Cummings Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Cummings Meaning

Cumming and Cummings, originally Comyn, is thought to have derived:

  • from the town of Comines near Lille in France where the Comyn family might have originated
  • or from a Breton/Celtic name which had the cam element, meaning “bent” or “crooked,” in it.

According to one early account, Robert of Comines with 700 horse from William the Conqueror seized Durham in 1069 and held it for 48 hours. But the people rose up against him and he perished in the flames at the burning of the Bishop’s Palace. His nephew William made it to Scotland and became Chancellor of Scotland in 1133.  The English Cummings spelling predominates today. Cumming rather than Cummings has persisted as the spelling in Scotland; while Cummins is common in Ireland and there are other less common variants.

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Cummings Ancestry

Scotland. Richard Comyn the nephew of William Comyn, chancellor to King Henry I of England, was the man who established the Comyn family in Scotland. From their seat of power at Ruthven castle in the central Highlands, these Comyns were for a brief time in the 13th century under John “the Black” Comyn the most powerful family in Scotland.

But then they were defeated by their rival to the Scottish throne, Robert the Bruce. The Comyn chief, the Red Comyn, was killed:

“In 1306 Bruce and Comyn quarrelled and the old antagonism burst out again between these two high-spirited men. Comyn seized Bruce by the throat and Bruce stabbed Comyn, who was either mortally injured or killed later by Bruce’s supporters.”

Bruce subsequently stamped out the Comyns of Buchan in Aberdeenshire.

By the 15th century, the Cumming – as their clan came to be known – had become just another Highland clan, although still of some significance in the wild mountainous countryside around Badenoch in SW Invernessshire.

England. The Cummings name was relatively frequent in Norfolk, Lincolnshire, and Yorkshire in the 12th and 13th centuries, perhaps as a result of Breton immigration. The early spelling was again Comyn. Sir John Comyn held Ulceby manor in Lincolnshire from the early 14th century (his widow Lady Maud being recorded as having two brass pots stolen in 1332).

There were Comyn merchants in London. Stephen Comyn, the son of a London merchant, was an English naval chaplain who served with Nelson at the Battle of the Nile and the Battle of Copenhagen.

Later there was a northward shift in the Comyns/Cummings population, perhaps as a result of Scottish Cummings crossing the border:

  • a Comyn family was recorded as living in Hilderstone near Lancaster in the 1450’s. They were still there by the 1800’s, but had become first Cumming and then Cummings.
  • and one family history started with Edward Cummings, a Sedbergh farmer in Cumberland who was born in 1758.

Ireland. Cummings or Cummins in Ireland could be an English or Scottish import or an anglicization of an old Irish name. Cummings is mainly to be found mainly in county Antrim and Dublin, Cummins in Cork and Tipperary.

One Cummins family were prominent doctors in the city of Cork from the mid 18th through the 19th century. Willie Cummins was part of a Cork family hurling dynasty which lasted from the 1930’s to the 1980’s.

The Irish form of the name was MacCoimin or O’Coimin – a descendant of Coimin, a personal name derived from the diminutive of cam meaning “crooked.” There were MacCoimins in Armagh and O’Coimins in Mayo and later in Cork. Cormac O’Coimin was one of the well-known blind bards and shanachies of the 18th century.

America. Isaac Cummings arrived in Ipswich, Massachusetts in 1638. He was, according to tradition, of ancient Scottish Comyn descent. But he appears to have come from East Anglia in England, on the Essex/Suffolk border. Later Cummings settled in Cornish, New Hampshire. His line in America was traced in George Mooar’s 1903 book The Cummings Memorial.  

Nicholas Cummins had come to the Virginia colony from London on the Gift in 1622. His descendants were to be found in Northumberland county, Virginia. Some moved to Kentucky in the early 1800’s. Others migrated to North Carolina and, from 1829, to Henry county, Indiana. It was here that Clessie Cummins, a rural Indiana farm boy, started his entrepreneurial life. He pioneered diesel engines and founded the Cummins Engine Company.

William Cumming came to Annapolis, Maryland in 1717. He was a planter and a lawyer. His son William, also a lawyer, was a delegate to the Continental Congress for North Carolina in 1785.
After the Revolutionary War, the Cummings moved to Augusta, Georgia where Thomas served as the town’s first mayor in 1798 and his family were prominent cotton planters. Alfred Cumming was governor of Utah territory in 1858, replacing Brigham Young.

