Dixon Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Dixon Surname Meaning

Dickson and Dixon are patronyms (“sons of”) of Dick, a pet form of Richard – one of the most popular names in England during the 11th and 12th centuries. Dickson is the spelling that has endured in Scotland. The surname became Dixon in England and that is now the more common form of the name.

Dixon Surname Resources on The Internet

Dixon and Dickson Surname Ancestry

  • from Scotland and Northern England
  • to America, Canada, South Africa and Australia

Scotland.  Thomas Dicson, born in 1247 and the son of Richard Keith, is generally considered the first to have adopted the Dickson name. His descendants held Hazelside Place in Lanarkshire for many generations.

However, the Dickson name soon migrated to the Scottish Borders and were to be found in Berwickshire and Peebleshire, dating from the 14th century

  • in Berwickshire Alexander Nisbet recorded in 1722 the Dicksons of Buhtrig (by then extinct) and Belchester.
  • while in Peebleshire the earliest recording (Dicson) was in 1338 and there were later Dickson families of Winkston and Hudleshope. James Dickson “of Havana” made a fortune in the West Indies during the Seven Years War and bought Broughton in Peebles in 1764.

The Dicksons as a border clan were described in B. Homer Dickson’s 1884 book A Shorter History of Clan Dickson.

John Dickson of Glasgow claimed descent from the Buhtrig Dicksons and was the father of the Rev. David Dickson, the Moderator of the Scottish Assembly when it was broken up by Cromwell in 1653. His great grandson Sir Robert Dickson of Inveresk was one of the founders of the Bank of Scotland. There were also Dickson lines here that went to county Armagh in Ulster and thence to Pennsylvania.

Another Dickson family with later Ulster and American connections began with John Dickson, a Glasgow merchant originally from Stirlingshire. His son David was a nonconformist minister, his grandson Robert an ardent Covenanter who in 1666 had to flee Scotland for Ulster in 1666. Later Dicksons of this family emigrated in the 1720’s to Connecticut.

One Dickson merchant family from Edinburgh made its mark in Sweden. Two sons of James Dickson, Edinburgh merchant, departed for Gothenburg – Robert in 1802 and James in 1809 – and became Swedish citizens. Baron Oscar Dickson of this family became a rich Swedish industrial magnate in the mid 19th century, one of the richest in the country, and was a patron of many Arctic expeditions of that time.

England. Dickson may have been the older spelling in England, but the alternative Dixon spelling has taken over. Dixons outnumbered Dicksons in England by almost ten to one in the 1891 census. The name is primarily a north of England name.

Some of these Dixons were of Scottish origin, dating back to the 1400’s and Furness Abbey in Lancashire. Thomas Dixon had Scottish connections, having graduated at Edinburgh in 1660, although he was described there as an anglus e Northumbria. He was a nonconformist minister in northern England, as were his son Thomas and his grandson Thomas.

The Dixons of Cockfield in Durham were attached to the local coal-mining there. They were first found at Raby nearby where George Dixon was a steward at Raby castlein the 1650’s. This George Dixon was a Quaker and imprisoned for his beliefs. Later came two Dixon brothers:

  • George Dixon who was a successful coalmine owner in the area and a pioneer in the 1760’s in the use of coal gas to light homes (although one of his experiments led to the burning of his own house).
  • and his younger brother Jeremiah Dixon who was a surveyor who became famous in America as the Dixon of the Mason-Dixon line. Drawn up in 1768, this line was said to be the demarcation line between North and South in America.

And later still came Sir Raylton Dixon, a 19th century shipbuilding magnate at Middlesborough on Teesside.

One Yorkshire family began with the marriage of Joshua Dixon and Helen Dodson near Leeds around the year 1670. A later Dixon, Jeremiah Dixon, prospered as a Leeds merchant and in 1764 was able to acquire Gledhow Hall where he lived the life of a country squire. Subsequent Dixons made their home at Astle Park in Cheshire. The Dixon Arms in Chelford was a local landmark there.

