseph Ames from Great Yarmouth was instrumental in bringing Charles II back to England on the Happy Return. A later Joseph Ames moved to London and made a name for himself in the early 1700’s with his Typographical Antiquities, a history of printing.  
  • William Ames who was Puritan merchant in Ipswich in the late 1500’s. His son William Ames was the Protestant divine who spent much of his life in Holland.  
  • and Joseph Ames who was a mill-owner and flour merchant in Hallesdon in the early/mid 1700’s. These Ames were close to the Colmans of Colman’s mustard fame.

Somerset There were Ames in Somerset in the 17th century in Charlton, Doulting and Bruton. Charlton manor was held by an Ames family from 1630 to 1804. These Ames were merchants, sometimes described as clothiers. Roger Ames was said to have built Charlton House for his new bride.

There are Ames family memorials in Doulting and Bruton churches. One later memorial, reading as follows, was placed there by American descendants.  

‘To the glory of God and in memory of William and John Ames who emigrated to America from Bruton in 1635 and 1638. Erected by Frederick Lothrop Ames of Easton, Mass. in 1888.”  

The American connection can be seen in Faber K. Ames’s 1969 book The Ames Family of Bruton, Somerset.

Later Ames became prominent Bristol merchants, active in the slave trade to America and the West Indies.  Levi Ames moved into shipowning and banking.  He was mayor of Bristol in 1789 and left a fortune to his six sons on his death in 1820.  They all built grand homes for themselves.  But most had been sold by 1920.

America. Early Ames came to America under a variety of spellings.  Eames was probably the most numerous (Rebecca Eames got caught up in the Salem witch trials). The names Aimes and Amos also appeared.

William Ames and His Descendants.  The Ames line of Braintree, Massachusetts – starting with William Ames from Somerset in 1638 – was one of the few lines that consistently used the Ames spelling. It was also the origin of many of the Ames in America. 

The main lines went via three of William’s sons – John born in 1672, Nathaniel born in 1677, and Thomas born in 1681 who all based themselves in Bridgewater.

Nathaniel published the first American almanac there in 1725, which his son Nathaniel continued until 1766.  Captain John Ames, descended from Thomas, became the first American to manufacture shovels in 1774 (so colonists would no longer have to import them from England). In 1803 John’s son Oliver Ames Sr. moved to North Easton where he founded the Ames Shovel Company.  Business boomed when gold was diecovered in California.


  • Oliver Ames Jr. was President of the Union Pacific Railroad in 1868 at the time of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.
  • and Oliver Ames, son of cousin Oakes Ames, was the Governor of Massachusetts from 1887 t0 1890.

Of later descendants:

  • Oliver Ames Jr. and his wife Blanche Ames (daughter of Governor Ames) built the Borderland estate in Massachusetts in 1906.
  • Hobart Ames started the Ames plantation in Tennessee around the same time and bought himself a herd of Angus cattle.
  • and Winthrop Ames became a prominent theater director on Broadway.

Other Ames.  The line from Anthony Eames who came from Dorset in 1633 and settled in Marshfield, Massachusetts did in time become Ames. Many of them were sea captains. One branch moved to Maine around 1760. Adelbert Ames of this family fought on the Union side in the Civil War and later became Governor of Mississippi. Curiously, his daughter Blanche married an unrelated Ames and thus called herself Blanche Ames Ames.

One Ames line from New Haven and Litchfield in Connecticut extended to Oswego county in upstate New York in the early 1800’s. Leonard and Minerva Ames were prominent citizens of the new township of Mexico. Their family later became involved in hiding runaway slaves in what was called the Underground Railroad.

Eames.  Two notable Eames lines in America began with the Irish Henry Eames and the Tory William Eames.

Henry Eames, a Methodist preacher, emigrated from Cork to Philadelphia in 1769 and settled in Bedford, New York. Three generations of Eames preachers followed in New York and later in Cook county, Illinois. Then came Charles Eameswho settled with his wife Ray in Los Angeles in 1941 and they made their mark as furniture designers. The Eames chair is probably their best known work. 

William Eames was a Tory in New York City at the time of the Revolutionary War. On his death in 1792 he disinherited all four of his sons for supporting the American cause. They changed their names to Aimes.

Canada.  The Rev. William Ames from Frome in Somerset came to Middlesex county in Ontario where he married Hephzibar Whitehouse in 1852.

Their youngest son Alfred (A.E. Ames), born in 1866, started his own stockbroking company in Toronto in 1889 at the age of twenty-three and by 1896 he was President of the Toronto Stock Exchange.  In the years following he prospered as one of Canada’s leading financiers.

Ames Surname Miscellany

Norfolk and Somerset Ames.  There is an old tradition that suggests that the Norfolk and Somerset Ames came from the same stock. Portrait comparisons of Norfolk and Somerset Ames have tended to support this impression.

The Norfolk line included Lancelot Ames in Norwich and William Ames in Ipswich who were contemporaries in Elizabethan times.  The Ames line in Somerset included members of the Bruton branch which emigrated to America.

Ames from Somerset to America.  William Ames and his brother John emigrated to America from Bruton in Somerset in 1635 and 1638 respectively.

Prior to their departure, they had built the Pear Tree Cottage at Wyke Champflower just outside of Bruton.  The cottage still stands and has the date of building, 1633, carved into a log over the fireplace in the main part of the house.  These Ames are also commemorated in a window in the local church.