Overall, the Cumming and Cummings arrivals in America were more likely to have come from Ireland.

In 1811 William Cumming, a cotton agent from Armagh, came with his wife Mary to Baltimore where his relatives had settled. Their life can be recaptured as Mary Cumming’s letters home have been preserved (they were published in 1982).

Arthur Cummins from county Carlow arrived in America with his family in 1855, first staying in New Jersey and later moving onto Louisville, Kentucky.

Canada. Robert Cummins of Maryland was one of the first English settlers of Nova Scotia in 1765. But he then returned to Baltimore, building his Monckton Mills estate there. Samuel Cummings and his family were Loyalists from New Hampshire who moved to Annapolis, Nova Scotia in 1782. Much later in the 1820’s came Andrew Cummings from county Carlow in Ireland.

David and Beatrice Cummings were Lithuanian Jews who had adopted the Cummings name in the 1890’s on their arrival in St. John, New Brunswick – where the two eldest sons, Nathan and Maxwell, were later born.  “It was pure chance that they were born Canadian. Their parents had disembarked at St. John, the first port of call, assuming that it was their destination, New York City.”

Nathan pursued a business career in the United States, founding
Consolidated Foods. Maxwell went to Montreal with his family in 1911 and began there a hugely successful career in real estate brokerage and development.

Australia. John and Ann Cumming left Aberdeen in Scotland for Australia in 1833 and started Cumming’s brewery in Melbourne six years later. Their son John became a large sheep farmer and his son Thomas founded the Australian Sheepbreeders Association in 1877. Also coming to Melbourne, in 1840, were Ewen and Elizabeth Cumming and their family from the Scottish Highlands.

Thomas Cummins (later Cummings) and his wife Anne arrived in South Australia from Ireland in 1853. It was their son James who started the family into horse racing. He died in 1911 after falling from his horse. However, the mantle was later taken up by the father and son pairing of Jim and Bart Cummings. Bart Cummings has had twelve winners of the Melbourne Cup since he started out in 1958.

 

Cummings Miscellany

The Murder of the Red Comyn.  John the Red Comyn was murdered by Robert the Bruce’s associates at Greyfriar’s church on February 10, 1306.  The following modern poem by Ricky Pittman described this treachery:

  • “John the Red and Robert the Bruce
  • Met on a cold day in Dumfries
  • The victory at Roslyn forgotten,
  • Because of pride and jealousy.
  • Bruce forged a plan of murder,
  • Of betrayal fed by greed,
  • With his brothers he conspired,
  • To commit the bloody deed.
  • An argument broke out,
  • It doesn’t matter why,
  • The Red’s blood darkened the soil,
  • As his soul rose to the sky.
  • Comyn land was divided
  • Among Bruce’s chosen few,
  • The clan was forced to flee,
  • To a land foreign, strange, and new.
  • A leader died at the church that day
  • And never would return,
  • The victors write the history,
  • As the Cumming clan would learn.”.

Not all bemoaned the fall of the Comyns, however.  Carrick in his life of Wallace said the following:

“While the Scots in the low country cried out against the ‘fause Cumyn’s kyn,’ their vassals in Badenoch and Lochaber re-echoed the charge till the very name became cognominal with deceit: – so much so that, in those parts of the Highlands where their influence extended, there was a Gaelic proverb, the English of which was, that “while there are trees in a wood, there will be deceit in a Comyn.”

Sir Alexander Cumming’s Schemes.  In 1729, in consequence of a dream by Lady Cumming, Sir Alexander Cumming of Culter undertook a voyage to America for the purpose of visiting the Cherokee nations.  The next year, at a general meeting of the Indian chiefs in the mountains, he was crowned commander and chief ruler of the Cherokees. He returned to England with six of their Indian chiefs and presented them to King George the Second at Windsor.

Later he devised plans for establishing British provincial banks in America and, through his interpretation of the Scriptures, establishing a homeland for the Jews by settling three thousand
Jewish families in the Cherokee mountains. These schemes came to naught, as did his experiments in alchemy.  He ended his life in debt, needing the financial support of his friends.

Cumming and Cummings.  Cumming rather than Cummings
persisted as the spelling in Scotland.  The following were the Cumming and Cummings numbers in the 1891 census in England and Scotland.

