Atkinson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Atkinson Surname Meaning

Atkins and Atkinson are the pet-forms of Adam, the -“kins” suffix denoting “the little one.” The early spelling was Adekyn, which then became Adkins and then Atkins. Atkinson, which took root in the north, has been a more common surname in England than its cousin Atkins.

A John Atkinson appeared in the feudal lists of Westmoreland in 1402. Early Atkinsons were to be found in Cumberland and Westmoreland, areas of Norse settlement. However, the Atkinson DNA is indicative more of indigenous British origin.

The Atkinson surname corresponds to Aichison and Acheson in Scotland.

Atkinson Surname Resources on The Internet

Atkinson Surname Ancestry

  • from Northern England
  • to Ireland, America, Canada and New Zealand

England. The largest number of Atkinsons in the 1881 census were in Yorkshire, followed by Lancashire and other northern counties.

Yorkshire. There was an early Atkinson presence in the parish of Grewelthorpe near Harrogate in the North Ridings of Yorkshire. But the Atkinson name has been most noticeable in the West Ridings. Among the Atkinson lines started there were:

  • Christopher Atkinson, an early Quaker who held meetings in Newton and Easington in the 1650’s
  • Thomas and Mary Atkinson who married in Elmet near Leeds in 1752
  • Thomas and Eleanor Atkinson who married in Owston near Doncaster in the 1750’s (their grandson John emigrated to Pennsylvania in the 1830’s)
  • and William Atkinson who was born in Methley near Leeds in 1764.

There was a particular cluster of Atkinsons in the 19th century in Leeds. Their numbers included the mill owner Joseph Atkinson.

Elsewhere. According to family tradition, Jane Atkinson and her son William were granted a lease of property at Temple Sowerby in Westmorland in 1577. Later Atkinsons of the family were tanners.

Richard Atkinson came to London in the 1760’s and worked with a West India company where he made his fortune. Other Atkinsons of the family were to be found later in Jamaica where they were plantation owners. Francis Atkinson built Morland Hall in Westmorland in 1861 and it stayed with the family until 1923.

Ireland. The Atkinson name crossed over to Ireland. Early arrivals were two Atkinson brothers, English soldiers who came around 1602 – Anthony Atkinson to Offaly, where his descendants were to be found at Cangort, and Roger Atkinson to Fermanagh where he was High Sheriff in 1613. His home at Castle Coole was burnt down during the 1641 Irish rebellion. Later Atkinsons of this family included the 19th century politician and judge, John (Baron) Atkinson.

But the Atkinson name was mainly to be found in Ulster, in particular in Antrim and Down. One early line started with Edward Atkinson of Drumcree in Armagh in the late 17th century.

America. There were notable early Atkinson arrivals into Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Virginia.

Pennsylvania.  Two very distinct families of Atkinsons came to Bucks county, Pennsylvania in the late 1600’s:

  • one branch were Quakers, descended from Thomas Atkinson who arrived from Yorkshire in 1681.
  • another line came from John Atkinson who arrived as a young boy (his father having died in the crossing) in 1699.

New Jersey.  There were also Atkinson Quakers in New Jersey, descended from William Atkinson who came to Burlington in the 1680’s. This line was covered in John Atkinson’s 1890 book The Atkinsons of New Jersey.

Virginia.  Mathew Atkinson and his two sons were early arrivals, coming to Surry county around 1635.

Shadrach Atkinson was in Northampton county by the 1720’s.  He married Jane Burwell there and they raised seven sons. The youngest of them, John who fought in the Revolutionary War, settled in Camden county, Georgia around 1800. His line was followed in Burwell Atkinson’s 1968 book Genealogy of the Atkinson Family: Georgia Branch.

Some Atkinsons in Virginia became Atkissons in the 1750’s.   One Atkisson line, that of William and Annie Atkisson, was in Goochland county at that time.  Their son James migrated to Tennessee and then to Missouri where he served as a Baptist minister.  The Atkisson name was also found in Mississippi by 1840.

Canada. John Atkinson, a tenant farmer from Castleford in Yorkshire, migrated to Canada with his family in 1774 in search of a better life. They settled first in Nova Scotia and then in Sackville, New Brunswick.

One of his grandsons Henry moved to Savannah, Georgia in the late 1840’s and this family later ended up in Florida. Other grandchildren moved to Ohio. William became a Mormon and emigrated to Utah in 1853.

There were several other Atkinsons who settled in Nova Scotia. One of these lines led to Ephraim Atkinson, the celebrated builder of the Cape Islander fishing boat.

New Zealand.  Two Cheshire families, the Atkinsons and Richmonds, embarked for New Zealand on the Sir Edward Paget in 1853 and settled and farmed in Taranaki.  The most notable of these arrivals was Harry (later Sir Harry) Atkinson.  He entered politics and served as the premier of New Zealand on four separate occasions between 1880 and 1890.

Their numbers also included C. W. Richmond who became a judge of the Supreme Court, Maria Atkinson a feminist and her husband Arthur, a lawyer and diarist.  The family history can be traced in the Richmond/Atkinson papers on file in the National Library.

Atkinson Surname Miscellany

Atkinson Origin.  Atkinson – like the surname Hodgson – had its origins in Cumbria in NW England, an area of Norse settlement. However, whereas Hodgson DNA suggests a Norse origin, the haplogroup R1b prevalent for Atkinson indicates indigenous British origin.

One theory is that Atkinson was the alter ego of the Hodgson surname – signifying British and Christian origins but one that was formed by and owed its existence to contact with the pagan Scandinavian settlers.

“Atkinson means “son of Adam’s kin.”  Could “Adam’s kin” be the name given by the Norse settlers to the original British inhabitants?  The British had been Christian for several centuries when the pagan Vikings arrived. The incomers would have enquired of the British as to their origins.  The British would have reported their Biblical belief that they were descended from Adam. The Norse may then have described the British as of “Adam’s kin,” from which the name Atkinson would then have evolved.”