William came to America on the Hercules in 1635, settled in Braintree, and married Hannah Adams in 1640. They had one son John who was seven when his father died in 1654.  He was adopted by his uncle John who was living in Bridgewater nearby and was childless.

Reader Feedback – Ames from Somerset to America.  Thank you for your website on John and William Ames which I just discovered by googling Pear Tree Cottage. My wife has just completed a painting of the house, taken from a photograph we took in the 1980’s.

There are a couple of small errors in your account.  It was John who came first to Massachusetts in 1635.  His older brother William followed in 1638. John died childless and it is William and Hannah, as you said, who are the progenitors of the family in America.  Their son John was adopted by his uncle John as you said.  However William and Hannah had six children, not just John.

They were:

  • Hannah – born March 1641
  • Rebecca – August 1642
  • Lydia – April 1645
  • John – March 1647
  • Sarah – Jan 1650
  • Deliverance – December 1653.

John Ames (

Rebecca Eames and the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.  At the age of 53 Rebecca Ames was among the spectators for Rev. George Burroughs’ hanging on Gallows Hill, Salem, on August 19, 1692.

She was in a house near the scene of the execution.  While she was there “the woman of the house” felt a pin stuck into her foot, as she said.  Rebecca, not being as good as she might have been, was pointed out as the one who did it. Two warrants were issued for her arrest.

She was imprisoned for witchcraft, stood trial, confessed, and was sentenced to death.  She was reprieved in March 1693 after seven months in jail.  After her husband’s death, she applied for assistance and she and her children were then taken in during the winter of 1693-94.  She applied for and had her name cleared and restitution paid in 1710.

The Ames in Upstate New York.  In 1804 Leonard Ames bought lot 62 in Mexico in Oswego county, New York and moved his family there from Connecticut.  The parents and their four children walked behind an ox team marking the trail on their journey.

When the Ames built their first home in Mexico, it had a sheepfold attached to the rear.  Around 1815, daughter Emeline put her hand in the cranberry bushes near the house and it accidentally landed on a bear who wasn’t pleased about it. To get across Salmon Creek, they crossed it on a fallen tree.  When Cheney was young, a family story described how he was nearly pulled into Salmon Creek by a large salmon that he had hooked.   His sister grabbed him by the coattails to keep him safe on the bank.

The Ames, led by his wife Minerva, were staunch Methodists.  Orson Ames, the eldest son who owned a nearby tannery, offered the use of it to the Methodists.  Finally the 1833 the Mexico Methodist Church was organized and a church built. Leonard Ames acted as trustee.

By the 1830’s, abolition became the official position of most pastors, including the Methodists, in Mexico.  Individuals got involved in the Underground Railroad.  The house of Orson Ames, built around 1830, was a well-known station on the Railroad. Orson sheltered the famous fugitive slave Jerry Henry there in 1851.  Harlow Ames’ cow-barn on the Colosse Road had beneath the floor, a pit, too shallow for a well or cistern, that is also believed to have been used as a slaves’ hideaway.

The Ames Shovel Company.  The Ames Shovel Company traces its origins to 1774 when Captain John Ames began making iron shovels at Bridgewater in Massachusetts.

His son Oliver moved the company to North Easton in 1803. In 1844, the elder Ames would transfer the shovel business to two of his sons, Oakes and Oliver Jr. Within the next few years, gold would be discovered in California and Australia.  This created a worldwide demand for the company’s shovels.

For most of the company’s history, it occupied the Ames Shovel Works in Easton, Massachusetts, where it rose to national prominence and eventually controlled 60% the US shovel market.  Along the way it pioneered the concept of mass production and became one of the first companies to operate on a global scale. Shovel production at Easton continued until 1952.

The Ames at Borderland.  In 1906 the artist and suffragist Blanche Ames and her botanist husband Oakes purchased land on the border of the Sharon and Easton townships in Massachusetts.

The Ames decided that they wanted to farm the land and turn the rest into a wildlife sanctuary.  New dams were constructed and a lot of the swampy areas of Borderland were transformed into ponds. Construction on a three-story, twenty-room stone mansion on the property began in 1910. Today the mansion is largely covered in ivy and sits behind a sprawling lush, green lawn and hedges.

The country estate they created and named Borderland remained in the family for 65 years.  In 1971, two years after the death of Blanche Ames, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts acquired the estate and opened it as a state park.

The family mansion still stands.  Its twenty rooms are furnished much as they were when the Ames lived here.  Many of Blanche Ames’ paintings grace the walls.

Reader Feedback – The Architect Charles Eames.  Numerous sources have given the ancestry of Charles Eames the architect as being from William Eames of upstate New York who had moved west and practiced dentistry in St. Louis.

This is incorrect.  He was a descendent of the immigrant Henry Eames, a Methodist preacher who came from Cork to Philadelphia in 1769.

Ryan Eames (ryaneames@gmail. com)

Ames Names

  • Nathaniel Ames published the first American almanac in 1725.
  • Oliver Ames was President of the Union Pacific in 1868 when the Transcontinental Railroad was completed.
  • Charles and Ray Eames were noted 20th century American interior designers. 
  • Les Ames from Kent was an England wicketkeeper cricketer of the 1930’s.
  • Kingsley Amis and his son Martin Amis are well-known English novelists of the second half of the 20th century.

Ames Numbers Today

  • 4,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 8,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 3,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

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Written by Colin Shelley

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