Collins Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Collins Meaning
Collins may be of Irish or
of English origin.   The name origins in each case are

  • Collins in Ireland would most likely come either from the Gaelic cuilean, a term of endearment, or
    from the Gaelic surname O’Coileain,
    which means a whelp or young dog.
  • the
    English name
    comes from Collin or Coll, a
    pet-form of Nicholas, or separately from Colin (deriving from the old
    Saxon Caewlin).  Collins
    would usually signify “son of Colin.”

Collins Resources on

Select Collins Ancestry

There were apparently two early Collins septs – the
O’Coileains and the O’Cuilleains.

The O’Coileain sept were
originally to be found in county Limerick around Claonglass, but were
then driven southwards by the Normans in the 13th century to west
Cork.  It
said that Mahon O’Collins, lord of Claonglass and the last of the
Collins, was killed by his wife in 1266 with a thrust of a knife in a
fit of
.  The well-known Gaelic poem, translated as Lament over Timnoleague Abbey,
commemorated Sean O’Coileain (John Collins) of this sept.
Meanwhile the O’Cuilleain sept was thought to have been indigenous to
west Cork.

were also other distinct O’Coileain septs in Galway, Tyrone, and

Today the name is mainly to be found
in Limerick and Cork.  Michael Collins, the Irish
leader, came from west Cork.

England.  The
Collins of English
origin have come mainly from SE England.  John Collins was an
16th century ironmaker in the Sussex forests at Burwash; and Stanton
a smuggler on the Sussex coast three centuries

The Collins of Cornwall, it is believed, were started by Irish Collins
from Limerick who migrated there in the 14th century.  Joseph
Collins from the Trewardale branch of this family was the founder of
the Mineralogical Society.  John Collins was an 18th century
merchant in Swansea.  His son John was rector of Oxwich and became
an important figure in church life in the area.

Irish-born William Collins settled in London in the late
1700’s.   His two sons became well-known there, William as a
noted landscape painter and Wilkie Collins who was said to have
invented the
detective story.

Kollyns in Scotland is
thought to have become Collins.  The name
has been mainly found in and around Glasgow.
The best-known Collins was William Collins, the Glasgow
schoolmaster who
founded the well-known publishing company of William Collins in 1819.  His son William was Glasgow’s Provost in 1877
and a temperance advocate.

America.  Three early English Collins in New
England were Henry Collins in Lynn, Edward Collins in Cambridge, and
Collins in Eastham on Cape Cod.

Henry Collins left London with his family for
New England on the Abigail in 1635 and
settled in Lynn, Massachusetts:

  • one line via Samuel Collins, a Quaker, led to
    Rhode Island.  John Collins of this
    family became Rhode Island Governor in 1816.  John
    was also a trader out of Newport and this business was
    carried on
    by his son and grandson.  
  • another line went
    to the shipping entrepreneurs Isaac Collins and his son Edward who
    started the
    Collins Line service between New York and London in 1818.
    It lasted until 1856 when tragedy struck.
    One of his vessels sank in thick fog with
    many lives lost, including Edward’s wife and daughter.

Edward Collins was church
deacon at Cambridge in 1638.  A
descendant was William Collins of the Ohio Cavalry during the Civil War
whom Fort Collins in Colorado was named.

Joseph Collins married Ruth Knowles at
Eastham, Massachusetts in 1671.  His
descendants moved to Chatham where they prospered.
Later Collins were Loyalists and they moved
to Nova Scotia where Benajah and his son Thomas were prominent
merchants and
local politicians.

Irish Collins came later.
Patrick Collins arrived penniless from Cork with his mother in
escaping the famine.  He became a
Congressman and was the Boston mayor from 1902 to 1905.
Another Collins of Irish roots, John Collins,
was Boston mayor from 1960 to 1968.