Ireland.  Early Dixons, known as Dyceson, were said to have come to Ireland in the early 1500’s. Edward Dixon was born in Meath in 1516. He and many of his descendants were buried in the Dixon tomb in Rathcore church in Meath.

John Dickson meanwhile arrived in county Down from Scotland around 1690. Later came:

  • Thomas Dickson, born in Bally Castle, Antrim in 1770
  • and his grandson Daniel Dixon, a prominent merchant and shipowner of Larne in county Antrim in the late 19th century. His descendants became Lord Glentoran.

Dixon or Dickson in Antrim and Derry could also be Irish in origin, an anglicized version of the Gaelic O’Diochon sept.  

America.  Two early Dixon Quaker arrivals were:

  • Ambrose Dixon from England who came first to Virginia and then moved to Maryland in 1662 to escape religious persecution. His home became the first Quaker meeting house in Maryland. He died in 1687 at his plantation Dixon’s Choice. His descendants today are numerous.
  • and Henry and Rose Dixon from Armagh in Ireland who came to New Castle county, Delaware sometime in the 1680’s. Henry, it was said, was an inn-keeper there. Their son William had preceded them to Maryland in 1676 and later returned in 1688. He was a weaver by trade. A descendant was Simon Dixon, the Quaker pioneer in Cane Creek, North Carolina.

Dicksons in America could be Scots or Scots Irish. Among the Scots Irish were:

  • the Dicksons of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania (descended from the Rev. David Dickson)
  • and the Dicksons of New London, Connecticut (originally fleeing Covenanters).

Thomas Dickson from Scotland was an early settler in the 1770’s in Ashe county, North Carolina. John and Ann Dickson had arrived in Rowan county, North Carolina from Pennsylvania in the 1750’s. Their son Joseph fought in the Revolutionary War and later made his home in Tennessee.

Andrew and Rachel Dixon meanwhile were Scots Irish who came to Pennsylvania in 1764. Their descendants moved to Belmont county in Ohio in the late 1790’s.

Canada.  The Dicksons of Onslow, Nova Scotia were apparently Scots Irish, although Charles Dickson had come to Nova Scotia from Connecticut in the 1760’s. He was a merchant, shipbuilder, farmer, and later a political figure in Nova Scotia. Later Dicksons headed west to California. The family history was recorded in Emily Dewey’s 1953 book Dickson, Scotch Irish.

Charles Dixon and his wife Susannah came to Nova Scotia from Yorkshire in 1772 and settled in Sackville, New Brunswick a year later.

“It was said that Charles Dixon was a very prominent man in the early settlement there. He owned herds of cattle and sheep. He was a member of the legislature and Justice of the Peace. He was a Methodist and helped erect the first Methodist church in his locality.”  

His son Charles moved to Ohio, became a Mormon and, at the age of 89 and almost blind, set off with his family for Salt Lake in 1854. He did not make it. At Rock Island in Illinois, he fell from the steps of his hotel and died.

Other early arrivals were from Scotland. Three Dickson brothers from Dumfries – Robert, William and Thomas – arrived in the Niagara district of Upper Canada in the 1780’s. Robert went off on his own to become a fur trader and Indian agent. He later had an adventurous War of 1812. The other brothers led more humdrum lives. Thomas settled down as a customs collector in Queenston. William became a member of the local Legislative Council.

William Dixon and his family came to Canada from Whitehaven in Cumbria in 1818, disembarking in Quebec. They made their way from there by oxen and by flat-bottomed boat to Peterborough, Ontario where, with the help of other colony settlers, they built their first log cabin. A later Dixon of this family, John Dixon, headed West in 1883 in more comfort – in a train. He settled in Maple Creek, Saskatchewan and became an influential civic leader there.

Africa. Ben Dixon departed Cape Colony with other Wesleyan missionaries for SW Africa (now Namibia) in 1844. He prospered for a while as a cattle trader but later returned to Cape Colony, settling in Namakwaland. His story was covered in Ledivia van Vuuren’s book Die Dixons van Namakwaland. There was in fact another Dixon – Peter Dixon the son of an 1820 settler – who came to trade in SW Africa in the 1860’s.

