Anderson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Anderson Surname Meaning

Anderson is a patronymic name meaning “son of Andrew,” particularly popular in Scotland where St. Andrew is the patron saint. Anderson in America may be the anglicization of Scandinavian surnames such as Andersson, Andreasson or Anderssen.

Anderson Surname Resources on The Internet

Anderson Surname Ancestry

  • from NE Scotland, Northern England, Sweden and Denmark
  • to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

Scotland.  The name was first found in NE Scotland in the wild mountainous countryside of Badenoch by the Great Glen and Strathspey. It was recorded in 1400 as the Gaelic MacGilleandrich, then as Andrewson and MacAndrew before later becoming Anderson.  

“Little John MacAndrew, known in Gaelic as Iain Beg MacAindrea, was a bowman of note in the 17th century and a terror of all who fought against him. Many tales were told of his exploits and his vengeance on the cattle raiders who raided Basdenoch.”  

The largest group of Andersons at that time was to be found in the lands through Aberdeen, Banff and Moray in NE Scotland. They were not all wild men.

The Andersons in Aberdeen included those of Finshaugh, Downhill, and Candacraig. Alexander Anderson of Finshaugh was a noted mathematician of the early 17th century and other members of the family were equally distinguished.  Andersons at English Mill in Inverurie dated from 1590 when their Anderson forebear took the King of Scotland on his ship to Denmark to marry Anne of Denmark.  Many descendants had military careers.

John Anderson, born near Inverness, moved with his parents south to Glasgow in the 1670’s where he was a sea captain (he rescued the survivors of the ill-fated Darien settlement scheme in Central America in 1700).

A later John Anderson, a noted genealogist, was born in Hamilton just outside Glasgow in 1789. His son William Anderson published his famous biographical history of the people of Scotland, The Scottish Nation, in 1863.

Today there are more Andersons in Glasgow than in the Highlands.

England. Andersons were also across the border in England. Sir Edmund Anderson was Chief Justice of the Common Pleas around the year 1600. He, however, had come from a Scottish family that had moved south to Lincolnshire in the 14th century.

Most Andersons were in northern England, in Northumberland, Durham and Yorkshire. Andersons in Newcastle date from 1520 when Henry Anderson, a merchant, was Sheriff of Newcastle. From this line came the Andersons of Jesmond and Bradley.

Matthew Anderson was born into a family of millers at Barrow Mill in Northumberland in 1784.  He became a shepherd.  After his wife died, he left his home there with his four sons for Mayo in Ireland in 1852.

Ireland. Andersons from Scotland came to Ireland at the time of the Ulster plantations. There were the Andersons of Lisnamulligan in the Finn valley of Donegal and the Andersons who owned the Lough Gill brewery in Sligo.

America.  The first Andersons in America were probably English, an Anderson family from Lincolnshire who came to Virginia in 1635.  Two brothers Thomas and John were said to have started a shipbuilding yard at Gloucester Point on the York river. Armstead Anderson of this family migrated to Kentucky in the 1790’s.

Numerous other Andersons, from both England and Scotland, had arrived in Virginia by 1700. There were 17 Andersons recorded in the Virginia rent roll of 1704.

A number from Northumberland and Berwickshire had settled along the Chesapeake Bay shore in either Virginia or Maryland. John Anderson had arrived in Virginia in the 1750’s and later settled in Kentucky. By the early 1800’s, other Andersons had spread from Virginia north to Pennsylvania or west into Ohio.

Scandinavians. Many of the Danes, Norwegians, and Swedes who emigrated to America with the last name Andersson, Andreasson or Anderssen dropped the extra “s” after their arrival.

One early presence was Erik Anderson of Swedish parentage, born in the New Sweden colony in Delaware sometime in the 1660’s. He lived to be almost a hundred years old.

Then there was John Anderson of Swedish ancestry who ran Anderson’s ferry along the Susquehanna river in Pennsylvania in the 1750’s. His son William by an Indian wife became Chief Anderson of the Delaware tribe and is commemorated today by the town of Anderson, Indiana.

However, the main Scandinavian influx was later. The peak years for immigration were from 1875 to 1892. Some of the arrivals at that time were:

  • Charles Anderson from Gotenburg in Sweden who was in Peoria, Illinois in the late 1870’s
  • Jeppe Anderson from Kjelst in Denmark who had reached Omaha, Nebraska in the early 1880’s
  • Henry Anderson from Odense in Denmark who was in Harper county, Kansas in the mid 1880’s.
  • and Alfred Anderson from Vastergotland in Sweden who married in Marshall county, Minnesota in the late 1880’s.

These Scandinavian Andersons account for the high number of Andersons to be found in Midwest states such as Minnesota (which had the largest Anderson population by 1920). Robert Anderson, the famous oilman and wildcatter, was the son of Swedish parents. Elmer Anderson, also of Swedish extraction, was the Governor of Minnesota in the 1950’s.

