Atkins Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Atkins Meaning
Atkins is a pet-form of Adam, the -“kins” suffix denoting “the
little one.” The early spelling was Adekyn, which then became Adkin and Adkins. In England these names changed over time to Atkins, in some places to Atkin, and in Scotland to Aitken. A William Atkyns was recorded in the subsidy rolls of Worcestershire in 1327.

Atkins has been a less common surname in England than its cousin Atkinson. But Atkins spread across the country; while Atkinson has been mainly a northern name. Atkins, Atkin and Adkins are the most common spellings today. Atkins is the most common in the UK, Adkins (by a small margin) in America.

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Select Atkins Ancestry

England. Spellings did not become fixed until the 17th century and the names Atkins/Atkyns, Adkins, and Atkin were readily to be found. Adkins has now pretty much disappeared; while Atkin has only really cropped up in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire down the east coast of England.

West of England There were early Atkyns in the west country. Richard Atkyns, who lived in Gloucestershire in the early 1400’s, was the forebear of a long line of legal Atkyns that extended at one time into Wales and Carmarthenshire. They culminated with Sir Robert Atkyns who was Chief Baron of the Exchequer at the time of Charles II. He wrote:

“It is remarkable of this family that there has always been one of this name and family in some of the courts of judicature in this kingdom above three hundred years.”

The family later lived at Ketteringham Hall in Norfolk. Charlotte
Atkyns mortgaged the house in a vain attempt to rescue Marie Antoinette from the French revolutionaries. Charlotte herself died penniless in France in 1836.

Others from the west country were Richard Atkins from Ross in
Herefordshire, a Catholic martyr burnt at the stake in 1581, and an Adkins family in Gloucestershire whose records go back to Thomas Adkins in 1642. They were for a long time tenant farmers for the Duke of Dorset at the Weston Sands Farm.

London There were also Atkins from the home counties around London. Henry Atkins held the office of physician to King James I. He came from a gentry family in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire.
His descendants were made baronets of Clapham and they later lived in Sparsholt, Berkshire. Another Atkins family in Hertfordshire has been traced back to the early 1700’s and farming roots in Abbots Langley.

Kent Meanwhile, the Atkins name in Kent dates back to the early 1500’s when Thomas Atkins and his son William briefly held Thanington Manor near Canterbury. These Atkins were later to be found in Sandwich, Kent. The late 19th century distribution of the Atkins name showed relatively few Atkins in the west and many more in central England and the southeast.

The best known Atkins is probably Tommy Atkins, the generic name for a common British soldier popularized in World War One.

Scotland. The first Scottish recording was that of a John of Akyne (in Lanarkshire) who in 1405 had his ships and goods seized by the English. John Ackyne served as a bailey in Stirling in 1520 and James Atkine from Orkney was a 17th century Scottish bishop. But the Scottish spelling, perhaps following pronunciation, has generally been Aitken since that time.

Ireland. The Atkins name came to county Cork in the 1620’s when Augustine Atkins, an English soldier from Somerset, was given lands there. His descendants held the Waterpark estate and were prominent in the commercial life of Cork.


America.
There are Atkins and Adkins in America. For both the early line invariably led through Virginia, such as:

  • John T. Atkins from Bedford in England to Henrico county, Virginia sometime in the 1680’s. His son is believed to be William V. Atkins who migrated westward in 1740 with his family to what is now Franklin county.
  • Robert Adkins from Cork in Ireland to Goochland county, Virginia also in the 1680’s. Here he started a small tobacco plantation.
  • and John Atkins from London to Lunenburg county, Virginia in the early 1700’s. These Atkins were also planters, first in Virginia and later in South Carolina and Alabama. One line of this family went to Abraham Atkins, an early settler in Maysville, Georgia.

The Atkins name has remained strong in Virginia and Tennessee; while Adkins is to be found in particular in West Virginia and eastern Kentucky. Some headed west, such as James and Lucy Adkins to Missouri in 1819 and Adam and Grace Adkins to Indiana in the 1850’s. The descendants of Lewis Adkins of Surry county, Virginia moved south to Pulaski, Arkansas where his grandson Ulysses was a merchant and his great grandson Homer Governor of Arkansas in 1940.