The different genetic profiles for Atkinson and Hodgson endured for some 400 years – from the Viking invasions around 900 AD until the formation of conventional surnames.  This suggests the survival and coexistence of different cultures and separate clans in Cumbria for several hundred centuries. 

Early Atkinsons in the Grewelthorpe Area of North Yorkshire.  Atkinson is a common name in this area.  The first record of an Atkinson appeared before 1500. The following is a list of identifiable early families:

  • William Atkinson was recorded in 1496 as holding part of the Grange of Pott in Mashamshire. In 1518 the Abbott of Fountains indented to Margaret Atkinson and her son Richard that part of the Grange called Pott.  They had to deliver 13 stones and four pounds of cheese and six stones and eight pounds of butter to the monastery every year.
  • Christopher Atkinson of The Hutts in Grewelthorpe died in 1654, around the same time as his children William and Marie.
  • William Atkinson was recorded in 1656 as a fellmonger at Grewelthorpe mill.
  • John Atkinson lived at Kirkby Malzeard in the 1690’s.  His son John and daughter Helen were recorded as being baptized at that time.
  • Thomas Atkinson was born around 1776, married Ellen Richmond, and they lived at Low Ray Carr in Dallowgill.  One of his sons Richard emigrated to America, another William became a blacksmith, and a third Thomas a tailor.

Several Atkinsons remained Catholics long after the Reformation.  In 1618 Richard Atkinson and his wife Agnes and Margaret Atkinson and her son Marmaduke were presented in the Peculiar Court in Masham for not appearing to answer for their recusancy.

Atkinsons in the 1881 English Census

County Numbers (000’s) Percent
Yorkshire     9.6    33
Lancashire     5.4    19
Durham     3.5    12
Elsewhere    11.5    36
Total    29.0   100

Captain Roger Atkinson of Castle Atkinson.  Captain Roger Atkinson, who had been in command of 100 footmen at Lough Foyle, obtained a grant for 4,500 acres in Fermanagh in 1611 which included the manor of Coole.

He was the first member of Parliament for the borough of Enniskillen, having been returned there in 1613.  He changed the name of his estate from Castle Coole to Castle Atkinson by patent in 1639. However, two years later, Castle Atkinson was burnt down by Rory Maguire during the Irish Rebellion.

Captain Atkinson deposed that on the 23rd day of October 1641 he and his wife were “constrained to forsake and depart from Castle Atkinson for the safeguard of their lives – with the loss of castle, houses and plantings and the closing of his gardens and grounds.  The loss of cattle, household stuff, goods, and rents he suffered was to the extent of £2,918.”

Joseph Atkinson of Leeds.  A fine oil portrait of the 19th century Leeds businessman Joseph Atkinson, captured in Victorian evening dress, surfaced recently. Born in 1783, he acquired the cotton mill, Bank Mills, with his partner John Hives in 1823.  A fire destroyed the mill a year later, but Atkinson and Hives built a new flax mill there of fireproof construction in 1831.

A churchman and a staunch Conservative, he ploughed much of his wealth into the building of St Matthew’s Church in Little London. He was later made a magistrate and at one time might have become Mayor.

Reader Feedback – Early Atkinsons in Virginia.  In 1635 my 11th great grandfather Mathew Atkinson and his adult sons Mathew and Thomas immigrated from England on the Alice to Virginia.  My Atkinson line is from his son Thomas.

Celecte Bogosian (

Reader Feedback – Atkisson.  Looking for information on the Atkisson spelling.  Ingrid McClure.  (

Ephraim Atkinson, Nova Scotia Boat Builder.  Ephraim Atkinson had been a carpenter all his life, starting with his apprenticeship in 1874 at the age of 16. He moved to Cape Sable Island in 1883 and there set up shop as a house builder to support his growing family.

Ephraim was the man who designed and built the original Cape Island boat in 1905.  His forward-thinking design was a complete departure from the existing fishing boat designs.  While the other builders were still turning out boats propelled by ketch or sloop sailing rig, Ephraim was building stronger and beamier hulls with a deeper keel and designed to be powered by gasoline motor.

His boats achieved far greater stability and carrying capacity than any of the others, enabling the fishermen to go out more days of the year, to stay out in worse weather, and to carry heavier loads of traps and gear.  It was not uncommon for a fisherman to use his Atkinson Cape Islander for more than twenty years.

By the time Ephraim retired in 1938 at the age of 80, his three sons had taken over the business.  During those early years he had seen his creation, the Cape Islander, become the standard for inshore fishing boats.

So successful has been the design that some 80 percent of Nova Scotia’s commercial fishing fleet of under 65-feet are Cape Islanders, and the grandsons of Ephraim Atkinson, Bruce and Freebert, still build the Cape Islander on Clark’s Harbor in Cape Sable Island.

Atkinson Names

  • Harry Atkinson served as premier of New Zealand on four occasions between 1880 and 1890.
  • Joseph Atkinson was editor and publisher of the Toronto Star from 1899 until his death in 1948.
  • Brooks Atkinson was a long-time reporter for the New York Times, serving as its theater critic from 1947 to 1960.
  • George Atkinson was the father of the storefront video rental shop, opening his first store on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles in 1977.
  • Rowan Atkinson is a British comedian, best known for his portrayal as Mr. Bean.

Atkinson Numbers Today

  • 51,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 20,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 32,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Atkinson and Like Surnames  

Patronymic surnames can be with either the “-son” or the shorter “s” suffix to the first name.  The “son” suffix is more common in northern England than in the south and in lowland Scotland.  Here are some of these surnames that you can check out.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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