Canada.  The
Collins name appeared in Newfoundland in the 1700’s and possibly
earlier.  John
Collins was a well-known Irishman in Newfoundland in the 1760’s:

Collins, a self-professed ‘fast sailor,’ sailed the 80 ton brig Hannah and Lydia from Cobh in Cork to Harbour
Grace in Newfoundland.  He would recruit
fishermen and shoremen for the Newfoundland trade.”

Collins in Placentia,
Newfoundland date from the 1790’s.
Samuel Collins who arrived from Waterford during the 19th
century was the
great grandfather of Kevin Collins, the Newfoundland Irish folk singer.

came from a seafaring family, but in America.
His forebears had been living at Eastham on
Cape Cod since the 1650’s.  He himself
moved north to Liverpool, Nova Scotia in 1760 where he prospered as a
and a trader.  One of
sons, Enos Collins was reportedly the richest man in
Canada on
his death in 1871.

Australia.  David
Collins of Anglo-Irish origins sailed on the First Fleet to Australia
1788.  He was one of the founders of
Sydney, NSW and Hobart, Tasmania.
Collins Street in Melbourne was named after him.
Thomas Collins,
who arrived in 1814, had two careers – first as a whaler and then as a


Select Collins Miscellany

Early Collins Septs.  The sept of O’Coileain, possibly derived from the word coilean meaning a whelp or young
dog, originated in North Desmond (extending into the modern county
where they were lords of the baronies of Connello.In the 13th century they were driven
southwards by the Geraldines and settled in West Cork near the country
possessed by their kinsmen the O’Donovans.  It
should be noted that in this very territory
to which they had migrated was a sept called O’Cuilleain
which was also subsequently anglicized as Collins.  These
were of the Corca Laoidhe.

The Poet Sean O’Coileain.  Sean O’Coileain of Corca
Laoidhe was an 18th century poet in the old Gaelic tradition, when
commanded respect and were given the hospitality of the king’s

Unhappily for Sean, the kings had all been
deposed and the people who would have been his patrons were as poor as
He drank.  But rather than making him
happy, his drinking drove away his first wife and so enraged his second
she set fire to the house.

Sean was a reluctant schoolteacher.
However, his poetry must have been
appreciated, for he was known as the “Silver Tongue of Munster.”
There has been some mystery surrounding a strangely
melancholy poem of his which has been compared to Gray’s Elegy. Whether
or an earlier poet wrote it continues to puzzle the folklorists.

Michael Collins.  Michael Collins, the son of a
farmer from Clonakilty in West Cork, was affectionately known as “The
Fellow.”  A man of great physical
strength and courage, his untimely death deprived Ireland of its most

Ten years in accountancy and
stockbroking in London had been a sound education for a future Minister
Finance in the new Irish Free State, which had come into being after
the 1916
rising.  Though Collins had taken part in the rising he did not
approve of it as
a military operation.  He was one of the
signatories of the Anglo-Irish Treaty and said, prophetically, that he
signing his death warrant.

In 1922, with
the outbreak of the Civil War, he was appointed Commander-in-Chief,
with a
price of ten thousand pounds on his head. When the President, Arthur
died in August, Michael Collins took over as the head of state and the
Ten days later he was shot in an ambush in his beloved West Cork at
Beal-na-Blath, the Mouth of the Flowers.

Stanton Collins, The Sussex Smuggler.  Alfriston was and is a small Sussex village nestled in the folds of the South
Downs.  In the early 1800’s, with the fears of invasion
from France during the Napoleonic Wars, the population was boosted by troops
from the Middlesex and Hampshire Militias. They were billeted in
cottages around the market square and in outlying farms. The village
thrived during this period and enjoyed a boisterous life.

The departure of the
troops in 1815 impoverished the village but
left a taste for lawlessness.  Alfriston was ruled at this time by
a gang
headed by Stanton Collins, a much glamorized figure who has endowed the
village with its smuggler’s image today. Collins and his cronies made
their base at the Market Cross Inn and, over a period of ten years,
were active in smuggling and general thievery.  Alfriston was
close to a convenient spot on the south coast shoreline where untaxed
tubs of French brandy and other spirits could be landed and safely
hidden away.