Australia. James Dixon was an early arrival, a Catholic priest from Wexford who accidentally got caught up in the 1798 Uprising and was transported to Australia two years later. He practiced as a priest ministering to Irish convicts for eight years before obtaining permission to return to Ireland.

Robert Dixon arrived in Australia from Durham in 1821 and found work as a surveyor and explorer of this new country. His surveys took in the Burragorang valley and the Blue Mountains in NSW and later the Moreton Bay area near Brisbane. However, his relations with local officialdom proved to be cantankerous and his last years in Australia were spent in search of gold.

Thomas Dixon arrived in Western Australia in 1850 as Superintendent of Convicts. He fled the colony nine years later after having been accused of embezzling public money.

Dixon Surname Miscellany

Thomas Dicson, The First of the Dicksons in Scotland.  The Dickson name is thought to have originated upon the birth of the son of Richard Keith, son of Hervey de Keith, the Earl Marischal of Scotland, and Margaret, daughter of the 3rd Lord Douglas.  Alexander Nisbet in his 1722 book A System of Heraldry wrote:

“The Dicksons are descendants from Richard Keith, said to be a son of the family of Keith, Earls Marischals of Scotland.”

Richard Keith’s son, Thomas, took the surname “Dicson,” meaning “Dick’s son” or “Richard’s son.”

This Thomas Dicson has quite a history. Born in 1247, he was associated in some way with William Wallace and was killed by the English in 1307 in battle. Tradition states he was slashed across the abdomen but continued fight holding the abdominal wound closed with one hand until he finally dropped dead.

He was buried in the churchyard of St Brides, Douglas and his marker shows him with a sword in one hand holding his belly with the other. Robert the Bruce made him Castellan of Castle Douglas the year before he was killed.

English Dixons of Scottish Origin.  B. Homer Dixon in his 1884 book A Shorter History of Clan Dickson reported:

“Some of the Dickson clan left Scotland at an early date and became tenants of Furness Abbey in county Lancaster.  One of their number was Sir Nicholas Dixon, Rector of Cheshunt, Prebendary of Howdon, and Baron of the Exchequer.  He died in 1448.

From John Dixon of Furness Falls sprang Richard Dixon, Lord Bishop of Cork in 1570, and Sir Richard Dixon who married the widow of Lord Chancellor Eustace.   He was the ancestor of the Dixons of Beeston in Yorkshire and now of Seaton Carew in Durham.”

The Dicksons from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.  The Dicksons were a Scots Irish family who had come to Pennsylvania in the 1740’s and settled near Chambersburg.

One of the sons George, born in Ireland in 1735, came to Black Lick Creek (now in Indiana county) in 1772, accompanied by his younger brother John and bought 400 acres of land. There they built a cabin, cleared what land they could during the summer, and then went back to Chambersburg for the winter. The next year they returned and cleared more land and in 1774 George moved his family into the cabin.

He continued to clear and cultivate the land until 1778 when, in the greatest haste, he was obliged to flee upon receiving news of the Wyoming massacre and the near-approach of hostile Indians.  With his wife and three small children, all mounted upon two saddle horses, they summarily returned across the mountains to Chambersburg.

In 1782 George and his brother John again visited their property in western Pennsylvania to find everything in ashes.  Coming southward to Pittsburgh, suitable alternative land was found and purchased by George.   John went further west into Ohio where he married and settled near Poland.

Another son Andrew was born in America in 1748.  He died in service during the Revolutionary War. The Bible containing Andrew Dickson’s family record still exists and remains in family hands.

Jeremiah Dixon and Dixie.  Jeremiah Dixon from Cockfield in Durham and his colleague Charles Mason completed the surveying to mark the border between Pennsylvania and Maryland in 1768. It became known as the Mason-Dixon line.  It became also the demarcation line between North and South.

The word Dixie, popularized in the song Dixie Land, was to be a  popular term of reference for the Southern states. Abraham Lincoln even ordered that the song Dixie Land, so dear to the South, be sung at the reunion of the two sides after the surrender, making it one of the national anthems.

Where did this term Dixie originate?