Australia. Richard Atkins, the black sheep of the Clapham Atkins, had an eventful time in Australia. He had arrived there in 1792, fleeing his creditors in London. Using his connections he became a judge in the fledgling colony and received a grant of land near Liverpool, NSW.

“By 1802 Atkins and four convicts had cleared the land, grown wheat and maize, and were grazing sheep and pigs. The farm was named Denham farm after Denham Court, his family home in Buckinghamshire.”

Six years later, however, Atkins was embroiled in a court case and was suspended for his “want of professional education and practice.” He became indebted, lost his lands, and returned to England a broken man.

 


Select Atkins Miscellany

Atkins and Other “-kins” Names.  The suffix “-kins” is generally attached to a personal name as a pet name, usually denoting “the little one.”  The suffix was apparently a Flemish import which for some reason became popular in England.  Some “-kins” surnames also became popular in Wales.  The table below shows the main “kins” names and their degree of penetration into Wales (the numbers here are taken from the 1891 census):

Name Pet form of: Numbers (000’s) Share in Wales (%) Found in England
Atkins Adam      10 4   spread
Dawkins David       2 4   Southwest
Dickens Dick       3 3   West
Midlands
Hopkins Hobb (from Robert) 19 23   spread
Jenkins John      35 56   Southwest
Perkins Peter      14 8   spread
Watkins Walter      16 38   West Midlands
Wilkins William      13 7   West Midlands

Atkins, Atkin, and Adkins.  The table below shows the approximate number of Atkins, Atkin and Adkins in the UK and America today.

Numbers (000’s) UK America
Atkins   20   14
Atkin    7    1
Adkins    3   17

The Atkin name is mainly to be found in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire and down the east coast of England; the Adkins name in America mainly in West Virginia.

Edward and Robert Atkyns.  In the south transept of Westminster Abbey there is a monument of red and white marble, erected in 1746, to the memory of Sir Edward Atkyns and members of his family (none of whom are buried in the Abbey).  The inscription tablet reads as follows:

“To the memory of Sir Edward Atkyns, one of the Barons of the Exchequer in the reigns of King Charles the first and second.  He was a person of such integrity that he resisted the many advantages and honours offered him by the chiefs of the grand Rebellion.  He departed this life in 1669 aged 82 years.

Of Sir Robert Atkyns, his eldest son, created a Knight of the Bath at the coronation of King Charles the 2nd. Afterwards Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer under King William and Speaker of the House of Lords in several parliaments; which places he filled with distinguished abilities and dignity as his learned writings abundantly prove. He died 1709 aged 88 years.

Of Sir Edward Atkyns, his youngest son, Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer; which office he discharged with great honor and integrity, but retired upon the Revolution from public business to his seat in Norfolk, where he was revered for his piety to God and humanity to men.  He employed himself in reconciling differences among his neighbors, in which he obtained so great a character that few would refuse the most difficult cause to his decision; and the most litigious would not appeal from it. He died 1698 aged 68 years.

And of Sir Robert Atkyns, eldest son of Sir Robert abovementioned, a gentleman versed in polite literature and in the antiquities of this country, of which his History of Gloucestershire is a proof.  He died 1711 aged 65 years.”

Abraham Atkins, Benefactor to Sparsholt.  In 1788 Abraham Atkins of Kingston Lisle gave the Buckinghamshire village of Sparsholt a schoolhouse and endowed it with a moiety of the rents arising from a certain estate.  The resulting annual income was about £63, for which the master should instruct all the children who apply.  Eight others were taught for £2.

Tommy Atkins.  Tommy Atkins has been used as a generic name for a common British soldier for many years.  The precise origin is a subject of debate, but it is known to have been used as early as 1743.  A letter at that time sent from Jamaica about a mutiny amongst the troops said the following:

“Except for those from North America (mostly Irish Papists) ye Marines and Tommy Atkins behaved splendidly.”

The surname Atkins means “little son of red earth,” a possible reference to the soldiers in their red tunics.

