Arnold Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Arnold Surname Meaning

Arnold is a personal name of Germanic origin composed of the elements arn, meaning “eagle,” and wald, meaning “to rule.” The name spread across Northern Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire.

Arnulf or Arnold the Bad became Duke of Bavaria in 907; the 11th century Arnulf or Arnold of Soissons is the patron saint of Belgian brewers; while some see Switzerland as the German origin of the Arnold name.

In Germany its earliest appearance as a surname was Adler Arnoldt in Meskirch in 1282 and in England William Arnold in Suffolk in 1277. In some cases the surname in England can be locational, from Arnold place-names in Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire.  Arnold can also be a Jewish name, perhaps because of its resemblance to the Jewish Aaron.

Arnold Surname Resources on The Internet

Arnold Surname Ancestry

  • from Germany (Bavaria), Wales, and Western England
  • to America, Canada and Australia

Arnold is a Germanic name and there are some 50,000 Arnolds in Germany today – with the largest numbers in Bavaria and Saxony in the south of the country and a further 15,000 in Switzerland. This compares with about 35,000 Arnolds in England.

Wales. Roger Arnold – from an old Monmouthshire family that was descended from Gwilym ap Meurig – was the first in the 15th century to adopt the Arnold name in Wales.

But it was Nicholas Arnold, an English courtier from Highnam in Gloucestershire, who would purchase the Llanthony priory in Monmouthshire at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries. Llanthony was to stay with his family until 1720 when the male line died out.

England. Two notable Arnold families have west country origins, but not necessarily the ancient royal Welsh blood that has been claimed.

West Country.  Both have their roots in Somerset, in Cheselbourne in the case of the English Arnolds and in Ilchester in the case of the American Arnolds. Although the two places are not that far apart, no linkage has been proven between these two family lines.

The English Arnolds were recorded in Somerset in the 16th century. William Arnold, father of Thomas, left his home there in Cheselbourne and took up the post of Customs inspector on the Isle of Wight in 1777.

His son Thomas Arnold, an early supporter of the Broad Anglican church movement, was a well-known educator of the 1830’s from his position as headmaster of Rugby School. His three sons excelled in their chosen fields:

  • Matthew as a poet and cultural critic of his age;
  • Tom as a literary professor;
  • and William as a colonial administrator and novelist.

Tom’s daughter Julia married Leonard Huxley and was the mother of Julian and Aldous Huxley.

Elsewhere.  Arnold origins may have been west country. But there had been a decided eastward shift in the population by the 19th century. Almost 40 percent of the Arnolds in England at the time of the 1891 census were to be found in London and the southeast.

America. William Arnold from Ilchester in Somerset had come to New England in 1635, initially to Massachusetts, but soon removed himself with Roger Williams to the new settlement in Providence. He was a founder of the colony of Rhode Island and one of its wealthiest settlers.

William’s son Benedict Arnold was the first Governor of Rhode Island under the royal charter of 1663. Other members of the Arnold family came to Boston in 1687, including the Rev. William George Arnold and his brother Edward.

During the American Revolution the Arnolds became active in politics. Benedict Arnold was one of the great generals of the Revolutionary War, although he was better known for his later treachery to the American cause.

Generally, the older Benedict side favored American independence; whilst William George’s side remained loyal to English rule. Various Arnolds served in political office in Rhode Island in the 19th century. A number, however, left after the war for Savannah, Georgia where they opened cotton mills.

Arnold descendants are widespread and include the Perry naval commodores, the Stephen A. Douglas who debated and lost to Lincoln in the 1860 Presidential race, and the recent Bush Presidents.

Another Arnold family in America began around 1725 when John Arnold was shipwrecked off the North Carolina coastline. His descendants were Quaker and many of them, being criticized for their refusal to keep slaves, headed north to Ohio in the early 1800’s.

German. Most Arnolds in America are likely to be of German origin:

  • Johannes Arnold from Bavaria, for instance, came to Philadelphia on the Two Brothers in 1753 and settled in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania.
  • another Johannes Arnold from Bavaria was an early settler in Bedford county, Pennsylvania.
  • while Frederick Arnold came from a family of bakers going back generations in Ortenburg, Bavaria. He sailed with his younger brother Gottfried for America in 1854 and settled in Bay City, Michigan where he started his own bakery.