Numbers in 1891 (000’s) Cumming Cummings
Scotland   3.5    0.4
England   1.5    3.9

Comyns, London Silversmiths.  Started by William Comyns in 1645 in London, Comyns is one of the oldest makers of sterling silver in the world.  In the early days, the company specialized in decorative dressing tableware and later, it became known for its interpretative works, particularly those of Paul de-Lamerie, a well-known 18th century English silversmith. The company was acquired by the Royal Selangor Group of Malaysia in 1993.

Meanwhile another William Comyns started his silversmith business in a London basement in 1858.  He soon retired and it was his sons, Charles and Richard, who made it very successful in the 1880’s, producing silver pieces for stores like Tiffany.

Reader Feedback – Edward Cummings of Sedbergh.  Edward Cummings was born in 1758 in the village of Whittington in Lancashire.  His family moved to Kirkby Lonsdale in Westmorland, when Edward was a child.  Edward moved to Dent near Sedbergh after his marriage in 1791.  He and his wife and family moved to Sedbergh in 1805 and he died in Sedbergh in 1841.

Carol Foreman (carol@foreman23.freeserve.co.uk)

Mary Cumming’s Letters Home.  In 1811, at the age of twenty, Mary Craig of Lisburn in county Antrim married William Cumming in a service conducted by William’s elder brother, the Rev. Thomas Cumming.  William Cumming, formerly of Armagh, and his younger brother, James, had already emigrated to Petersburg in Virginia where they acted as agents for their cousin Alex Brown of Baltimore.

Mary’s letters consisted of some thirty letters written home from America between 1811 and 1815, most of them to her sister Margaret Craig.

However, Petersburg lay in the fever-infested North American east coastal plain and Mary’s health began to suffer.   It soon became clear to her that she was going to die. Her farewell letters to her sisters and absent husband are moving in the extreme.  She died in April 1815, not yet four years wed.  William immediately sailed back alone to Ireland and visited Mary’s father and sisters.  But within months of his return to Petersburg
he too died, probably struck down by the same fatal fever that had claimed his wife.

Cumming and Cummings in America.  Overall, the Cumming and Cummings arrivals in America were more likely to have come from Ireland.

Arrivals – by Point of Origin Cumming Cummings Total Percent
Ireland   223   539   762    49
England   166   291   457    29
Scotland   229   109   338    22

Clessie Cummins’ Early Years.  Clessie Cummins was an Indiana farm boy.  His business adventures started in 1904 when he quit school in the eighth grade and stated: “I want to be a machinist and make things.”

According to his son Lyle Cummins’ book The Diesel Odyssey of Clessie Cummins, he worked for a short time around central Indiana in four early automotive-related industries before settling at Nordyke and Marmon which produced the Marmon car.  He was also on the pit crew of the first winner of the Indianapolis 500 mile race, Ray Harroun, who drove a Marmon Wasp to victory in 1911.

He then went to work for a banker named William Irwin in Columbus, Indiana as his chauffeur and mechanic. In 1919 the Cummins Engine Company was incorporated by Clessie and Irwin, with Irwin investing a great deal of money in Cummins’ company.  Clessie’s first two diesel patents were applied for in 1921 and production of the Cummins model F engine commenced in 1925.

Irwin owned a controlling interest in the Purity Supreme supermarket chain in California and Cummins convinced him to install diesel engines in his fleet of trucks used to deliver food and staples to the stores. The diesel trucks were far better at managing the California mountains than the gasoline engines of the time and were much more durable and economical to run. The success at Purity Supreme attracted considerable attention and the over-the-road diesel truck industry as a result came into being.

 

Cummings Names
  • John Comyn, known as the Black Comyn, was Guardian of Scotland and one of the competitors for the Scottish throne in the 13th century.
  • Alexander Cummings was the Scottish watchmaker who patented the flush toilet in 1775.
  • Clessie Cummins was the founder of the Cummins Engine Co. in Indiana in 1919.
  • E.E. Cummings was the American poet renowned for his lower-case style.
  • Samuel Cummings was an American arms dealer whose company came to dominate global small arms sales in the 1950’s and 60’s.
  • Dominic Cummings was a controversial special advisor to Boris Johnson when he became British Prime Minister in 2019.
Cummings Numbers Today
  • 14,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lincolnshire)
  • 27,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 12,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

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