Some have suggested that it referred to an English slave-owner who took his slaves to New York. He was then told that slavery was unlawful there. While the slaves were there they often talked about “Dixie land,” the name of the Southern plantation to which they were eventually restored.  Dixie might also have originated from dix which was French for ten.  There was a small coin in New Orleans by this name.

But the more likely origin seems to have been the Jeremiah Dixon of the Mason-Dixie line.

Charles Dixon, Emigrant to Canada.  Charles Dixon, emigrant to Canada, described himself and his journey as follows:

“I, Charles Dixon, was born March 8 in the year 1730 at Kirleavington, near Yarm in the East Riding of Yorkshire in Old England.  I was brought up to the bricklayer’s trade with my father until I was about nineteen years of age and followed that calling till the 29th year of my age. I then engaged in a paper manufactory at Hutton Rudby and followed that business for the space of about twelve years with success.  At the age of thirty one I married Susanna Coates, by whom I have had one son and four daughters.

In 1772, after many thoughts and consultations with my wife and friends, I came to a resolution to leave all my friends and interests I was invested with and go to Nova Scotia. The time arrived that we were to be at Liverpool and we reached there the 27th February, from whence we sailed on the 16th day of March on board the Duke of York with sixty-two souls as settlers.

After many discouragements we arrived and landed at Fort Cumberland on the 21st day of May and went into the barracks with my family until we could find a resting place. At first glance things wore a very gloomy aspect.  There were few of the inhabitants but wanted to sell their lands and depart.

I began to walk about the country and went over to Sackville.  After a few days investigation, finding the cause of discontent to be largely due to indolence and lack of knowledge, I purchased a tract of land at Sackville, to which I removed my family on the 8th of June.”

The Adventures of Thomas Dixon.  Thomas Dixon was born on the Isle of Man in 1816.  At the age of 21 he married a woman named Eliza Fennella. That same year of 1837 his mother died and Dixon inherited her estate – only to find that his mother was in such debt that her assets barely covered the costs of her funeral.  Pursued by her creditors, Dixon and his wife fled the island.

They ended up in London where his wife left him and their two children.  Undeterred Dixon applied for and was appointed Superintendent of Convicts for the Swan River Colony in Western Australia.

In 1850 Dixon traveled to the colony with his two children and his “wife.”  Shortly after their arrival at Fremantle, Dixon’s wife was banished to Toodyay “for the good of the Service.”  As no record of Dixon’s second marriage was ever found, it seems that his wife’s banishment from Fremantle was most likely attributable to her exposure as Dixon’s common-law wife who was not the mother of his children.

At Fremantle Dixon created a reforming humane convict regime for the new colony. But there was little recognition of what he had achieved because he was charged and indicted in 1859 for embezzling public money.

Dixon fled to Singapore and made his way to Labuan Island where he was appointed chief constable. However this appointment was nixed by the Colonial Office when they learnt about it.  From around 1862, Dixon was a mercenary with the forces fighting to put down the Taiping Rebellion in China.

Nothing was known of how he spent the next ten years of his life.  But in December 1876 he arrived back at Fremantle and spent the final years of his life in poor health living with his eldest daughter Mary and her husband.

Dixon Names

  • Thomas Dicson, a contemporary of William Wallace in Scotland, is considered the first to have borne the Dickson/Dixon name. 
  • Jeremiah Dixon was a surveyor, the Dixon of the Mason-Dixon line established in 1768 as the demarcation line between North and South in America. He may even have been the origin of the term Dixie. 
  • Baron Oscar Dickson from a Scottish mercantile family was a leading Swedish industrial magnate in the mid 19th century and a patron of Arctic expeditions.                  
  • Cromwell Dixon was a teen dirigible pilot and the first person in 1911 to fly in an airplane across the US Continental Divide. However, he died in an air crash two days after this feat. 
  • George Dixon was the popular fictional policeman in the British TV series Dixon of Dock Green of the 1950’s. 
  • Barbara Dickson is a Scottish singer whose hits have included I Know Him So Well.

Dixon Numbers Today

  • 62,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 60,000 in America (most numerous in Florida)
  • 37,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Dixon 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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