Canada.  Samuel Anderson, the son of Irish parent immigrants to America, was a Loyalist who crossed the border into Canada after his property in Vermont had been confiscated.  He settled in Cornwall, Ontario in 1783.  His son Thomas was involved in the Indian fur trade for more than fifty years. 

Thomas and Mary Anderson from Yorkshire came to Sackville, New Brunswick in 1772. Their descendants have remained there to this day.

And there were Andersons of Scandinavian origin who came to the Canadian West to homestead in the 1890’s and 1900’s after the American frontier had closed down.  Henry and Emma Anderson from Norway had gone first to Minnesota and then to South Dakota before heading north to Alberta in 1906.  Their grand-daughter is the folk singer Joni Mitchell (nee Anderson).

Australia.  An Anderson family from Scotland have been graziers and landowners at Mullaley in northern NSW since the 1840’s.  The sixth generation descendant has been John Anderson who was Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister from 1999 to 2005.  Since his retirement from politics in 2007, he has returned to his roots at Mullaley.

New Zealand.  John and Isabella Anderson from Scotland had met in New Zealand and married in Nelson in 1844.  When they heard about the Scottish settlement being planned for Otago, they chartered the Ann and Sarah and set sail for the south.  After circumnavigating Otago harbor, they selected a site by the Anderson Bay inlet, pitched their tents on the shore, and  waited for the Scottish settlers to arrive.  It proved a long wait.  The settlers did not arrive until 1847.

Another John Anderson, from Edinburgh, came to New Zealand with his family in 1850 and made his home in Christchurch.  He prospered there from his various business enterprises and was Mayor of Christchurch in 1868.   His son John expanded his business activities and became one of New Zealand’s largest bridge builders.

Other Andersons also arrived in Otago in the 1840’s.

Joni Mitchell nee Anderson Family Ancestry

Joni Mitchell the folk singer was born Joan Anderson in Canada and the name was only Anderson from the time that her great grandfather arrived in America from Norway in 1869.

Just click below if you want to read more about this family line from Norway to the American and Canadian West:

Anderson Surname Miscellany

Anderson Clan Origins.  The Kinrara manuscript of 1676 stated that a “sick‑like” Donald MacGilleandrich came with Moira MacDonald from Moidart near Lochaber to Badenoch near Strathpey sometime before 1400.

In Badenoch MacGilleandrich, later anglicized as MacAndrew, they became associated with the Chattan clan. It is probable that many Andersons came from this sept.

The Andersons of Finshaugh.  Alexander Anderson was the most noted member of this family from Aberdeen.  He published various works on geometry and algebra in Paris between 1612 and 1619.

But his cousin David Anderson was more locally renowned for his mathematical skill. He earned the nickname of Davie-Do-a’-Things, as his most famous achievement was to remove a large rock that had obstructed the entrance to Aberdeen harbor. The family talent also passed through his sister Janet to her son James Gregory, the inventor of the reflecting telescope.

Matthew Anderson – from Northumberland to County Mayo.  This was the story written by Matthew Anderson’s great great grand-daughter in the 1920’s:

“Matthew’s mother was a frivolous and extravagant woman who destroyed her husband by causing him to lose his fortune.  Because of this Matthew, still a young boy, was forced to become a shepherd.  He became very frugal, painfully so and he soon earned enough money to begin farming on his own.

Soon he married Jane Wanless and brought up a family to whom he gave the best education possible at that time.  There were four sons – John, Ephraim, George and Archibald.  In 1852 these four came to Ireland with their father and settled in the west of county Mayo.”

Sergeant John Anderson in America.  According to family tradition, John Anderson from Perthshire in Scotland came to the American colonies with Braddock’s troops during the French and Indian Wars.  After the defeat at Fort Duquesne, he accompanied Washington back to Virginia.

According to research, there was a Sergeant John Anderson, a Scotsman, who in the late 1750’s was in Captain Lewis’s militia company and was shown to have accompanied Colonel Washington to Winchester, Virginia.  By 1762 he was living in western North Carolina near the present site of Wilkesboro.  In the 1780’s he obtained a land grant for land in Kentucky under grants reserved for veterans of the French and Indian Wars.  He probably died there.

There is no information as to his wives. From references in land records he is believed to have had at least two brothers, William and Isaac, who located near him.  It is thought that John H. Anderson was his first born child and that he had several other sons bearing the names of William, Isaac, James and possibly Matthew and Daniel.

Armistead Anderson in Virginia and Kentucky.  Armistead Anderson was descended from a line of carpenters of the name Anderson, beginning with a ship carpenter who had come to Virginia in 1636 and was believed to be descended from those who worked on the defense to the Spanish Armada.

He was born near current Blackstone, Virginia in 1756 and upon reaching adulthood enlisted in the local militia first in the campaign against the Cherokee Indians and then in the Revolutionary War.  By this time he had married and settled in Henry county.