Canada.  Benedict Arnold had come with an American army to make Canada its fourteenth colony in 1776. But four years later, during the Revolutionary War, he defected to the British. He later spent six years in New Brunswick and his sons received land grants in Ontario. J.R. Arnold’s 1984 book The Descendants of Benedict Arnold in Canada has traced this line.

Frederick Arnold had left his native Germany for America in 1773 (his descendants have in their possession the Lutheran Bible in which the names of his family were registered before they departed). Frederick was, however, a British supporter during the Revolutionary War and he decided to leave for Canada in 1787.

Frederick was an early pioneer on the Thames river in Ontario and his son Christopher Arnold had the same frontier spirit.

“Christopher Arnold was a powerful man and was said to possess strength equal to that of two ordinary men. During the War of 1812 he was at the fighting of the Maumee and at St. Stevenson. Tecumseh, the famous Indian chief, stayed at Christopher Arnold’s house the night preceding the battle in which he was killed and he ate his last meal at Christopher’s table.”

Australia. Joseph Arnold was the naval surgeon who accompanied Governor Macquarie on his voyage to Sydney in 1809. He was also a gifted painter and left 244 watercolor sketches of the coastlines during the voyage.

The first Arnold brother, Gottlob Arnold, came to Australia from Silesia in 1848. Four other brothers were to follow him. They all settled in the Barossa valley of South Australia. Their descendants now number in excess of five thousand.

Arnold Surname Miscellany

Arnold’s Swiss Origins.  Arnold is one of the more common names in the German part of Switzerland.  The name was thought to have first surfaced in the early 14th century in the Uri and Luzern cantons where it is still prevalent. One line traces from Johann Arnold, burger of Stadt Solothum in 1546.

A story goes that the Arnolds were a clan of Germanic warriors who had fled Hungary in early medieval times when the Magyars invaded from the east and settled in the Altdorf valley.  They were then said to have spread across Europe into southern Germany, into France (as Arnauds), and into Italy (as Arnaldos).

Nicholas Arnold and Katherine Hoare.  Nicholas Arnold, an English courtier from Highnam in Gloucestershire, purchased the Llanthony priory in Monmouthshire at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries.

In later life Nicholas became Lord Justice of Ireland.  It was here that he met the notorious and unfortunately-named Katherine Hoare, the wife of one of the English settlers in county Wexford. Nicholas had been warned about Katherine but he was not to be put off.  He brought her back to England as his mistress and installed her at Llanthony.  Eventually he married her, but not in time to legitimize their children.

Llanthony was to stay with his family until 1720 when the male line died out.

William Arnold, Customs Officer.  William Arnold took up the post of Customs inspector on the Isle of Wight in 1777.  He was widely respected for his diligence, his memorial tablet in Whippingham church reading as follows:

“Sacred to the memory of William Arnold Esq., late Collector of H.M. Customs in the Port of Cowes, Isle of Wight: a man who, by his amiable as well as by his faithful discharge of his duty in his public station and private character justly entitled him to the warmest esteem and affection of all who were permanently or occasionally associated with him in business, society or domestic ties.”

Benedict Arnold in Canada.  In America, Benedict Arnold is remembered as a mercenary traitor at the time of the Revolutionary War.  In Canada Arnold’s stay was also controversial.

In 1785 he and his son Richard moved to Saint John, New Brunswick and brought his family over two years later.  However, Arnold then created an uproar with a series of bad business deals and petty lawsuits.

Following the most serious, a slander suit he acrimoniously won against a former business partner, townspeople burned him in effigy in front of his house as his wife Peggy and his children watched.  He had succeeded in making Loyalists as well as Americans detest him.  He and his family left Saint John to return to London in 1791.

But Arnold was not done with Canada.  His military adventures in the Caribbean earned him and his sons a land grant of 15,000 acres in Upper Canada, near present-day Renfrew in Ontario.  Arnold’s sons Richard and Henry moved there and took up lands in Wolford and Augusta townships. Later Arnolds ended up establishing deep roots in the country, becoming leading settlers not just in Ontario but later in lands further west in Saskatchewan where Richard M. Arnold had moved in 1900.