A common belief is that the name was chosen by the Duke of Wellington, having been inspired by the bravery of a soldier at the Battle of Boxtel in 1794 during the Flanders Campaign.  After a fierce engagement, the Duke, in command of the 33rd Regiment of Foot, spotted the best man-at-arms in the regiment, Private Thomas Atkins, terribly wounded.  The private said: “It’s all right, sir.  It’s all in a day’s work,” and died shortly afterwards.

A further suggestion was given in 1900 by an army chaplain named Rev. E. J. Hardy.  He wrote of an incident during the Sepoy Rebellion in 1857.  When most of the Europeans in Lucknow were fleeing to the British Residency for protection, a private of the 32nd Regiment of Foot remained on duty at an outpost.  Despite the pleas of his comrades he insisted that he must remain at his post.  He was killed there and the the Rev. Hardy later wrote:

“His name happened to be Tommy Atkins and so, throughout the Mutiny Campaign when a daring deed was done, the doer was said to be ‘a regular Tommy Atkins.'”

It was also said that the name “Tommy Atkins” was the example
name on conscription sheets during the First World War and that teenagers who were underage often signed up as “Tommy Atkins.”

Robert Adkins – from Ireland to America.  Robert Adkins, born in Ireland around 1650, was the son of Augustine Adkins, an English soldier from Somerset in Ireland who had been given lands taken from Irish Catholics. Robert was probably his second or third son who, with no inheritance, sought his fortune abroad.  There was also the story that Robert had hung a prying priest on a tree in his dooryard and found it desirable to disappear.

It is not clear when he relocated to the Virginia colonies.  By the age of thirty, however, he had established himself well enough to marry an English woman, Helena Parker.  Speculation is that perhaps both William and Joseph Adkins of Virginia were his sons or grandsons.

Robert moved to Goochland county, Virginia where he established a small plantation on the James river to grow tobacco with slave labor.  The beginning process for most non-aristocratic origin slave owners was to work as an overseer or hired man for a man who owned slaves and land (most immigrants did not start with capital but gained money by service to those who had it).  This was probably the route that Robert took.

Abraham Atkins of Maysville, Georgia.  Maysville’s first known merchant was Abraham Atkins, affectionately called ‘Uncle Abe.’   In the early 1850’s Abe Atkins erected two brick buildings – probably the first north of Athens – one a store, the other a residence.   The former afterwards became well known from Athens to the mountains of North Carolina as “the Brick Store of North Georgia.”

Mountaineer B.H. Green, a correspondent for the Banks County Gazette, wrote on September 25, 1899:

“I am now 66 years of age.  When in my 18th year (1851) I went to our nearest market, Maysville, there was only one store and a blacksmith shop.  Old Uncle Abe Atkins was the merchant, a negro slave the blacksmith. My loading consisted of 4 dead hogs nicely dressed and salted whole, four sacks of dried peaches, a small kraut stand full of honey in the comb, a few bushels of long red potatoes, two 12 gallon kegs peach brandy, six bushels chestnuts, and some pop corn, and to my surprise and glory I found out that Uncle Abe Atkins was able and willing to buy me out, lock, stock, and barrel, which he did do.  I swapped off the pale sorrel to a Simmons later and I hope that I may never see him again.”

Uncle Abe died in 1891 at the age of ninety four and was buried in a family cemetery on part of his former estate in Maysville.  His son Hugh followed in his footsteps in commercial operations, once owning the Atkins mercantile and later the Atkins National Bank in Maysville.

According to a manuscript entitled Genealogical Record and History of the Descendants of Francis Atkins written by Mrs. George Buchanan, Abram (Abraham) was the son of Thomas Atkins of Virginia and Elizabeth Creed Atkins and grandson of Francis and Jane Yeldel Atkins.

 


Select Atkins Names

Henry Atkins was physician to King James I and president of the College of Physicians in England.
Tommy Atkins is a term for a common soldier in the British army. The term gained widespread currency during the First World War.
Chet Atkins was the American guitarist and record producer who popularized the smooth Nashville sound of country music.
Robert Atkins was the American physician best known for popularizing the Atkins diet.
Adele Adkins is an English singer known as Adele who made the breakthrough to worldwide stardom in 2008.


Select Atkins Numbers Today

  • 30,000 in the UK (most numerous in Cambridgeshire)
  • 42,000 in America (most numerous in West Virginia)
  • 17,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).

 

 

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