In 1784, however, he was indicted for suspicion of felony. Just what he had done was lost to a fire in the judge’s home.  But he was one of the two suspects and the sheriff was paid for transporting him to jail and attending his trial.  One of the earliest court orders in Henry county was the garnishment of Anderson’s personal properties including his wife’s feather bed and her spinning wheel.  It is thought that the notoriety over his felony indictment made it judicious for him to move.

Sometime around 1787 he and his family began the trek to Kentucky.  He bought land at Sinking Spring near the Red river in Logan county. Here he cleared the forest and began his farm.  Fortunately most of the serious Indian trouble there was over by that time. In 1803 Armistead’s wife died and he remarried and moved to Union county, Kentucky where his new wife had land.

Erik Anderson from New Sweden.  There was for a short time a Swedish colony, called New Sweden, along the lower reaches of the Delaware river. It lasted from 1638 to 1655 and attracted an estimated 600 Swedish immigrants.  The colony was taken over by the Dutch but it did not formally disappear until 1681 when the British divided its lands between Delaware and Pennsylvania.

Anders Joransson from Sweden was the forebear of an Anderson family that was to be found in New Castle county, Delaware from 1664 to 1787.  His oldest son Erik (or Ericus) was born there sometime in the 1660’s. He was still living almost a hundred years later.  The 1764 census for the Holy Trinity church in Wilmington, Delaware listed Erik as a widower, blind and allegedly about 100 years, although this might have been an exaggeration.

Anderson descendants were to be found in Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. 

Alfred Anderson from Sweden.  Alfred Anderson (as he was in America) was born in 1863 in Vastergotland province in Sweden to Andreas Johansson, a farm hand, and his wife Maja Stina.  Times were tough.  Three years later his parents and three of his six siblings were dead either of pneumonia or tuberculosis.

Alfred worked for a time as a farm hand in Sweden and then emigrated to America with his brother John sometime during the 1880’s.  The cost of the passage from Sweden to the Great Lakes at that time was about fifty dollars.  The voyage took about two weeks, from Goteborg to New York and then to Albany and Buffalo for a lake steamer to Chicago or Milwaukee.

His first record in America was his marriage in 1888 to Amanda Olivia Johnson in Marshall county, Minnesota. Both he and his brother John and their wives were charter members of the Elim Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church there when it was completed in 1893.  Amanda died three years later.  Alfred remarried, his second wife being also Swedish, and they later settled north in Saskatchewan.

Reader Feedback – Andersons in Australia.  I suspect it would be hard to put in all the branches of the Anderson family who came to Australia.

I often think Anderson is the Scottish equivalent of Smith. The branch who gave me my name originated from the John Anderson who went from Glasgow to Mauritius as a missionary with the Mico Schools. His son William later migrated to Australia with his large family in the late 19th century. I can’t relate John back to a specific sept of Andersons. However, the Mullalley Andersons looked lonely as the sole representatives of the name in Australia.

There was also another John Anderson who established the Andersonian University in Glasgow – now defunct but with the name being retained as the name of the library attached I think to Glasgow Uni. John the missionary had a brother who taught French there before becoming a minister in Birmingham.

Cheryl Anderson (

Early Andersons in Otago, New Zealand.  These were some Anderson arrivals in the 1840’s and 1850’s:

  • John Anderson arrived on the Bernicia in 1848 and settled at Blueskin where he had a sheep and cattle run.  He moved to Wyndham in 1857 where he remained till his run was needed for settlements.  Then he moved to Hawke’s Bay where he died.
  • John Anderson was in Dunedin in 1848.  He was employed as a shepherd with his father and took up a run at Wyndham.  He and his brother were the first white men to visit Waikawa.  He lived thirty years in Otago and then moved to Napier.
  • and Millar Anderson from Ayr arrived on the Southern Cross in 1857.  He was in business for many years as a baker on the High Street in Dunedin. He had five sons and three daughters.

Anderson Names

  • John Anderson was a radical Scottish philosopher and a pioneer in the 18th century of vocational education for the working poor.
  • John Anderson was a professional magician in Scotland in the Victorian age who has been credited in making magic performances a legitimate theatrical experience.
  • Jack Anderson was one of the leading American investigative journalists of the 20th century.
  • Robert Anderson was the legendary oil wildcatter who founded the Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO).
  • Louie Anderson is a stand-up comedian from Minneapolis, Minnesota.
  • John Anderson was Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister from 1999 to 2005.

Anderson Numbers Today

  • 115,000 in the UK (most numerous in Glasgow)
  • 305,000 in America (most numerous in Minnesota)
  • 130,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Anderson and Like Surnames

These were originally Scandinavian patronymic surnames, with conversion usually from the Scandinavian “-sen” and “-sson” to the American “-son” on arrival or soon afterwards.  Here are some of the Scandinavian surnames that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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