His descendants – plus, it is said, those of John Sage, his illegitimate son included in his will who had adopted the Arnold surname – are spread across Canada. Benedict Arnold’s military jacket continues to be owned by the family.

“Part of the family legacy was a British military coat, handed down from father to son as having belonged to Benedict.  Henry Arnold who returned to Saskatchewan to farm after World War Two, owned it. When he died it was passed to his son Tom.  And when Tom died in an automobile accident in 1990, it passed to his son Jayson.”

Christopher Arnold and Tecumseh.  Tecumseh, the famous Indian chief, stayed at Christopher Arnold’s house the night preceding the battle in which he was killed and he ate his last meal at Christopher’s table.  Christopher’s son Jacob was there and made the following comment:

“The last thing Tecumseh did was to eat a piece of bread out of my mother’s hand just before the battle of the Thames.  He was riding a white horse and stood with one foot in the stirrup of his saddle and the other on the ground, with one hand resting on the horse’s weathers.  He ate his meal in this attitude and then sprung in his saddle and rode off.”

Arnolds in America.  Despite the early English Arnold arrivals. most Arnolds in America are likely to be of German origin.

Arnolds in America by Place of
Numbers Percent
German speaking lands   1,379    63
England     666    30
Ireland     163     7

Arnold Bakers in Michigan.  The Arnold name in Ortenburg in Bavaria apparently goes back to 1615. Frederick Arnold left Ortenburg and immigrated to America with younger brother Gottfried and a group of other Ortenburg residents in 1854. Included in the group was Frederick’s future wife Louise Mueller and her family.

They all sailed on the Nurnburg from Hamburg, arriving in New York in July.  They continued on to Detroit, reportedly intending to stay there, but a cholera epidemic forced them to sail on to Bay City.

These Arnolds were bakers and took their trade to Michigan, opening bakeries first in Bay City and then in Port Huron and Ludington. In 1915, Frederick and Louise were honored as the oldest living couple in Bay City, with a silver loving cup being presented to them. Frederick recalled at that time:

“On two different occasions my bakery was destroyed by fire and everything was lost.  But friends came to my rescue and with financial backing I finally erected the bakery building where the business is still carried on by John Arnold, my son.

In the early days of my business career the daily receipts would average about $2.50 and my trade came mainly from the Indians who were numerous in those days. One of the big helps to me was the fact that my wife could speak the Indian language and this pleased them immensely.  They would come to our store in droves whether they wanted anything in our line or not, and this increased the trade considerably from time to time.”

Arnolds from Silesia to South Australia.  Johann Gottlob Arnold left his home in Neundorf, Silesia in 1848 and set sail from Hamburg on the Alfred.  He was the first of the five brothers to make the journey to Australia.

Gottlob’s voyage to Australia however, was not a pleasant one. After only five days sailing under Captain Decker, a Danish frigate caught sight of the Alfred and set after her at full sail.  But the experienced and capable Captain Decker managed to keep the Alfred safe from attack.

There were also storms in the early part of the journey and much seasickness. Approaching the Equator the heat was unbearable and the ship was beset with a period of calm.  By October they had reached Rio de Janiero and it was here that the passengers first saw oranges and bananas – a very welcome sight after what they had on board.

The ship left Brazil, set sail for the Cape of Good Hope, and arrived at Port Adelaide in December 1848. Gottlob was now ready to start a new life on Australian soil.  Shortly after his arrival he travelled to the Barossa Valley and inspected land there.  He was soon naturalized as a British subject, a prerequisite for him to purchase any land. In 1853 he bought land at Gnadenfrei, close to the now famous Seppeltsfield winery.

His four brothers followed him later, Johann Wilhelm and Carl Friedrich in 1854, Johann Ehrenfried in 1855, and the eldest Gottlieb in 1867.

Arnold Names

  • Benedict Arnold was the American general who defected to the British during the Revolutionary War.
  • Thomas Arnold was the famed head of Rugby school in England from 1828 to 1841.
  • Malcolm Arnold was an English 20th century composer and symphonist.
  • Eddy Arnold was a popular American country music singer with his Nashville sound.

Arnold Numbers Today

  • 35,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 51,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 24,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


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Written by Colin Shelley

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