Finally in 1831, the
forces of law prevailed. The Alfriston gang was broken up after Collins
was caught for sheep stealing and sentenced to seven years’
transportation to Australia.

Hallet and Enos Collins in Nova Scotia.  Hallet Collins was just ten years old in 1760 when his
family came to Liverpool, Nova Scotia from Massachusetts with the other
settlers.   He lived
out his life there, starting as many did in Liverpool as a
fisherman and then progressing as a trader.
By the 1770’s he was trading lumber and fish to the West Indies
vessels like the Betsey and Dolphin
in which he had whole or partial
ownership.  He married three
times and was the father of no fewer than 26 children from his first
wives.  When he died in 1831 he left an
estate of £13,000.

second child Enos
received little formal education, but went to sea at an early age on
one of his
father’s trading vessels.
Enos expanded on his father’s business and became one of the
men in British North America during his lifetime.  When
he died in 1871 at the age of 97, he
left an estate worth six million dollars, huge by the standards of the

Thomas Collins, Australian Whaler and Grazier.  Thomas Collins at the age of 24 first sailed into Port
Jackson in 1814 as a crew member of the Three
.  He
captivated by the natural beauty of the place, and also by the
discovery that
Australian waters abounded in whales. This made a lasting impression on
a mind
that was seeking a quick avenue to wealth and a career.

continued his seafaring life, mostly on
the China run and sometimes in the Mediterranean.  But
the dream stayed with him.  After he had
made a considerable fortune, he
bought three ships, outfitted them for whaling and set sail for Sydney,
his family at home whilst he tested what had been in the back of his
mind ever
since he had landed in Sydney in 1814, the prevalence of whales in

whaling days
lasted from 1827 until about 1846, primarily with his vessel, the Elizabeth, which he owned for 20 years.

the 1840’s he had begun to grow tired of
the seafaring life and took up land at Maitland.  He
later moved further northwards to
Queensland and settled on a property on the McIntyre Brook on the

first property there was
Cooloomunda where he became a cattle rancher.
He then moved to a new home at Telemon.
It took three months to transfer all his cattle, which then
5,000, from Cooloomunda to Telemon.  The
going was open country, the only transport being by horse or bullock



Select Collins Names

  • Wilkie Collins, a
    contemporary of Dickens, was a writer whose works were the precursors
    of today’s thrillers.  He came from a well-known Wicklow family in Ireland.
  • Joseph Collins was a Victorian mining engineer who founded the Mineralogical Society.
  • Patrick Collins, born in
    Ireland, became a Massachusetts politician and mayor of Boston in 1902.
  • Michael Collins was the Irish
    revolutionary leader who took part in the Anglo-Irish treaty negotiations and was then assassinated by the IRA in 1922.
  • Joan Collins is the
    British actress best-known for her portrayal of Alexis in the American TV series Dynasty. Her sister
    is the novelist Jackie Collins.
  • Judy Collins is the American
    folk singer.
  • Phil Collins is a well-known
    English singer/solo artist.

Select Collins Numbers Today

  • 95,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Surrey)
  • 120,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 73,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


Select Collins and Like Surnames 

The Irish clan or sept names come through the mists of time until they were found in Irish records such as The Annals of the Four Masters.  The names were Gaelic and this Gaelic order was preserved until it was battered down by the English in the 1600’s.

Some made peace with the English.  “Wild geese” fled to fight abroad.  But most stayed and suffered, losing land and even the use of their language.  Irish names became anglicized, although sometimes in a mishmash of spellings.  Mass emigration happened after the potato famine of the 1840’s.

Some surnames – such as Kelly, Murphy and O’Connor – span all parts of Ireland.  But most will have a territorial focus in one of the four Irish provinces – Leinster, Munster, Ulster, and Connacht.

Munster in SW Ireland covers the counties of Clare, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary, and Waterford.  Here are some of the Munster surnames that you can check out.




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